Archetype of the Police Procedural
, this first installment in the Dragnet
franchise followed the exploits of Sgt. Joe Friday and his various partners as they investigated crime in Los Angeles. The radio series ran on NBC
from 1949-1957. Barton Yarborough portrayed Friday's original partner, Sgt. Ben Romero, from the start of the radio show until his death in December 1951. He was briefly succeeded by a few different partners, most prominently Barney Phillips as Detective Sgt. Ed Jacobs, before Ben Alexander took over as Officer Frank Smith from late 1952 to the end of the radio run.
Friday and his partners rotated through the various departments from week to week, allowing them to solve not only murders, but also fraud, arson, and drug-smuggling. Each episode ended with an announcer giving the results of the perp's trial
. The show spawned a number of CatchPhrases
and featured an iconic four note Sting
used as a Theme Tune
Dragnet provides examples of:
- Bibles From The Dead: A gang uses this con in "The Big Betty," albeit with cheap watches and other bits of useless junk rather than Bibles.
- Broken Aesop: In one episode, ".22 Rifle for Christmas", the two investigate the shooting of a child near Christmas. They learn it was done accidentally by the boy's best friend when they were playing with the boy's Christmas gift, a rifle. The dead boy's father storms over to the friend's house, but when he sees how hurt the boy is over the loss of his friend, gives the boy all the dead child's Christmas toys. Lesson learned: kill your friend and you get all their toys. However, it is also made pretty clear the victim's friend is deeply remorseful, and that both families have been, perhaps, permanently damaged by the shooting.
- Catch Phrase: Originator of several examples which became frequently used or parodied, including "The story you are about to hear is true" and "My name's Friday."
- Christmas Episode
- ".22 Rifle for Christmas", which lives up to its ominous title (see the TearJerker page for more details).
- "The Big Little Jesus," though it qualifies as a radio episode only by virtue of being aired on the radio - all Webb did was lift and broadcast the soundtrack from the TV version.
- Contractual Immortality: Even if one didn't know the series would continue, one would expect Joe Friday to survive being shot (as he was in "The Big Ben".)
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes of the series were titled "The Big (something)".
- Impersonation Gambit: The plot of #72, "The Big Meet", involves Friday impersonating the local contact that a major drug lord plans to use to distribute a batch of his product through.
- Its Pronounced Tro Pay: Archaic pronounciations for "Los Angeles" (Los ANG-el-ess, with a hard "G" sound compared to a soft "G" or "J" sound that comes out "Los An-jel-ess") and "California" (Cal-i-forn-ee-a) are often heard.
- Late Arrival Spoiler: Many radio episodes in the archives are titled with the name of the person ultimately proven guilty.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the 61st radio production, "The Big Actor", Friday and Romero interrogate a suspect between takes of a scene in a movie. The last line of the scene is a police detective saying, "We've got our man."
- Momma's Boy: Middle-aged bachelor Friday still lives with his mother.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The culprit in "The Big Crime". The only thing he's glad of was that he forgot the pocketknife—he'd have killed the kids had he remembered it.
- Radio Drama
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Barton Yarborough's sudden death occasioned the writing of a special episode in which he and his character were given a fond farewell.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Usually instigated by Ben Romero or Frank Smith.
- Standard Police Motto: This was the Trope Maker, bringing the LAPD's now-famous motto into the public eye.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Friday's various partners, who are all easy going family men who continually try to teach Joe some task like cooking or teach him a life lesson.
- Trope Maker/Ur Example: The first-ever Police Procedural. Its success spawned a host of imitators and established the genre.
- Very Special Episode: The radio episode "The Big Trio" was aired on July 3, 1952, and centered around three traffic accidents, two of them fatal, one of those two involving a motorcycle patrolman. Instead of the usual narration describing the fates of the criminals involved, the episode ended with an admonition to drive safely over the Fourth of July weekend.
- You Sound Familiar: There were many of these. Jack Webb maintained a cadre of actors that he liked working with, and cast them often as he needed them, provided they were available. Many of these actors got their start working with Webb on the radio series, and continued working with him to the end of the '60s revival series. Of particular note are:
- Virginia Gregg, probably the most recognizable actress, a fixture on the radio series.
- Peggy Webber, who many may remember from her appearances on the MST3K episodes "The Screaming Skull" and "The Space Children."
- "Marty" Milner, who played a role in several radio episodes, including a short stint as Joe's partner.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: In "The Big Make" (Sept. 14, 1950), the officers identify and arrest a good suspect, an ex-con who lied about his alibi and whom the victims identify as their attacker. They figure that the case is just about cleared up... when an anonymous letter arrives in which someone else claims responsibility for the crime and adds enough details to make the claim believable. The detectives scrap everything and start over.