Synopsis of TV Show
“My name’s Friday. I’m a cop.”
At the beginning of the 1950’s, most television success stories were either comedy or variety programs. This all changed with the introduction of Dragnet, a tough, no-nonsense program that invented and defined the ever-popular ‘cop show’ genre for television. Its combination of gritty drama and detailed police work helped it become a two-time hit and also made its star/creator Jack Webb a major figure in the television pantheon of tough guys.
Dragnet began its long life as a radio program in 1949. Webb starred as the eternally deadpan Detective Joe Friday, a policeman with a single-minded dedication to his work. He seemed to have no personal life at all, spending every waking moment methodically tracking down facts, interviewing witnesses (“Just the facts, ma’am”), and getting his man before the show’s thirty minutes were up. Each show was based on real cases from the files of the Los Angeles police force, and every episode closed with an epilogue relating what happened to that week’s criminals. Every episode except the first also bore a title that began with the words “The Big” (i.e: ‘The Big Blast,’ ‘The Big Ham,’ ‘The Big Gangster’).
Sgt. Ben Romero initially assisted Friday in his quest for justice, but when the actor who played him (Barton Yarbrough) died, he was replaced for the rest of the season by Sgt. Ed Jacobs. In the second season, Officer Frank Smith joined the show as Friday’s third partner. Smith added a light comic touch that balanced out Friday’s all-business attitude, and the result was perfect chemistry. Smith continued to be Friday’s partner for the remained of the 1950’s version of the show. Female characters were periodically added to act as love interests for Friday, but none of them ever really took: it seemed Friday only had time for his job.
Thanks to its built-in radio audience, Dragnet hit the ground running when it moved to television. It became an instant hit, also winning praise from police units everywhere for its attention to careful and accurate police procedure. It also boasted one of the most memorable theme songs in television history (“dum-da-dum-dum”), which later became a hit single.
The show enjoyed a lengthy run that covered the most of the decade before finally ending in the fall of 1959. During its time on the air, the show also inspired several tie-in novels and a similarly titled feature film. It even inspired a #1 hit parody record, “St. George and the Dragonet,” by Stan Freberg.
After a seven-year hiatus, the show returned in 1967 as Dragnet ‘67 (the year number changed with each successive season). Jack Webb returned with a new partner, Officer Bill Gannon. The show continued in a similar fashion to the original, but the crimes Friday and Gannon dealt with changed to match the times. In addition to robberies and murders, they also had to deal with drug abuse, suicide and other social problems. Since these crimes required a different touch, the new Dragnet series placed a new emphasis on community outreach. Thus, Friday and Gannon spent as much time counseling kids as they did catching criminals.
The remodeled Dragnet series never hit the stratospheric heights of the original show, but it did well enough to continue into 1970. After the show ended, Webb continued to produce similar shows like Adam-12 and Emergency!, while his 60's partner Harry Morgan went on to even greater fame as Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. Meanwhile, both versions of Dragnet have cut out an enduring niche in television, remaining popular in syndication while providing a template for cop shows as diverse as Highway Patrol and Hill Street Blues.
In later years, Dragnet’s status as a legendary show also inspired a parody feature film with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, plus a short-lived syndicated remake called The New Dragnet. Dragnet remains a cult favorite today, proving that Jack Webb’s message of “Crime doesn’t pay” is truly an enduring one.
“The story you have just seen is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
Release History of Prime Time Show12/16/51 - 9/6/59 NBC
1/12/67 - 9/10/70 NBC
TV Sub Categoriesdrama
Television StudioMark VII, Ltd.
TV CastSergeant Joe Friday Jack Webb
Sergeant Ben Romero (1951) Barton Yarborough
Sergeant Ed Jacobs (1952) Barney Phillips
Officer Frank Smith (1952) Herbert Ellis
Officer Frank Smith (1952-59) Ben Alexander
Officer Bill Gannon (1967-70) Harry Morgan
Policewoman Dorothy Miller (1967) Merry Anders
Narrator (1967-70) John Stephenson
Announcer George Fenneman