Dragnet was the brainchild of its star and writer, Jack Webb, who brought to the screen a level of realism in the Police Procedural that had never been seen before and has only rarely been seen since. This was accomplished via contacts he had in the LAPD, who provided him with both anonymized versions of actual cases and details on contemporary police procedure.Unqualified, the title Dragnet usually refers to an entire franchise of series which ran intermittently from 1949 to 1971:
Dragnet, the original radio series, which ran from 1949-1957.
Dragnet (Also called Badge 714), a black and white TV series running from 1951-1959, along with a theatrical film adaptation in 1954. Many (perhaps all) of the episodes in this incarnation have lapsed into the public domain.
Dragnet 1967, a Revival of the original series, which ran (under a different title each year) from 1967 to 1971. (This series was launched by a movie, unsurprisingly titled Dragnet 1966.) While sometimes considered the show's weakest incarnation, and prone to unintentional self-parody, this series is the most familiar one to modern audiences. Being filmed in color, it was more attractive to syndicators, and still being under copyright, it's the only incarnation that has received an official DVD release.
Officer Bill Gannon, played in the revival series by Harry Morgan, was actually a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, the last and best known of at least four partners Friday had in the course of the show. Barton Yarborough portrayed Friday's original partner, Sgt. Ben Romero, from the start of the radio show until his death in December 1951, just three episodes into the first TV version. He was briefly succeeded by Barney Phillips as Detective Sgt. Ed Jacobs, then by Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith from late 1952 to the end of the TV show's original run in 1959.Unlike just about every other police show in history, the focus of Dragnet was not always on homicide: 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 unseen voiceover announcer giving the results of the perp's trial, accompanied in the TV version by his/her mug shot.The show spawned a number of CatchPhrases, such as "The story you are about to hear is true"; "This is the city: Los Angeles, California"; and "My name's Friday. I'm a cop" (eventually, "My name is Friday; I carry a badge"). But the most famous phrase identified with the show - "Just the facts, Ma'am" - is actually a Beam Me Up, Scotty! born from a series of Dragnet parodies created by Stan Freberg.Dragnet also spawned a 1987 feature film, a combination homage and Affectionate Parody featuring Dan Aykroyd as a new Joe Friday, the nephew of Webb's character, and Tom Hanks as his partner. Harry Morgan reprised his role as Bill Gannon, now a captain. The film follows Friday as he continues his uncle's legacy of straight-laced crime-fighting, teaming with undercover detective Pep Streebek. The duo are assigned to investigate a series of bizarre and (seemingly) unrelated robberies and vandalisms, eventually uncovering a dastardly plot by an underground pagan group of undermine all authority in Los Angeles.Two years later, another Dragnet (sometimes The New Dragnet) revival (In Name Only) aired in syndication. It featured an LAPD cop named Vic Daniels, and the only connection to its namesake was the Framing Device of the opening narration.Dick Wolf attempted another Revival in 2003 with a series which was eventually retitled LA Dragnet, staring Ed O'Neil as Joe Friday. The show failed to distinguish itself from the dozens of other cop shows on at the time (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, etc.), and lasted only a season and a half. This may have been largely due to a lot of people being unable to get past the idea of "Al Bundy as a cop," despite the fact that O'Neil, a highly accomplished actor, created a wonderfully cynical, seen-it-all characterization that was both distinct from Jack Webb's portrayal and nothing like his Married... with Children role. In addition, after the first season, the show's format moved away from the original Dragnet template to one closer to Wolf's Law & Order, with Friday supervising a group of officers.Mathnet, a math-themed parody of Dragnet, was the central sketch of the educational program Square One TV.The four note Sting used as a Theme Tune and at commercial breaks is one of the most recognizable musical cues in the history of television and radio. Even today, the sting signifies the forces of law and order as a calm, methodical and relentless force hounding criminals. Listen here (.wav file).Joe Friday's badge, number 714, which appears during the opening titles, is a real LAPD badge, not a reproduction. Joe Friday is the only fictional character ever to be issued an official badge number by a US police department.When Jack Webb died in 1982 he was given full LAPD police honors at his funeral although he had never actually served in the force. The chief of police, Daryl F. Gates, also announced that badge number 714 would be retired and would never be assigned to anyone else.
