Nostalgia buffs: Dragnet is still worth a watch!
Just the facts…
Dragnet was a police procedural — one of the originals! — that began as a radio show on NBC, airing 314 original episodes between June 1949 and September 1955.
It premiered in 1951 as a (now-iconic) TV show, airing until 1959 — later followed by a faithful reboot from 1967 to 1970. Both the radio and television programs starred Jack Webb as police sergeant Joe Friday.
Considered the most influential show of the police genre, Dragnet was known for its spare dialogue and a commitment to accuracy and semi-documentary style.
These qualities made Dragnet unique for dramatic storytelling in those days — not to mention extremely rich fodder for satire in the decades to come.
Dragnet’s influence on culture was major
Dragnet focused on the Los Angeles Police Department and its officers solving various crimes in the city.
Along with depicting the lives of policemen, it also addressed legal issues and other problems in American society of the 1950s — and again between 1967 and 1970.
The show also impacted viewers’ perception (in a generally positive way) of police officers and their service to the community — certainly an impressive PR feat during the tumultuous latter years of the 60s.
Dragnet has had a significant impact on pop culture and society as we know it today, influencing Hollywood portrayals of police officers in later decades for popular crime dramas such as Adam 12, Law and Order and CSI.
Check out these vintage interviews with Jack Webb — the star, director and producer of Dragnet 1967; he had interesting insights about both the show’s revival, as well as its 1970 cancellation.
First, let’s revisit that extremely famous Dragnet opening theme
Even if you were born after 1970, when Dragnet last aired in prime time, you probably recognize “Danger Ahead,” the iconic opening theme that starts with an ominous four-note sequence (DUN, DA-DUN-DUN) — that sound of impending doom… if you’re a criminal, that is).
To refresh your memory…
And here’s a transcript of the classic monologue:
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Joe Friday: This is the city: Los Angeles, California. I work here. I’m a cop.
‘Dragnet’ hunts real cop flavor (1967)
by Edgar Penton – Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, Indiana) February 4, 1967
If the word “Dragnet’ fails to stir nostalgic memories, you just weren’t ‘with’ the radio world back in ’49, when NBC first aired the now-legendary show.
Nor were you “with” television, in 1952, when “Dragnet” became THE video show of its day.
This oversight can now be corrected, for the show with the flavor of police procedure steeped deep into every scene is back on home screens Thursday evenings, 9:30-10 p.m., Eastern time, NBC, as “Dragnet 1967.”
And, at the helm again is its central figure, Jack Webb, as star, director, and producer. To put the facts straight, ma’am, Universal Television, Mark VII Ltd., and the NBC net are co-producers.
To return to nostalgia: from ’52 to ’59, the faces of Jack Webb and Ben Alexander became, through their characterizations of Set. Joe Friday and sidekick Frank Smith, the video embodiment of law and order.
The theme music — Dum-de-dum-dum — was heard everywhere, and Badge 714 became, perhaps, the best-known symbol in the annals of police history.
The show was parodied and copied, but there was only one “Dragnet.” In 1959, it went off the tube simply because Webb, 10 years with one show, wanted to move on to new challenges.
His present challenge: to introduce ‘Dragnet’ to a vast, new side of the picture circuit.
Little has been changed in the show’s basic format, according to Webb. It can be said that this is the first dramatic television series to be reprised intact. As Webb puts it, “It’s Sergeant Friday, through and through.”
Morgan is ideal talent, says Webb
“Dragnet 1967” does, however, have a new face, and a good one. Veteran actor Harry Morgan, well-known for his series roles in “Pete and Gladys,” “December Bride” and “The Richard Boone Show,” [and later of M*A*S*H] joins Webb as Friday’s new sidekick, officer Bill Gannon. (Ben Alexander, by the time the new series was casting, had joined the ranks of “The Felony Squad.”
But Morgan, Webb says, is ideal for his show. A formidable talent, Morgan is equally adept at playing either heavy or light drama, as the occasion demands.
“The one aspect of the show that is different,”‘ Webb says, “is that today, Friday and Gannon are facing some new situations which didn’t prevail when the old series was on.”
Police using computers now
He speaks of such ultramodern situations as LSD in the hands of teenagers, a Supreme Court ruling concerning advising suspects of their rights at the time of arrest, and an apparently growing disrespect for law and those who would uphold it
“These attitudes, devices and problems,” Webb says, ‘will all be treated in the new show. Without taking sides, we’re going to show them all, head-on. There’s a tremendous amount to say about the world we’re living in today. The new series is going to unfold a number of such chapters since I was last there.
“They have computers which can run a suspect list in a matter of minutes, where it used to take long, back-breaking hours. And there’s a new breed of ‘cop’ on the job today — the young police man. He’s better educated, better than ever. We’re going to reflect him in the series.
“Of course,’ Webb states, “there hasn’t really been much change in the basic concept of police work. It’s still the hard. working police detective, putting in long hours of legwork, following up threads of possible evidence, that accounts for bringing in a suspect.
“It is basically this process that ‘Dragnet 1967’ dwells upon most heavily. We did it in the original because it reflected the truth; we’ll do it new, because it still reflects the truth.”
Webb insists on accuracy
Webb has again been granted the full co-operation of the Los Angeles Police Department, in production of the series.
Webb does more than have the department’s public information division read his scripts and make technical changes; he has insisted that they suggest stories and make major suggestions concerning every plot he deals with.
“If you’re going to do a series such as this, with a nearly documentary approach”, Webb says, “you might just as well go the whole route so far as accuracy’s concerned.”
