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Franchise / Dragnet

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"My partner's name is Bill Gannon. My name's Friday."

"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear/see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent."

Archetype of the Police Procedural, Dragnet followed the exploits of Sgt. Joe Friday (badge number 714) and his partners as they investigated crime in Los Angeles.

Dragnet was the brainchild of its star, writer, director and producer 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. In return, the LAPD requested that they be depicted in a reasonably positive light; an editorial choice that the pro-police Webb happily agreed with. As such, while there are precursors like the Dick Tracy comic strip, Dragnet has been credited in seriously cleaning up the public image of the police in popular culture as competent and professional public servants.

Unqualified, the title Dragnet usually refers to an entire franchise of series which ran intermittently from 1949 to 1970:

  • Dragnet, the original radio series, which ran from 1949-1957.
  • Dragnet, called Badge 714 in syndication, a black and white (with one exception) TV series running from 1951-1959. There was a theatrical film adaptation in 1954 and print adaptations in the form of paperback books and newspaper strips.
  • Dragnet 1967, a Revival of the original series, which ran (under a different title each year) from 1967 to 1970. This series was launched by a movie, unsurprisingly titled Dragnet 1966. It was made in 1966 but was not broadcast until 1969. 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 (in season anthologies, with the pilot movie included in the 1969 collection).

Officer Bill Gannon, Friday's partner in the revival series, played by Harry Morgan, was actually a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, the last and best known of several 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 season of the original TV series. He was briefly succeeded by a number of different partners, until Ben Alexander proved popular enough to be a permanent replacement, playing Detective Frank Smith, from late 1952 to the end of the original TV show's run in 1959. Alexander also played Frank Smith in the 1954 feature film.

Unlike just about every other police show, before and since Dragnet's airing, the focus 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 robberies, frauds and scams, drug offenses, and even arson. 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 Catch Phrases, 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.

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 Los Angeles Police Department funeral honors, even though Webb had never actually served on the force, in light of his service to the LAPD through Dragnet. Daryl F. Gates, chief of the LAPD, also announced that badge number 714 would be retired and would never be assigned to anyone else.

At the time of Webb's death he was developing yet another revival of Dragnet, in which he would once again star as Friday. As Morgan was starring on M*A*S*H at the time, his character would have been replaced by yet another new partner, likely played by Kent McCord of sister series Adam-12, though whether he would actually be reprising his role of Officer Jim Reed is unclear. After Webb's death, the franchise continued to grow, with varying degrees of success:

  • A 1987 feature film, a combination homage and Affectionate Parody, features Dan Aykroyd as a new Joe Friday, the nephew of Webb's character, and Tom Hanks as his partner. The duo are assigned to investigate a series of bizarre and (seemingly) unrelated robberies and vandalisms, eventually uncovering a dastardly plot by an underground criminal gang to undermine all authority in Los Angeles. Harry Morgan reprises his role as Bill Gannon, who has since been promoted to Captain of Robbery-Homicide.
  • In 1989, a Dragnet (sometimes The New Dragnet) revival (In Name Only) aired in syndication, alongside a similar revival of Dragnet's companion show, Adam-12. 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 a Revival in 2003 with a series which was eventually retitled L.A. Dragnet, staring Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday. It lasted only a season and a half. While the first season was a fairly faithful recreation of the original concept, 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.

The various TV versions (the radio series has its own page) of Dragnet provide examples of:

  • Ambiguously Christian: Gannon hints at his religious beliefs once, in Episode 25, Season 3, of the 1967 revival. When he and Friday are at a hospital, checking on a baby who wasn't expected to survive, Gannon and the Doctor have this exchange.
    Doctor: Either I'm a great doctor, which I'm not, or there is a God. The child is gonna live.
    Gannon: You're right twice, doc.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: A subplot in the 1966 pilot movie involved Gannon being forcibly retired because he couldn't pass the Department physical. At the end of the case, he turns in his badge and tells Joe he's going up to Pismo Beach to take a job as a security guard. The movie ends eight months later, when Gannon shows up at the hospital while Joe's having his physical and tells him that the time away helped improved his health enough to pass and he's being reinstated both to the force and to being Joe's partner.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The detectives move from division to division much more frequently than they would in real life. Jack Webb, normally a stickler for realism, did this to show audiences different facets of police work.
  • Actually, I Am Him: In "The Big Test", a young man comes into the station and claims his friend Kevin Bradley was murdered by bandits while they were prospecting in Mexico. After his story starts to unravel, he breaks down and admits he is Kevin Bradley - he'd hoped to fake his death because he felt his parents were too restrictive.
  • Always Murder: Averted. Though Friday and his partners handled their fair share of homicides, they also chased down armed robbers, burglars, con men, shoplifters and drug peddlers. They even had occasional duty in the administrative offices handling paperwork and walk-in complaints from the public. Jack Webb believed part of Dragnet's purpose was to show more of the police than just homicide.