Much of the radio series dropped into the public domain. As a consequence, several hundred episodes are available for download from miscellaneous sources — for example, at archive.org in both ZIP-archive and single-episode formats.
Since just about all of the 1950's TV series has come into the public domain, entire episodes, if not the entire series, can be seen on YouTube.
Always On Duty: Webb did his best to avert this. It is made clear that our main characters are one team out of many working one shift out of many and that just as much happens off-camera as on. In the episode "D. H. Q. — Night School", however, Friday flat out states "I'm a police officer, I have to be on duty 24 hours of the day". Also subverted slighty in episodes in which one of the partners invites the other for dinner and neighbors come out of the woodwork, looking for help.
The 1967 series was quite fond of this as Joe Friday has had his fair share of long-winded lectures about the moral of the episode. In "The Interrogation," a policeman (Kent McCord, pre-Adam-12) is accused of robbing a liquor store. He says that whether or not he's found guilty he'll leave the force. Friday gives him an epic six-minute rant about how tough police officers have it.
A subversion in "The Grenade" - Gannon takes the floor to deliver the filibuster, on how teens were growing up too fast.
Badass: Joe Friday could be one when the situation called for it. There is an early episode when Joe and Bill track down a couple thugs who shot another cop with a shotgun. Joe kicks down the door, shoves a shotgun in the perp's face and says: "Flinch and you'll be chasing your head down Fifth Street." Later on, he tells the same guy, "I've bumped into jaywalkers tougher than you."
Big Eater: Bill Gannon. Or perhaps more accuratly Weird Eater. As part of his comic relief role, when Gannon wasn't trying to make an honest man of Joe he was usually telling Joe about recipes like his secret bbq sauce ("here's the secret, Joe...add a quart of vanilla ice cream"), bringing his "lunch box" (a fishing tackle box holding everything from extra bread to jars of pickled quail eggs) to work, buying chilli and cupcakes when the two do policework in restaurants and bakeries, and offering Friday a bite of sandwiches combining such things as pastrami pickle and peanut butter. And as he'd say - the topper ("are you listening, Joe?") would be his favorite and most famous sandwich: The Garlic Nut-Butter Sandwich. (See Your Favorite, below).
The aforementioned six minute rant occurs in an episode called "The Interrogation" in which the only characters are Friday, Gannon, and the guy they're questioning (a cop named Paul Culver, played by Kent McCord aka Jim Reed of Adam-12 fame). It's just the three of them in a room in Internal Affairs for the half hour.
"The Big Prophet" features only Friday, Gannon and a self styled Prophet who helps people "find their way" through drugs in a half hour debate with only one set - the interior and exterior of the Prophet's "church".
"The Big Squeeze" features only Friday, Gannon, a Syndicate Man named George Fox and a tape recorder full of evidence.
A 50s episode called "The Big Phone Call" has a very similar plot to "The Big Squeeze," this time involving a robbery.
"A.I.D. - The Weekend" focuses on Friday being a guest at Gannon's house for a weekend. It plays much more like a sitcom than a typical episode and the actual crime doesn't become part of the plot until the last six minutes.
Broken Aesop: In one episode, "A Gun 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.
By-the-Book Cop: Friday and his partners. This is presented as a positive trait, too — standard procedure is standard for a reason, and on this show, trying to second-guess that usually makes things worse.
Canon Discontinuity: Mild, with Bill. In the first episode, the famous 'Blue Boy' ep, he states he has two boys. But every time his kids are mentioned later, it's four boys. It's true they could have been born during the series, but when Joe visits Bill's home in two eps, it doesn't look like there are any babies or very young children living there.
Catch Phrase: Several examples frequently used or parodied, including, "My name is Friday. I carry a badge."
The Character Died with Him: After Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack shortly after production on the TV version began, his character on the radio show (Ben Romero) was written out with an off-screen heart attack.
Character Filibuster: Mostly overlaps with Author Filibuster, as Joe Friday (whose views are indistinguishable from Jack Webb's) gets the vast majority of the big speeches. "The Big Prophet" is an exception. The discussion between Friday and Gannon and a Timothy Leary Expy/suspect is, almost literally, an episode-length formal debate over "Resolved: Drug use is harmless." The Leary character, while a Strawman Political whose arguments are demolished by the detectives, actually gets a pretty good opportunity to state his case, and about as much time to do so as the cops get.
