Dragnet

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Jack Webb as the original Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet


Dragnet is the name for two related police procedural/crime drama TV series, both created by and starring actor/producer Jack Webb, that aired in two different decades on NBC. The original 1951 series, along with its 1967 revival, were produced by Webb's production company Mark VII Limited, with the 1967 revival co-produced with Universal Television.

While the name also covers a 1949 radio series, several related TV series, a 1954 feature film and a 1987 parody film as part of an overall franchise, this article only covers the two TV series Webb starred in, directed and produced, along with a planned but unproduced third series.

1951 TV series

Based on the original radio series, this series, with episodes based on actual case files from the Los Angeles Police Department, focuses on LAPD detective Sgt. Joe Friday and various partners investigating cases for various sections of the LAPD, including pursuing leads, interviewing witnesses and persons of interest and capturing and arresting criminal perpetrators, followed by the announcement of the fate of each perpetrator. During each episode, the officers educate viewers in law enforcement jargon and the Rule of Law, all the while showing fine examples of moral conduct, honor of oneself and others, and sacrifice for the good of the public. As with the radio series, people's names were changed to protect the innocent involved in the cases inspiring each episode.

Starting with the radio series and carrying over to television, Dragnet gained fame for its iconic theme song (titled "Danger Ahead") and for its opening narration, "The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent", along with Webb's insistence on a realistic and accurate approach to police work and the dangers and heroism involved when making the series. Webb, in character as Sgt. Friday, narrated each episode and the details of the case Friday and his partners investigated. Many episodes of the TV series used scripts adapted from the radio series, as well as using many of the same actors from the radio show on the TV show playing different roles.

Webb ended production on the still-popular Dragnet in 1959 to focus on other projects with Mark VII Limited. A number of episodes from the original Dragnet TV series are now in the public domain and 52 of those episodes have been released on DVD in various collections.

1967 TV series

Dragnet was revived by Webb and debuted in mid-season on NBC on January 12, 1967 and became a respectable hit for the network. To distinguish it from the earlier black-and-white series, the color Dragnet revival had the year in which each season ended added to the show's title with each new season (e.g. Dragnet 1967, etc.).

The 1967 revival followed the same direction as its predecessor as Sgt. Friday and his new partner, Officer Bill Gannon, investigated various cases for the LAPD's varied divisions. During the show's pre-credit cold open, Jack Webb, in character as Sgt. Friday, would do a brief narration giving a description of some aspect of Los Angeles, such as this example from the episode "The LSD Story":

This is the city — Los Angeles, California. It's a fine place to enjoy life. There are places reserved just for kids... when they're young and feel young. Places they go when they're young and feel old... beginning the big search for something that often doesn't exist in the places they look for it. They might find it here (image of a church), or here (image of a synagogue), or maybe here (image of another church). They could try looking here (image of Griffith Observatory)... their search might end with a college degree. One thing sure — whatever they're looking for cannot be found inside a number five capsule. When they try, that's where I come in. I carry a badge.

The Dragnet revival also included more contemporary themes for the new decade, such as increased drug use in society due to the rise of the counterculture, along with hippies, leftist and racist revolutionaries and other products of the counterculture and its influence openly displaying their contempt for the law and those who enforce it, although such characters invariably pay the price by the end of each episode for their bad choices; for example, in the Season Two episode "The Big High", Friday and Gannon, on assignment with the Narcotics division, deal with a young couple who have begun using marijuana, who dismissively make excuses and justifications for their use of the drug to the detectives, only to end up paying tragic consequences when the couple's infant daughter dies by drowning in a bathtub, unsupervised, while her parents are too busy getting high on pot to realize what has happened until it is too late.

During this series' run, a made-for-TV movie, Dragnet 1966 (the original pilot movie which convinced NBC to buy the series), debuted on the network on January 27, 1969, about three years after it was originally produced in 1966. As with the previous series, Webb voluntarily ended production on the still-popular Dragnet revival in 1970 to concentrate on other projects for Mark VII Limited (including his then-running Dragnet spinoff Adam-12 and that show's spinoff, Emergency!). All four seasons of the 1967 series have been released on DVD.

Planned 1983 TV series

Webb had planned on reviving Dragnet again in 1982 for a 1983 debut, reprising his role as Joe Friday and producing five episode scripts for this second revival. As Ben Alexander, who played previous partner Officer Frank Smith in the 1951 series, had died in 1969 and Harry Morgan, who played Bill Gannon in the 1967 series, was busy with his current series M*A*S*H, Webb needed a new partner for Sgt. Friday and cast Kent McCord, who had first appeared in the 1967 series playing different characters in guest appearances (one of which, LAPD officer Jim Reed, later became one of the main characters on Adam-12), in that role, possibly reprising his Jim Reed role from Adam-12 as a plainclothes detective and Friday's new partner. The 1983 revival was scrapped when Webb died of a heart attack on December 23, 1982.

Cast

Main cast

1951 series

Actor Role Duration Notes
Jack Webb Sgt. Joe Friday Seasons 1-8
Barton Yarborough Sgt. Ben Romero Season 1 Yarborough died during production of Season 1; Romero was written out of the series as having also died
Barney Phillips Sgt. Ed Jacobs Season 1
Herb Ellis Officer Frank Smith Season 2 Smith was recast during Season 2 after Ellis left the show
Ben Alexander Seasons 2–8

1967 series

Actor Role
Jack Webb Sgt. Joe Friday
Harry Morgan Officer Bill Gannon

External links