  • 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"note . Also subverted slightly in episodes in which one of the partners invites the other for dinner and neighbors come out of the woodwork, looking for help.
  • Asian Babymama: A rare inversion of the trope - Friday and Gannon are assigned to investigate a four-day-old baby left overnight in a trash can. The culprit turns out to be the (Caucasian) fiance of a soldier currently in Vietnam who had been impregnated before he left. A few days before giving birth, she got a letter back telling her he was staying in Vietnam and marrying a Vietnamese woman.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender/Disguised in Drag: A 1950 radio episode, "The Big Girl," (adapted for the television show in 1954) told the story of a series of increasingly-brutal robberies, committed on men by a beautiful, tall woman, with the descriptions given varying only in hair color and style. By the end of the episode, Friday and Smith had tracked down the perp - a man who convincingly disguised himself as a woman. (Unfortunately, the TV version didn't have the man shown in disguise - on the other hand, the actor cast in the role didn't look like he would have pulled it off.)
  • Author Filibuster:
    • 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 three-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.
  • Based on a True Story: See the page quote.
  • Beige Prose: Friday's deadpan narration often included elements of this (including variants on: "This is the city. I work here. I'm a cop.")
  • Big Eater: Bill Gannon. Or perhaps more accurately 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 chili 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).
  • Bottle Episode:
    • At least once a season during the revival series, there would be an "Interrogation" episode - one where everything would happen entirely within one location, and would be concerned almost exclusively with interrogating or debating a single person:
      • The aforementioned three minute rant occurs in an episode called "The Big Interrogation" (1967) 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.
    • An original series 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.
    • Multiple episodes in the 1969 and 1970 seasons are Bottle Episodes, taking place in specific departments or locations (see "A Day in the Life" below). The episodes completely take place at these locations, with any action being indirectly told through radio or telephone calls or brought into the scene by the public or other officers.
  • Bribe Backfire: Repeatedly, because Joe Friday was notoriously non-bribeable. In "Administrative Vice - DR-29" (1969) a Dirty Cop tried to bribe him to protect his bookmaking... so Joe went to the captain and worked with him to get evidence for arrest—and at the end, makes the Dirty Cop read himself his own Miranda rights. "The Big Clan" (1968) involved Gypsy fortune tellers who tried it... Joe went along long enough to get evidence, then busted them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Call-Back:
    • The Subscription Racket references The Bank Examiner Swindle.
    • A scene in the episode involving stealing dogs to collect reward money references the purse-snatching dog episode.
  • Catchphrase: Several examples frequently used or parodied, including, "My name is Friday. I carry a badge."
  • Celibate Hero: Zig-Zagged with Friday - In the original radio/TV series, Friday lived with his mother, despite being in his twenties and thirties. In the '60s series, this would seem even more unusual for a man of Friday's age, so he went to living in his own bachelor apartment, despite a few brief references that his mother was still alive. Gannon is frequently making mention that Friday, at his age, is still unmarried, rarely dating, and lives alone eating canned soup, a big thing during the time period the show was on. That said, Joe is not seen to be a slouch with flirting with attractive women, particularly if it's needed to gain access to a criminal enterprise (like, say, an illegal card-game). Taken altogether, the best explanation for Friday is that he's Married to the Job.
  • 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. And the suspect actually gets one right. At the time, possession of marijuana was a felony. The suspect says, "One day marijuana will be perfectly legal, and people will be able to buy it openly." Flash forward about 30 years to when medical marijuana was approved in California, with recreational use becoming legal there 10 years later.
  • Christmas Episode: The series did at least two. One was ".22 Rifle for Christmas", which lives up to its ominous title (see the TearJerker page for more details). Then there was "The Big Little Jesus", about a baby Jesus statue being stolen from a nativity creche. The culprit turned out to be a little boy who "borrowed" the statue to give it a ride in his wagon.
    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.
    • An early radio episode had Friday and Romero tracking down a missing woman for her worried out-of-state mother as Christmas approached.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The hippie florist in "The Big Dog".
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Although there was a comic strip, there was surprisingly no US comic book released of either the original TV series or the 1960s version. Several issues of a Dragnet comic based on the show were published in Australia, however.
  • Consummate Professional: Friday, in spades. Even when he's not on duty, he's on duty. Gannon repeatedly tries, in vain, to loosen him up.
  • Continuity Nod: In the 1970 episode "The Dognappers" Gannon is reading a book from the police library to try to "brush up" on his dog knowledge. The book was ordered by Sgt. Friday in response to the events of the 1968 episode "The Big Dog".
  • Contract on the Hitman: One episode has Friday and Gannon going undercover to investigate a solicitation to murder. It turns out that the husband who wants his alcoholic wife eliminated plans to shoot the hit man and make it look like self-defense.
  • Cop Killer:
    • Discussed in an episode each of the radio show and the '60s TV series. Friday monologues that the reason the department goes all-out to catch cop killers isn't just because they killed a friend of theirs. To paraphrase, if a suspect is willing to kill an armed police officer, would they hesitate to kill a civilian?
    • In one episode of the '60s series two officers, a rookie and his training officer, are shot trying to stop a pair of liquor store robbers, one of whom escapes. The older officer dies shortly after coming out of surgery and, according to the end of the episode, while the captured robber was sentenced to death, the other one was "still at large".
  • Cop Show: Not the first, but its popularity helped establish the genre.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Bill Gannon as revealed in the episode "A.I.D. — The Weekend."
  • Crossover: Officers Malloy and Reed, from the Webb-produced Adam-12, appear in a 1968-69 season episode, "Internal Affairs: DR 20". There are cases of Kent McCord in earlier episodes appearing as other officers, including ones named Reed. However, it's not certain if the character's name is Jim Reed since those episodes aired before the first episode of Adam-12 did.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: In "The Little Victim," the titular infant is beaten by his father. His mother claims he escaped from the apartment and fell downstairs. No one at the hospital is convinced, especially after the doctors see the X-rays showing his bones have been broken before.
  • Darker and Edgier: The 1954 theatrical movie is more violent (and more graphically violent) than the radio or TV series.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Friday, occasionally. The Strawman Political hippie activist he debates in one episode is a more pronounced version of this trope.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The suspect in "Forgery - The Ranger" ended up being a person who applied for the U.S. Forest Service, but was rejected because of a bad heart. He had a friend in the USFS who died suddenly, so the suspect stole his identity and pretended to be him so that he could live out his dream.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Implied in one episode where Friday and Gannon are posted in the hospital. A mortally wounded man (who had evidently been cheating on his wife) is brought in, tries to make a dying declaration, but dies before he can say for sure whether his wife, the prime suspect, is the one who shot him.
  • Death of a Child: Two babies die in the '60s series alone, one by drowning in the bathtub when her parents get so high that they forget she's in there, the other by being shaken to death — by his father.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: Joe Friday, usually. Bill Gannon, occasionally.
  • Driving a Desk: Averted in the times when they're actually driving while filming, played straight whenever Bill waggles the steering wheel despite driving down straight city roads.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Emphasized repeatedly, especially in the '60s revival as it was taking place in a period when drug use was rising dramatically. The very first 1967 episode was titled "The LSD Story."
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: In "Personnel - The Shooting", Officer Frank Miller is fatally wounded trying to save civilians and his wounded partner during a liquor store holdup. He is awarded the Medal of Valor posthumously.
  • Ear Trumpet: Appears in one episode as Joe Friday and his partner attempt to question a hard-of-hearing witness.
  • Et Tu, Brute?/Dirty Cop: Or perhaps "Et Tu, Christophore?"note  In an episode of the third season in the Sixties, one of the best cops on the force has turned crooked.
  • Evil Gloating: In the final case in the final episode, the robbery and shooting at the corner grocery store. The grocer implored the robber not to take all the money; he had bills to pay.
Robber: That's just too bad. Here, let me help you pay them. *shoots the grocer thrice in the stomach*
  • Evil Old Folks: In one episode, a septuagenarian Villain of the Week boasts of being "the world's oldest cat burglar".
  • Evil Uncle: In "The Big Shooting", one of the two Villains Of The Week has statutory rape of his niece on his past record.
  • Eyepatch of Power: In the episode "D. H. Q. — Night School", the fellow classmate in Friday's night class that forces the Professor to keep Friday in the class—he's actually a lawyer.
  • Everybody Smokes: Many characters are seen puffing away, particularly Friday, both because it was an accepted habit at the time and because the show was sponsored by cigarette companies.
  • Famed in Story: In "The Trial Board", Friday assumes that the officer who asked for Friday as his advocate just picked a name at random off the department roster. The man insists that he picked Friday because the other officers in the division say that Sergeant Friday's one of the best, and that he'll go all the way to defend a cop who's in the right.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: In the backstory to "Burglary: Mister", Chester Albertson had posted Mister Daniel Lumis' bail on a check-forging charge. How does Lumis repay him? By skipping out on bail and swiping Albertson's camera, stereo rig, TV, three good suits, and bowling trophies in the process.
  • Film Noir: The series was actually intentionally done as an homage this style, with gritty hard-boiled detectives, mean streets, and a jazz score.
  • Framing Device: The opening and closing narrations.
  • Generic Cop Badges:
    • Averted. Joe Friday's badge is a real LAPD badge, and its badge number (714) is officially assigned to the fictional detective. The badge number was retired when his actor, Jack Webb died, and he was buried with a replica of it.