To insure accuracy during production, a police technical advisor is present during the shooting of each episode.
“At the height of the original series,” he grins, “writer Dick Breen and I had become so thoroughly aware of police procedure that occasionally we’d make corrections that the technical adviser himself wouldn’t catch. But I still want him on board — he can save you a lot of misery.”
Webb found he missed “Dragnet”
Webb doesn’t know today just how the new series will weather. “There are a lot of TV-watching kids today who don’t remember the old show.
We’ve got a whole new segment of our total audience to ‘break in’ to the ‘Dragnet’ concept. Furthermore, competition’s different today. We’re competing with late-vintage, well-produced movies on an opposite network. We never did that before.”
But generally, the dynamically energetic producer-director-star is optimistic. If it’s true that the show had a certain magnetism to it before, then it’s going to have more of it now.
“The timing is right, too. I think that, while some factions of our society are out to downgrade law enforcement, there are others who believe, more than ever, that it must be supported.
This, I think works in our favor. They’ll tend to align with a project such as this one. which supports law and order.”
How does Webb feel personally about doing ‘Dragnet’ again?
“It’s great. I’ve been elsewhere for the past seven years, doing other things, but I must confess that every now and then during that time I’d find myself missing it.”
Dragnet TV show intro/opening credits
Dragnet canceled, but Jack Webb isn’t crying
From the Akron Beacon-Journal (Ohio) May 24, 1970
WASHINGTON — Sing no sad songs to Jack Webb over the cancellation of Dragnet. Yes, he said on a recent trip, the show’s ratings are high, “but there’s been some slippage this season.”
“Never cry or bellyache about being canceled,” he said in that trademarked, rich monotone. “Go and find something else to do.”
WEBB HAS never had trouble finding something to do. He made the transition, easily, from actor to director to producer and back to actor.
He’s ready to change again, back this time to producer of a “world premiere” motion picture about the law enforcement activities of the Treasury Department — and it could become another TV series.
With Webb during his visit was his old and new partner, James Moser. They were together, along with the late Richard Breen, at the creation of Dragnet for radio in 1949.
They created a whole new radio form, a brand-new style for police drama. The language was terse and technical police talk that Webb had picked up riding around Los Angeles at night in police prowl cars.
Breen is usually credited with adding the “tags,” the short, often harsh, philosophical summations that ended each case.
DRAGNET was an immediate hit and flowed smoothly to television in 1952 for a 7-year run.
Webb voluntarily retired Dragnet from radio. By 1959, he had been through the first of three wives and had broken with Moser. Webb concentrated on feature films, but found time to turn out a succession of TV series.
Moser did all right, too. He took the Dragnet technique and applied it to a medical practitioner named Dr. Konrad Styner (Richard Boone). The result was Medic.
Medic got fine reviews, but was placed opposite the ratings champion, I Love Lucy, and died after two seasons.
“So,” said Moser, “I elevated the doctor from general practice to neurosurgery.” The result was Ben Casey.
MOSER thinks another parallel suggests itself in his planned project with Webb. In 1964, Moser turned his interest in politics into a series about the minority leader of a state legislature.
The series was called Slattery’s People, starring Richard Crenna. It was a critical success and a ratings failure, and was canceled after the second season.
Now, just as he turned a failing general practitioner into a successful neurosurgeon, Moser wants to shift his unsuccessful state legislator to a series about a United States senator.
“I think,” Moser said, ‘that the move to a higher level will work again.”
WEBB AGREES with Moser, for once, because this is a most curious partnership. “Yeah,” cracked Webb, “they call us ‘the odd couple.'”
The designation fits. The two are complete opposites. They didn’t speak for years following the angry bust-up of the first Dragnet team.
Webb said their reunion was like the old story about the Hollywood producer who fired a man and screamed at the secretary: “I never want to see that (obscenity) in my office, ever again. Unless, of course, I happen to need him.”
After the death of Richard Breen, Webb needed someone to give zest to Adam-12, which Webb owns.
The more Webb searched, the more he decided that he needed James Moser. The Dragnet revival, which began in 1967, was on its way to a run of 96 episodes and Webb was busy.
One telephone call reunited the two.
WEBB IS beefy, snaps off his answers and confines his dress to shades of gray and blue. The trousers have no back pockets.
Moser is Jean, speaks seldom and slowly. He likes bright shades of brown, tailored in the mod look. Webb drinks bourbon-on-the-rocks. Moser prefers a long, thin scotch-and-water.
Webb has often been accused of being “the most ambitious man in Hollywood,” and the designation doesn’t trouble him.
“If,” he said, “by that, they mean that I like to make money, they’re right.”
WEBB SPENT his poverty-scarred childhood dreaming about being a radio announcer, and he made it as the first step toward becoming a millionaire.
Moser’s early ambition was to become a newspaperman, which he accomplished in newspapers in San Francisco and Sacramento.
“We don’t interfere with each other,” Webb said. “I take care of production; he takes care of the writing.”
Webb looked over at Moser and snarled: “Have I ever tried to tell you how to write?”
Moser took a long pull at his drink, stared thoughtfully at the ceiling and turned his gaze on Webb: “Not more than a dozen times a day,” he said.
Most famous Dragnet parody? Feature comedy film starring Dan Akroyd and Tom Hanks
While Dragnet has been parodied frequently over the decades (from Woody Woodpecker, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Three Stooges to Sesame Street and The Simpsons), perhaps none done to greater effect than the 1987 Dragnet movie — a homage co-starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks.