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"For the next thirty minutes, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, you will travel step by step on the side of the law through an actual case transcribed from official police files."

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 Catch Phrases and featured an iconic four note Sting used as a Theme Tune.


Troped from official police files:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: Detective Friday and his partner wouldn't work so many different desks in the LAPD. However, having to explain why that is would take away from the story, and having a rotating bunch of detectives would only complicate things.
  • All for Nothing: In "The Big Jump", Friday risks life and limb to save a jumper in the middle of a paranoid episode. Seven months later he managed to hang himself in the mental hospital.
  • Always Murder: Despite being one of the Police Procedural, they focus on almost every type of crime police detectives investigate. Even when working the Homicide desk, sometimes it turns out the victim actually died from natural causes in a manner that looked suspicious.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Oddly averted in "The Big Actor". At the end of the episode they're interrogating the suspect on a movie sound stage. The cast and crew of the in-universe story have to keep redoing the scene, not because the actor is bad, but because he abbreviates or uses synonyms in the line he's supposed to be saying. Something that even good actors have trouble with.
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  • Based on a True Story: One of Dragnet's claims to fame. Jack Webb was given actual police reports, if anonymized, to turn into stories. This combined with actual training and lectures on then LAPD police procedures mean that the show is one of the most accurate Police Procedurals ever.
  • 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: Not only does the show go into what the book entails, it shows why a cop should be by the book. A couple times cops get into trouble because they go against protocol to do someone a favor. The book not only protects the public, but the police as well.
  • Catchphrase: 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.
    • "Missing Persons - Juanita Lasky" winds up as this. A woman calls in from Utah to say that her daughter hasn't talked to her for a while. As the episode goes on it becomes closer and closer to Christmas, which motivates the detectives to find her. They manage to find her and get her on the phone with her mother on Christmas Day. The ending narration says that it turns out she had an amnesia disorder which was the cause of everything.
  • Chocolate Baby: Used in "The Big Mother". The couple was black and the baby was very blonde. The twist is that she stole the child. Tragically it was because her own baby had been stillborn and she had no idea what to do.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: In "The Big Check", Friday's mother observes that check forgers could easily earn more for their work at an honest nine-to-five job.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Done, but not to the level that later shows would.
  • Death of a Child: Dragnet refused to shy away from such cases:
    • The February 2nd, 1950 episode "Claude Jimmerson: Child Killer" featured a double homicide (and implied rape) of a 7 year old and an 11 year old.
    • "The Big Children" had three children, the eldest, seven, abandoned for over a week by their mother. The youngest, 22 months, died shortly after the police investigated.
    • The Big Child" had another toddler dying after eating metal polish from under the sink.
  • Dedication: Each of the first several episodes of the radio version was dedicated to a police officer killed in the line of duty.
    "This episode is dedicated to [insert name], who on the [insert general time ('morning of', 'evening of') and date] gave his life so that yours might be more secure".
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: For a lot of victims it certainly feels like this. The police have to solve it and/or stop it. A case of Reality Is Unrealistic as it happens all the time in real life.
  • Dunking the Bomb: Done in "Attempted City Hall Bombing," but not for the usual reasons. They knew that the bomb was dynamite so the water would give it more of a buffer from shock. It would also hopefully short out or jam the unknown mechanism.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: "Homicide: Quick-Trigger Gunmen" uses different theme music, and Friday himself gives the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue. "George Slocum: Thief" probably did it the same way, only we cannot know for sure.
  • Everybody Smokes: It's the 50's. To the point where the only sponsor for the early radio show was a brand of cigarette, Fatima.
  • Expy: In the 1960s TV revival, Friday's partner is Officer Bill Gannon, whose personality and banter with Friday are very similar to Officer Frank Smith, Friday's final partner in the radio and 1950s TV series.
  • High-Voltage Death: In one story, a burglar means to tunnel into a bank. But just as Friday and Smith move to arrest him, he hits a power cable.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes of the series were titled "The Big (something)". The ones that weren't are either early episodes, or a repeat of an earlier episode.
  • 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.
  • It's 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: Early radio episodes in the archives are titled with the name of the person ultimately proven guilty. The most egregious example is "Claude Jimmerson: Child Killer", since when it first aired, it wasn't clear at first that the two missing girls were dead.
  • 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."
  • Lying to the Perp: Downplayed example in "The Big Knife". They only lied to the perp about what the LAPD's mass spectrometer was capable of as they were walking him to the police station.
  • 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. But in almost every episode, Friday and Romero will be the first to investigate, discover the critical clues and the ones to arrest the perp, even if half the LAPD is on the case with them.