    • A minor law enforcement officer character in one episode has generic "POLICE DEPT." patches on his arms.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: In "The Starlet," the titular runaway leaves a note that says simply "To whom it may concern" before she overdoses on reds. The note explains it all - she didn't think her death would concern anyone.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In The Big High, we don't see the dead child. But from the fact that Bill Gannon, who is made of such stern stuff that he hasn't once lost his lunch in seventeen years on the job, is now going to, we know it's a seriously disturbing sight.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • A non-sexual example. In the episode "The Prophet", 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.
    • A recovering addict in the episode "Narco: Missing Hypo" from the '60s version says that another addict "tried to turn [him] on."
  • Healthcare Motivation: In the 1967 episode "The Bookie," a man takes bets to pay for surgery for his ten-year-old daughter, who has a heart defect. Not only is he caught and arrested, his daughter dies a few hours after surgery.
  • Heroic BSoD: Several episodes involve cops who are suffering this. "The Big Frustration" involves one where the detective becomes so frustrated at one of his cases being tossed out of court he actually goes AWOL (Friday and Gannon convince him to come back, but he's slapped with a hefty suspension for his behavior).
  • Hidden Depths: Discussed as a trope when Joe Friday mentions having read Aldous Huxley during a television debate.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: This trope is invoked in the late '60s series, where at least one criminal of the week espouses it. In a different episode, Friday recommends that a teenage boy try the local library instead.
  • Hospitality for Heroes: In one episode, Friday and Gannon bust a perp just before he can go after a restaurant owner. Immediately afterwards, a line of dialogue reveals that the cops haven't had lunch yet. The restaurant owner immediately offers a free lunch; when they refuse she tells them to sit down and order anyway, there's nothing controlling the size of the portions she serves them.
  • Humans Are Bastards: "The story you are about to hear/see is true." And some of the crimes are horrific.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming:
    • Most episodes of the original radio/TV series were titled "The Big (something)".
    • The 1969 season's episodes are named "(Division): DR (number)".
  • Illegal Gambling Den: Showed up in a few episodes, usually as an illegal bookmaking operation or a "floating" poker game that Friday and Gannon had to bust while working in Administrative Vice.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Con artists try this occasionally. For example:
    • A pair of phony bank examiners, stealing money from pensioners by claiming they need it to conduct a sting on a bank teller. Gannon poses as a mark and asks the fake inspectors if they're carrying identification.
    Con artist: Here's my badge. We always carry it. (gets out fake credentials)
    Joe: (comes in from the next room with his badge out) So do we. You're under arrest.
    • A pair of phony vice cops shakedown out-of-town businessmen by getting a scantily-clad woman into their room somehow, then conducting a phony prostitution arrest. The con comes when the not-cops claim the victim out-of-towner needs to stay in town long enough to testify at the woman's arraignment. note  They convince the mark, however, that if he forks over $1000 for bail, the woman will likely disappear, meaning no need to testify, and more importantly, no chance anyone back home will hear the mark had anything to do with a prostitute.
    • A group of con artists with a phony police protection league convince marks to pay for a classified ad in their magazine, which comes with a special card that allows holders to get special privileges from the police, such as getting moving violations discarded. The cards don't work, of course.
    • A more benign version, citizens are calling the department looking for "Officer Gideon C. Dengle" to give him awards for his friendly service. The LAPD does not have an Officer Dengle, so Friday and Gannon go looking for the "cop". Nothing Dengle does is malicious — even his tickets direct payment to the LAPD, not him — and he reads his own rights when he's caught disguised as a firefighter. Turns out he used to be a police officer.
  • Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence: One episode has an unintentional example when an off-duty Joe Friday is shot at by a teenager attempting to rob a vending machine. Joe returns fire and fatally wounds the suspect, but then has trouble proving the other guy shot first when the crime scene investigators can't find the corresponding bullet. The bullet shot at Joe was fired just right to lift a shelf off of its supports before embedding in the wall. The shelf then came back down into place, hiding the hole.
    Bill Gannon: Nothing's ever easy for you, is it, Joe?
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Joe Friday. His only vice is cigarettes, which can be Hand Waved given the time the TV show was filmed, and that the series was once sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In "The Bank Jobs," a woman tells the protagonists how criminals forced her at gunpoint to help them rob a bank. At the end, she says, "I had three options: start screaming, faint, or have a drink. This is my fourth."
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: By Walter Schumann. The famous "dum-da-DUM-dum" sting was actually swiped (unintentionally) from Miklos Rozsa's score to the 1946 noir film The Killers, which is why Rózsa is co-credited in print if not on screen. (Ironically, he never did any work in television himself.) Later arranged as a swingin' big-band number by Ray Anthony (which became a hit single), and a rather excellent four-part fugue by Stephen Malinowski.