Christmas Episode: The series did at least two. One was about a little boy borrowing a statue of the baby Jesus to give it a ride in his wagon. And then there was ".22 Rifle for Christmas", which lives up to its ominous title (see the TearJerker page for more details).
Joe Friday(narrating): The display was almost perfect. One of the Wise Men had a chipped face, a donkey was old and broken, and the baby Jesus was missing from his manger.
Have a Gay Old Time: A non-sexual example. In the episode "The LSD Story", Friday states "Marijuana is the flame, heroin is the fuse, LSD is the bomb." In 1993, a techno song was released, entitled "LSD is the Bomb," which quoted Friday's line.
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."
Despite his years of competent service to the force, Friday is apparently never able to rise above the rank of sergeant. He does make lieutenant toward the end of the original series, but for the revival show he's knocked back down to sergeant without (in-universe) explanation. Jack Webb once explained that this was because in real life a police lieutenant would have more of a Desk Jockey position and wouldn't be involved in the nuts and bolts of an investigation. That wasn't what Webb wanted for the character, and he wanted to keep the show as true-to-life as possible, so...
Subverted with Officer Bill Gannon though, who we see has made Captain in the 1987 movie.
The Main Characters Do Everything: Different episodes puts Friday and his partner in different departments — whichever one is appropriate for the case being investigated, basically — but within each episode jobs are delegated as normal.
Momma's Boy: Middle-aged bachelor Friday still lives with his mother, at least in the older version. In the color version, he's got his own apartment.
In the 1966 revival, his opening narrations often included facts and statistics about the city of Los Angeles relating somehow to that episode's case. By the time of Dragnet 1971, however, Webb more often then not just opened with a standard "This is the City - Los Angeles California. I work here...I carry a badge", before the opening credits.
The openings of the original 1950s TV series were similar but often ended with "I'm a cop" instead of "I carry a badge."
Overt Operative: When Joe Friday has to go undercover and pretend to be anything other than a cop. In-Universe, he's good at it, but it can be awfully tough for the audience to buy, since everything about Jack Webb's demeanor just screams "cop," even when he uses the alias "Joe Fraser."
Pyrrhic Victory: In the 1954 movie, Friday and Smith finally get the evidence to put Starkey's two killers away. Unfortunately, by the time they get it, one has been rubbed out by his fellow crooks, and the other has died during a cancer operation.
Ginger, a drug sniffing dog. The closing narration tells us she did her job so well the Underground paid her their highest complement: they put a price on her head.
Joe Friday: (To a fellow cop belittling the dog program) "Woof"
One episode has Friday and Gannon on the trail of purse stealing canine.
Product Placement: A good part of the first 3 1/2 minutes of the 1954 episode The Big False Make looks a lot like a commercial for Poland Spring water, even with a close-up shot of the label in Officer Smith's hands and another of him opening the bottle. The pretense is that Smith offers the water to Friday to drink instead of the water out of the fountain.
Roman ŕ Clef: As it says on The Other Wiki, "Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used many authentic touches, such as the LAPD's actual radio call sign (KMA367), and the names of many real department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the crime lab or Chief of Detectives Thad Brown." The then-Chief of Police was always credited at the end of every episode.
Seinfeldian Conversation: Usually instigated by Ben Romero (in the radio series), Frank Smith or Bill Gannon (in the television series).
Series Continuity Error: When Friday faces a police board over shooting a robber, Gannon testifys that he and Friday had been partners for five years. A few episodes later in the episode The Big Neighbor Friday mentions they've been partners for eight years.
Shout Out: Friday's badge number (714) commemorated Babe Ruth's career home run total.
Shown Their Work: Webb took accuracy and research very seriously, and it shows in the scripts.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: Friday often gets off a good one, like this rejoinder to a committed neo-Nazi: "You keep harping about minorities. Well, mister, you're a psychotic, and they're a minority, too."
Or after arresting a husband who solicited an undercover Friday to kill his wife:
Forrester: Lousy stinking drunk.
Friday: Don't knock her, Forrester, she had a reason to drink - she was married to you.