    • In "The Big Eavesdrop", Friday, an undercover narcotics officer waiting for a buy, overhears two men discussing a murder they committed in San Fransisco. Of course he is assigned to investigate further.
  • Momma's Boy: Middle-aged bachelor Friday still lives with his mother. Also a case of slight Values Dissonance, as back in the day it was perfectly normal for an unmarried man to live with his parents until married.
  • More Expendable Than You: During Big Bomb Friday demands that the only cops involved not be married or have family due to the threat involved.
  • 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.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A couple of cases have cops doing people a favor by going against protocol. The people they did the favor for then accused them of police brutality as there was no one else to say otherwise.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: One of the episodes involves the search for two missing girls (ages 11 and 7). When their bodies are found, Friday gives what they had looked like in life, the fact that the corpses were holding wildflowers—and the fact that a veteran homicide detective had never seen such a sight as those corpses before and never hoped to again.
  • Offing the Offspring: In a number of Juvenile or Homicide episodes. Sometimes, it's through negligence; sometimes it's in a fit of rage; and in one episode the motive is a calculating she's-not-in-our-plans-and-I-want-to-spite-the-husband-anyway motive.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Friday when he trips literally holding a bomb. He curls up and waits for it to explode as it hits the pavement.... Thankfully the bomb maker did not want it to explode unless he wanted it to.
    • The perp in "The Big Grifter" when he tries to bribe Friday and his partner with the $1,200 he just scammed. And realizes that he's scammed himself.
    "I have money. I have... There's a dollar bill. And some newspaper. I've been had."
  • Opening Narration
  • Padding: Here and there. In "Big Mailman" Ben spends almost a minute trying to get a plastic raincoat back into its packaging.
  • Parental Neglect: Several episodes involved this, including some where one of the children was too far gone with an illness or injury to save.
  • Pocket Protector: A rather realistic example. A cab driver had been shot in the chest by the criminal gang of the episode. However he had placed a few silver dollars in his shirt pocket. He still wound up in the hospital but the silver dollars were enough to slow the bullet enough that it wasn't lethal.
  • 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.
  • Red Shirt: Any cop Friday knows who is introduced for the first time at the start of the episode and who talks about having plans for the evening or weekend at an episode's beginning is likely to be killed very soon.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: The Suspect in "Big Girl" gets caught because they dropped the gun, causing it to shoot them in the leg. A realistic example as it was a criminal with a gun from before 1950, back when guns were much more likely to go off when dropped.
  • 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.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Usually instigated by Ben Romero or Frank Smith.
  • Society Marches On: "The Big Book" is all about Joe Friday and the LAPD trying to bust an erotic literature ring in a high school. Nowadays with The Internet Is for Porn, people would be surprised that the kids have an actual physical copy.
  • Standard Police Motto: This was the Trope Maker, bringing the LAPD's now-famous motto into the public eye.
  • Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred: Yes really. Friday tries to talk a man in the middle of a paranoid episode out of jumping. Eventually Detective Friday plays into his delusions and goads him into trying to kill him because Friday is, supposedly, one of the people harassing him.
  • 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.
  • Tempting Fate: In one episode, a man who didn't believe in life insurance won a bet with a life insurance salesman, and didn't take a policy out. Less than an hour later someone murdered him.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Much to Ben's lament in "The Big Dance". He managed to make the best Spanish omelet that he had ever made, but duty calls.
  • Tragic Villain: In "The Big Mother" the woman had what can only be called a psychotic break after her child, that she had been trying to have for 11 years, was stillborn.
  • Trigger Happy: The first episode available involves a holdup trio, the id of whom is best known for entering a liquor store, saying "This is a stickup!", and immediately letting the clerk on duty have it.
  • Trope Makers/Ur-Example: The first-ever Police Procedural. Its success spawned a host of imitators and established the genre.
  • Unbuilt Trope: As the first real Police Procedural, it's not like most of them. Mainly due to how realistic it is. There aren't too many Police Procedurals that are willing to show the detectives having to spend over a week going from hotel to hotel trying to find the one their suspect was staying at in order to find the stolen jewelry.
  • Ungrateful Bitch/The Farmer and the Viper: Played straight in "The Big Thank You", where a lady had worked eleven years to get a murderess paroled, and given her houseroom and hospitality when she was. In repayment the murderess kills her for the insurance.
  • 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.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Quite a few of the suspects. The best example is the suspect in "Big Girl" who literally asks for medical help for his self inflected leg wound right after shooting at Friday.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: The suspect in "Big Elevator" was so drunk that he honestly wasn't sure if he killed the victim. As it turned out the victim had a brain tumor that had been slowly growing for years. It was just horrible luck on his part that he was in her apartment when a blood vessel in her brain finally ruptured from the pressure.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: One radio episode involves a kidnapping for ransom, but it turns out later that the daughter was already dead by the time the father got the ransom note.
  • 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.


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