  • It's All About Me: Most of the criminals feel this way, but Mister Daniel Lumis takes the cake, feeling that even the cops should accept his my-wants-trump-all attitude and apologize for daring to interrupt his three-game bowling series with handcuffs.
  • Internal Affairs: Friday has both served in this capacity investigating a cop and being the subject of one by IA. Either way, no one disputes the role and there is pure professionalism in the tasks.
  • Kick the Dog: Many villains of the week do this.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Friday is a Knight in Shining Armor who sometimes slips into this, particularly in the 1967 revival when confronting egregious examples of late 1960s societal decay.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities:
    • 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 is Captain of Robbery-Homicide in the 1987 movie.
  • Limited Wardrobe: For the 1960s incarnation of the series, Friday and Gannon both wore grey suits with white shirts and black ties, and only those, for almost every episode (excluding some undercover assignments or off-duty episodes, though even those usually had them in the suits for at least one scene) to save time and money. The one exception was when Jack Webb and Harry Morgan once swapped jackets to see if anyone would notice. No one did.
  • Locard's Theory: Possibly the earliest TV instance, in an early episode.
  • Locked Room Mystery: "The Big Bullet" - a man is found dead inside a room from a gunshot wound. The door was locked and barricaded from the inside, and the window was locked and the curtains drawn. A recently-fired .38 revolver was next to the body. Initially, suicide was suspected until the coroner dug out the bullet and the crime lab found that it could not have been fired by the only weapon in the room (the slug was a 9mm fired from an automatic). The victim's mother-in-law shot him outside the room after he shot the bible she was holding. The victim then entered the room where he was found, locked it, and died.
  • Los Angeles: "This is the city..."
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Different episodes put 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. Averted at the same time, however, as whatever department Friday and his partner were in, the two only did the plainclothed work. If they needed something else done, like tracing a license plate or fingerprinting a suspect, they would contact whichever appropriate division was needed for that certain task. They would also work with other divisions and officers if their cases happened to overlap with each other, such as narcotics working with juvenile if the suspect is turns out to be a minor.
  • Miranda Rights: Said almost once an episode in the 1960s version of the show. However, the 1950s show did not have this, as it wasn't required until the 1966 Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona.
  • Mistaken for Quake: Friday and Gannon stay in a hotel posing as orange growers to infiltrate a high-stakes gambling game and the room is right next to the elevator shaft. Friday mistakes the rumbling and shaking for an earthquake the first time it happens.
  • Momma's Boy: Middle-aged bachelor Friday still lives with his mother during the early seasons of the original series. In the 1960s series, this would seem even more bizarre for someone of Friday's age, so he was given his own bachelor apartment.
  • Motive Rant: A frequent staple.
  • The Movie: Two — a theatrical release in 1954 and a TV movie made in 1966 which didn't air until 1969 (the network delayed release when they decided to go ahead with a new series).
  • Mr. Exposition: Friday fulfills this role. If the showrunners want the audience to know something about law, crime, or the police, then Friday is usually the one who explains it.
  • Mugging the Monster: A robber made it his MO to hitch rides with women on whom he then draws a gun—help him rob a bank or die. The fourth time around, however, he picks a karate instructor. As they're leaving, as soon as she recovers her wits she decks and disarms him.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Joe Friday smokes regularly. Both because Jack Webb was a heavy smoker and because the series was sponsored by Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company. This was a plot point in one episode, as Joe gets involved in an off-duty shooting because he stopped by a laundromat looking for a cigarette vending machine. The machine was out of order anyways.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Happens somewhat often. Several (though not all) suspects throughout the series are shown to be guilt-ridden about their crimes.
    • When Friday uses lethal force against a suspect for the first time, he is very shaken up about it.
    • In "The Big High", the suspects are horrified and break down sobbing when they learn that their heavy marijuana use has resulted in them neglecting their young child, causing her death. It even shakes Gannon.
    • 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. In the shot after Friday and Smith take him away, we see his pocketknife on the floor next to the chair he'd been sitting in.
  • Myopic Architecture: During a security check of a business during one of the 1960s episodes, Gannon manages to open a locked door by pulling it open and breaking the door frame in the process, then explains to the shocked business owner that a fancy new lock means nothing if the door it's attached to has a frame that's rotting away.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Friday almost always introduced himself by his last name, then occasionally giving his full name afterward.
  • Narrator: Friday himself.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: 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.
  • No Antagonist: Some of the episodes didn't take place on the job and involved incidents at one of the officer's residences. In the 1969 and 1970 seasons, several episodes were dedicated less to specific cases and more to specific roles: such as the Business Office or the Robbery Desk. Other times, the case doesn't involve pursuing a specific criminal. In "Management Services - DR-11", the focus was the Emergency Control Center which helped maintain order in the wake of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, and in "Public Affairs - DR-12", the case involved planning guard detail for a visit from the President.note  In such cases, there may not be a criminal epilogue, so if there was a narration, it focused instead on the role displayed in the episode. Most of the above also tended to be Bottle Episodes.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: The series is famous for its tagline, "The story you are about to hear/see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." Every Dragnet story comes from actual police officers so the events seen actually happened at some point in the past.