Significant Reference Date: In the third season episode "Community Relations - DR-10", the comic relief subplot has Gannon bothering Friday about Friday's horoscope. Joe tells Bill that his birthday is April 2 — the same date that his actor Jack Webb was born. (In a similar Adam-12 episode scene Pete Malloy's birthday is not the same as Martin Milner's).
Smug Snake Mister Daniel Lumis. Heck, it's even Lampshaded by his grandmother-in law.
Speak Ill of the Dead: Justified, as sometimes you have to speak ill of a murder victim to get to the truth. Also, roughly half the murderers were executed.
Spiritual Successor: Adam-12, essentially the "patrolman" version of Dragnet, was also produced by Webb. Both stars had already appeared on Dragnet multiple times (indeed, Martin Milner had appeared on the radio version).
One episode of Dragnet 1968 took place on April 4 1968...the day Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. The episode details a special police bunker that Gannon, Friday and a handful of officers bunkered down in, awaiting any signs of rioting that might come in LA and across the country.
One Dragnet 1968 had Joe Friday face a police inquiry board after killing a robber he caught in the act. The ending featured Friday in the 'mugshot' tag with the overlay 'Joe Friday - Returned to Duty'.
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.
Vignette Episode: Occasionally happened during the 60's series, particularly in later seasons, when Friday and Gannon were assigned to work covering a special desk, like Juvenile on the Night Shift, or the Business Office, where several different people with unrelated cases would ask for help. At least one of those cases would result in an arrest, allowing for the Once per Episode trial result epilogue.
What Could Have Been: According to the Other Wiki, Jack Webb was working on a second Dragnet revival in 1982 with five scripts completed. With Harry Morgan committed to M*A*S*H and its After ShowAfter Mash, Webb would have changed partners once again, this time to a character played by Kent McCord (Although its unknown if it would have been his Adam 12 character or a new one).
Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Friday and Gannon would be on detail to many different police divisions — from Homicide to Bunco to Community Relations — for the current episode's case. While Webb was a stickler for details, he opted for less realism here to allow for a wider variety of stories. By comparison, in the 2003 revival, Friday was always assigned to Homicide.
You Look Familiar: There were many of these, actually. 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:
Don Ross, who according to IMDB holds the record at 31 episodes.
Virginia Gregg, probably the most recognizable actress, a fixture on the radio series and appearing at least 13 times on the TV series.
Kent McCord appeared as a desk clerk (uncredited) in the made-for-TV movie, then as a couple different patrolmen in early episodes before appearing as Officer Reed here and in Adam-12. (Oddly enough, he appeared in consecutive episodes in the 1968 season as different cops. One of his partners was an Officer Reed, according to the credits of the first of the two shows. He appears in the 1968 episode "The Phony Police Racket" as an Officer Reed, but it's not certain if he's playing the Jim Reed or if the name of the character was just a coincidence.)
Tim Donnelly qualifies both in terms of the Dragnet series itself (5 different roles), as well as the Dragnet/Adam-12/Emergency! shared universe (2 roles in Adam and his regular role as Firefighter Chet Kelly in Emergency!).
"Marty" Milner played a role in one of the 1953-54 season TV episodes as well as several radio episodes, including a short stint as Joe's partner.
Bill Gannon: "Take two slices of pumpernickel bread, spread one with your preferred variety of peanut butter, spread one with cream cheese, crush garlic cloves over the cream cheese side, allowing juice to drip into cream cheese (to taste), join slices into sandwich form, cut into quarters and enjoy!"
An episode of It Takes A Thief 1968 titled "The Scorpio Drop" in which star Robert Wagner starts the Cold Open with "This is the city, Washington DC. My name is Mundy...I'm a thief." Oddly enough on May 5, 2012 this episode aired on Digital station Antenna TV directly after an actual episode of Dragnet, without even a commercial between the Universal logo and the start of the parody.
MAD once featured Dragged Net! (the radio/original tv version) and Dumbnet - A What IV Production (the 60s/70s version).
An episode of The Monkees features Peter say, "Hey, its time for Dragnet! Anyone got a tv?" This shot is currently (May 2012) being used in an Antenna TV ad, which shows both programs in their line-up.