  • Obfuscating Disability: In "The Big Shipment," a drug smuggler pretends to be deaf and dumb so he can't be interrogated. He gives up the act when Friday looks in his wallet and finds a receipt for two phonograph records.
    Accomplice: You really are dumb. Why didn't you just say you bought them for a friend?
  • Offing the Offspring: The sad outcome of a few child abuse cases.
  • One-Word Title: It's named for the police term "dragnet", defining any systematic method of trying to catch wanted people.
  • Opening Narration: By Friday.
    • 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 1970, however, Webb more often than 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."
  • Out Sick: When Bill Gannon is sick, Sgt. Friday is paired with a temporary partner, who turns out to have been taking bribes.
  • 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."
  • Parental Fashion Veto: "The Big Kids" has a juvenile delinquent who changes into hippie clothes (which he stole) in a gas station to avoid his parents' disapproval. When he's picked up for shoplifting, he begs Friday to let him change before his mom sees him; Friday refuses. Sure enough, his mom seems as angry about the style of the clothes as the fact that they were stolen.
  • Perp Sweating: A particular talent of Friday and his partner. "The Big Squeeze" is a half-hour of Friday and Gannon slowly, patiently, expertly wearing down a very savvy suspect by bringing out their bits of evidence — which aren't in themselves enough for an indictment — at just the right time to catch him in his various lies, eventually unsettling him enough that he confesses.
  • Phony Veteran: One of the suspects in "The Subscription Racket" claims that he's a United States Marine, and even has a genuine Congressional Medal of Honor to back it up. The Medal is indeed the real thing, but it was earned by the suspect's father posthumously for his actions in The Vietnam War.
  • 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.
    • In the 1967 series, season 2, there was an episode called "The Big High", in which a concerned grandfather tries to save his granddaughter from her parents, who experiment on marijuana. The parents are stopped, but not before the daughter drowns in the bathtub while the parents are getting stoned.
    • In the episode "The Big Starlet" of the same season, Friday and Gannon try to rescue a young woman of 16 who got involved with adult motion pictures. They find her, but not before she commits suicide from drug overdose.
    • Later that season, "The Little Victim" featured a baby in danger of child abuse by her father. Unfortunately, the child dies as a result of the abuse.
  • Police Procedural: Didn't invent the genre, but solidified it and practically ruled it for two decades.
  • Ponzi: The aptly titled "The Pyramid Swindle" has a televangelist-esque woman running a "give me money, recruit other people to give you money" scheme. People who buy in gain access to a catalogue of items sold cheaper than in stores, as well as a $19.99 recruitment tape. At her trial, a statistician demonstrates how, in order to reach the twelfth level, her scheme would need to recruit over 300 million people; at the time, the population of the United States was around 200 million.
  • Portmantitle: As a fusion of "Drag" and "Net". "Dragnet" is a real police term - it's a systematic method of capturing suspects within an area by closing off possible escape routes, then searching the area from the outside inward.
  • Precious Puppies:
    • Ginger, a drug sniffing dog. The closing narration tells us she did her job so well the Underworld paid her their highest compliment: they put a price on her head. It then goes on to note this was the story of the first drug-sniffing dog; many more would follow.
    Joe Friday: (To a vice detective belittling the dog program) Woof.
    • One episode has Friday and Gannon on the trail of a purse-stealing canine.note 
  • Product Placement:
    • Joe Friday was known to smoke first Fatima, then Chesterfield cigarettes during the radio and original TV series. Both brands were owned by L&M.
    • 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.
    • In the 1960s series, Friday and Gannon drive a custom beige 1967 Ford Fairlane, featuring some custom additions only found on the Fairlane 500. In-universe, it's Gannon's cruiser, but in reality, the car was built specifically for Jack Webb by Ford.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Episode 20, Season 3, in the 1967 revival featured an ending like this. Friday arrested a woman for beating her son so savagely that the boy needed to go to the hospital. Unfortunately the criminal court didn't sent her to prison, the judge let her keep custody of her son, and while she was ordered to visit a psychiatrist for a year she was totally remorseless and scolded Friday outside the courtroom for embarrassing her. However, Friday coldly stated that he'll personally arrest her if she ever abuses her child again. Finally, when she and her son leave the courtroom, the boy stops to look back at Friday and waves at him, showing he knows he can seek help the next time his mother beats him.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: If the story you were about to see weren't true, Willing Suspension of Disbelief would sometimes be impossible. Lampshaded in Mister.
    Gannon: The more I learn about Mister Lumis, the more he sounds like the figment of someone's imagination.
  • Real Time: The radio episode "Attempted City Hall Bombing" takes place over half an hour, in-universe and out of it. This format is preserved, with slight modifications to allow for commercial breaks, both in the second radio version produced for the series ("The Big Bomb") and in the version filmed for television ("The Human Bomb").
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Averted - as Webb was a big music fan, he insisted that every episode of both the radio and television versions have an original score (supplied on the original show by theme composer Walter Schumann for the most part, although Schumann's orchestrator Nathan Scott did several as well; Frank Comstock and Lyn Murray handled the revival).
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Kent McCord and occasionally Martin Milner appearing as their Adam-12 characters Reed and Malloy.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: Frank Barker, the villain of "Intelligence (DR-34)" is a right-wing millionaire who tries recruiting policemen for his private militia. Joe, who infiltrates the group and discovers that they're stockpiling stolen military weapons, makes clear his disgust with Barker's attempts to co-opt police grievances for his own ends.
  • Roman à 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.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: One is the center of attention in the 1967 episode The Big Shooting. Having already been used to shoot a patrolling officer, and hearing from an informant that the gunman kept it close at hand, Friday took the threat seriously, going in with a police shotgun at the ready and picking a time when he can get the drop on the perp in bed.
  • Scamming the Bereaved:
    • A gang uses this con in "The Big Betty," albeit with cheap watches and other bits of useless junk rather than Bibles.
    • In "The Big Grifter" a con man pretends to be an old friend of a recently deceased man and asks for money for a medical emergency.
  • Schiff One-Liner: Friday usually made some wryly trenchant comment at the end of the main part of the episode, leading to the four-note Sting and the results of the trial.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: In 1954, an official "Dragnet" stage play was written by James Reach, adapting the story described above in Locked Room Mystery.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Usually instigated by Ben Romero (in the radio series), Frank Smith or Bill Gannon (in the television series).
  • Series Continuity Error
    • Frank Smith is introduced at the beginning of the original TV series' second season, but 20 episodes later it's stated that he and Friday have been partners for years.
    • When Friday faces a police board over shooting a robber, Gannon testifies 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.
    • In the first episode of the 1960s revival, Bill states he has two sons. But every time his kids are mentioned later, it's four sons. It's true they could have been born during the series, but when Joe visits Bill's home in two episodes, it doesn't look like there are any babies or very young children living there.
    • During season one of the 1960s revival, there is a pair of episodes involving frauds. In the first episode, Friday and Gannon are working on a case involving phony bank examiners. Later they are working on a magazine subscription racket with a different pair of detectives working on the bank examiners case.
    • In a 1970 episode, Friday says he's been working with Gannon in the police hospital detail for three years. While the show had been running for three years, the previous three seasons very obviously prove Friday wasn't working the hospital detail for three years.
      • Even if Friday's claim is applied solely to his time partnered with Gannon, it's still technically incorrect, as they were partners in the 1966 movie, making it four years, not three.
    • Joe is promoted to Lieutenant in the end of the 1950s run but in the revival, he's back to Sergeantnote .
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In "Homicide: Who Killed Who?", a guy murders two men and the manager of the rooming house he was living at, then gets shot when a third man fights back. At the end of the episode, Friday tells the reporters that the dead suspect's motive was a quarrel about what television programs they watched in the common room. As they file out, a delivery man shows up asking about the suspect - he has the brand-new TV set the guy ordered the day before.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The "this is the city" intros of most 1960s episodes are more or less shoutouts to the entire city of Los Angeles, practically advertising its history, buildings, features, and amenities. Little of the few negative things said in the intros are specific or unique to the city, and are mostly just general criminal activities or framed as having happened long ago.
    • A popular myth states that 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.
    • Webb was very concerned about the minutiae of police work and oversaw everything down to things like a scrap of paper left hanging on a thumbtack in the background because he felt that including every possible bit of realism meant that the viewer would believe in the show all the more.
    • There's a story about how Webb was shooting a scene where he picked up the phone only for him to angrily throw down the receiver and start yelling because the extension number on the phone was for the wrong department. Let that sink in for a moment: not only was Webb angry about an element that wouldn't even have been visible had the prop been facing the camera, he knew the proper extension number to a real department in the LAPD by heart.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!
    • Friday's rejoinder to a committed neo-Nazi: "You keep harping about minorities. Well, mister, you're a psycho. And they're a minority, too."
    • 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, from the '60s series. Heck, it's even Lampshaded by his grandmother-in law that he stole from.
    Mrs. Candell: I'll give you a description. A forked tongue, little beady eyes, and he slithers on his belly. You'll find him easy. Just look under rocks.
  • Something Else Also Rises: A Nightmare Fuel variant appears in the intro to the 1966 TV movie, when the (as yet unnamed) murderer in the A plot is shown watching footage of himself about to strangle victim #3, and excitedly snapping the cord he used.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: From radio to both the small screen and the silver one.