In the episode of The Simpsons entitled "Mother Simpson", Friday and Gannon investigate the return of Homer's long lost Mother, forced underground after a sixties protest incident. Harry Morgan voices Gannon.
The story you are about to see is a fib. But it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real.
A Looney Tunes Porky and Daffy cartoon called Rocket Squad is a straight-up parody, set IN SPACE! , where Daffy Duck plays "Sergeant Joe Monday". The twist is that the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue shows him and his partner being arrested for wrongful arrest.
One The Tonight Show clip features Jack Webb parodying himself as he and Johnny Carson talk in a Dragnet style tongue twister - The Case of the Copped Copper Clappers.
In L.A. Confidential, Jack Vincennes is the LAPD's advisor on the show "Badge Of Honour", which is clearly a DragnetExpy - one of the cast uses "Just the facts", with the implication that it's a recurring phrase in the show.
Brick Joke: The film parodies the series' opening "names have been changed" Catch Phrase by noting that "George Baker will now be called Sylvia Wiss." A minor character by the name of Sylvia Wiss later shows up for a brief exchange.
Cassandra Truth: During the pagan ritual, The Virgin Connie Swail manages to snag the mask off the pagan leader and see his face. When she later identifies him as the Reverend Whirley, only Friday believes her.
It Was Here, I Swear: Friday and Streebek bring the police commissioner and their captain back to the site of the pagan ritual, only to discover that the pagans are better at cleaning up after themselves than a Slasher Movie villain. note In all fairness, the pagans had plenty of forewarning, since the detectives blew their own cover during The Infiltration.
Chekhov's Gun: The handful of drugs Streebek takes at the Pagan rally to blend in while undercover.
The Virgin Connie Swail: "How come his is so much bigger than yours?"
Officer Joe Friday: "Miss?"
The Virgin Connie Swail: "The gun."
Officer Joe Friday: "I've never needed more."
Do It Yourself Theme Tune: Not the title theme itself, but the film's other major song, "City Of Crime" which plays over the closing credits, is an 80's style rap performed by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks (in-character as Friday and Streebek).
Flanderization: Ackroyd's Joe Friday takes the original Friday's straight-laced, by-the-rules personality Up to Eleven. Somewhat justified, as Ackroyd's character is the nephew of Webb's Friday, and clearly only imperfectly emulates his uncle.
Not forgetting Moral Advance Movement of America, though that one gets a bit less attention.
Gilligan Cut: Not an actual cut, but in one scene where Friday is waiting to meet Streebek in a bad neighborhood, Narrator!Friday notes that it's not a good place to stand around whistling. You can guess what Friday is doing in the scene.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Capt. Gannon is presented as a crusty, "tough love" type of guy. On the other hand, when told that one of the best officers on the entire force has gone missing (let alone the nephew of your old partner), you'd think your reaction would be a little more than "WHO CARES?".
Mythology Gag: At the start of the film, Friday's partner Frank Smith gets Put on a Bus (since he never appears on camera, it's more accurate to say he never got off the bus). One of Friday's partners in the series, as detailed in the body, was also named Frank Smith.
Capt. Gannon: "I'm afraid Frank won't be coming in today, Joe."
Joe Friday: "24 hour flu?"
Capt. Gannon: "It's a bit more serious than that."
Joe Friday: "48?"
Of Course Im Not A Virgin: Totally averted. The virgin Connie Swail doesn't mind people introducing her as such, and Friday doesn't deny it himself.
Joe Friday: "Prepare the virgin [for a virgin sacrifice]?" I don't like the sound of that."
Pep Streebeck: "Let's just hope they're not referring to you."
Friday: [After turning down Sylvia Wiss] Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we're capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don't drag me down into your private Hell.
Sinister Minister: Reverend Whirley, whose pious televangelist act is just that, and while he rails against the wickedness of Jerry Caesar's smut empire for the cameras, he's also plotting to murder Caesar and take it over himself. Friday, who was a fan of the Reverend, isn't happy to learn this.
"Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Of course, the film dutifully trots out the series' signature closing shot describing the Big Bad's ultimate (legal) fate... and then proceeds to give it a big ol' wedgie. "[The Villain] was sentenced to 43 consecutive 99-year prison terms. Which means he'll be eligible for parole in seven years."