  • 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). Webb and Robert Cinader of Adam-12 later did Emergency!, which was Adam-12 WITH PARAMEDICS!
    • L.A. Noire is effectively one big love-letter to Dragnet, albeit set in the postwar 1940s and somewhat Darker and Edgier.
  • Standard Police Motto: This was the Trope Maker, bringing the LAPD's now-famous motto into the public eye.
  • Status Quo Is God: The detectives may have worked out of a different division every week, but very little else changed.
  • Straw Political: Happens very, very often in any episode involving juveniles, politics, counterculture, or occasionally just insulting suspects. Someone likes marijuana? Prepare for them to basically hawk the same five talking points everyone else says, only for Friday to immediately shut them down in an impassioned speech about the dangers of smoking pot.
    • In a television debate in one episode, Joe Friday has to defend the police force from criticisms by a leftist public intellectual and a radical hippie activist. Interestingly, a strawman characterization of law enforcement is brought up by these two strawman characters.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: In "The Little Victim," the abusive father is jailed, and the mother gets a divorce so she and her infant son can live in safety. That is, until a year later, when the husband gets out of jail and pays his ex-wife a visit. The mother is so lonely that she lets him in, and he beats his son to death.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted with Frank Smith, who wasn't much like Ben Romero, then played straight with Bill Gannon, who was quite the Frank Smith clone at first.
  • Syndication Title: Badge 714 for the original TV series.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Seemingly prevalent in especially the 1960s revival, but several 1950s episodes were known for this as well. One example: "The Big Rod," a 1954 episode where a teenaged hot rodder is coldly indifferent to having struck (and killed) a woman who was seven months pregnant; he had been speeding well above the speed limit and was likely drunk as well.
  • These Hands Have Killed: The first time Friday had to use lethal force, he was visibly shaken afterwards.
  • Third-Person Person: George Fox does this a few times in "The Big Squeeze".
  • Tie-In Novel: Several paperbacks based on the series appeared in the 1950s, along with a daily newspaper strip.
  • Totally Radical: Many children and teenagers appear on the show, either as victims or suspects. The writers do their best to incorporate modern slang into their dialogue, with... varying success. Especially in the revival series.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The neo-Nazi in "The Big Explosion", the hippie separatists in "The Big Departure", and the Right Wing Militia Fanatics in "Intelligence (DR-34)" think so. Friday will have none of it.
  • Vanity Plate: According to Wikipedia, those sweaty hands banging out Mark VII are none other than Jack Webb's himself. IMDb, on the other hand, states that the hands actually belong to Harold Nyby, Webb's construction foreman, who was chosen because his hands equaled the size of former boxing champion Sonny Liston.
  • Very Special Episode:
    • "Management Services - DR-11", from the 1969 season, recounts events that took place on April 4 1968...the day Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. The focus of the episode was the Emergency Control Center: a "war room" designed for handling potentially riotous situations such as this. Thanks to the professionalism of the department, the ECC works as designed, and the end of the episode notes Los Angeles stayed under control in the aftermath.
    • "The Shooting Board" from 1968 had Joe Friday face a police inquiry board after killing a robber he caught in the act. The postscript featured Friday himself in the 'mugshot' tag as the narration stated that Friday's actions were ruled justified (acting in self-defense and thus in the line of duty). The overlay then reads 'Joe Friday — Returned to Duty'.
    • "The Big Frustration" dealt with a fellow officer who'd gone AWOL after a major case he broke was thrown out of court on a procedural violation. Friday and Gannon convince the captain to give them a couple days off to find him before he gets fired from the department.
  • Vignette Episode: Occasionally happened during the '60s 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 (front desk of the Parker Center), 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.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Virtually every episode ended with "X was convicted of Y and sentenced to Z".
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: The Internal Affairs Division does, and they're presented as just another aspect of the job rather than as Knight Templar people out to railroad good cops.
  • Wrong-Name Outburst: At the end of the TV version of "The Big Sorrow", Friday and his new partner Frank Smith capture the two fugitives. Frank says he'll go bring the car around and Friday reflexively replies "Thanks, Ben." Somewhat ashamed he apologizes to Frank, but Frank tells him it's okay: "He would have wanted to be here."
  • You Just Told Me: Friday and Smith tell one murder suspect that the dead man's daughter saw him. The suspect's reply? "She can't have. The lights were out."
  • You Make Me Sick: Or rather, two guys make bowling alley owner Chester Albertson sick in "Burglary—Mister":
"Milchick gives me heartburn, and Mister Daniel Lumis gives me ulcers!"
  • Your Favorite: For Bill Gannon, his Garlic Nut-Butter Sandwich.
    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!"
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: In "The Big Make," 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.