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"The story you are about to see is true", "Just the facts, ma'am", "We were working the day watch" - phrases which became so popular as to inspire much parody - set the realistic tone of this early police drama. The show emphasized careful police work and the interweaving of policemen's professional and personal lives. Written by
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Dragnet began on radio in June 1949. The first two programs contained a lot of gratuitous violence. Letters from listeners changed this aspect of the program. On the third program, even the theme music had changed. The lone writer for the radio show was James Moser. Many of Jim's scripts were adapted for television when the TV version started in 1951. Because Barton Yarborough, who played Ben Romero, died while working on the TV show at the Disney studios in Burbank, his rural wisdom was sadly missed.
It should be remembered that Jack Webb was a comedian at heart. Comedy is a hallmark in every Dragnet episode. If you look hard in even the soberest episode about police officers getting killed, you will find smatterings of humor. Jack's first venture in broadcasting was a weekly comedy-variety series originating from KGO in San Francisco and heard on ABC West Coast stations during the spring of 1946.
All of the 1950s shows were in black and white with the exception of the annual Christmas show (The Big Little Jesus), which was always done in color. It was also the only episode which did not bear the statement, "The names have been changed to protect the innocent." There was a Christmas episode used prior to this one which was about a little boy who got a rifle for Christmas. I won't spoil it by telling you the ending, but you can probably figure what happens, three minutes into the show.
Some actors on Dragnet appeared as several different characters. They included Harry Bartell, Ed Phillips, Virginia Gregg, Olan Soule, Allene Roberts, Virginia Christine (Folgers Coffee lady), and many others. Some of the actors were "has beens" like Natalie Masters (who was Candy Matson on a radio series in the late 1940s) and Ben Alexander (Joe Friday's partner--had a big part in the 1930 antiwar flick "All Quiet on the Western Front.") Her husband, Monty Masters was on the production crew. Up and coming stars included Leonard Nimoy (bad guy), Dennis Weaver (worked in the police lab), and Martin Milner (your typical teenager from any Los Angeles high school). Peggy Webber, a woman who was probably born about the same year as Jack Webb, portrayed Joe Friday's mother, with whom he lived.
Those of us who loved the 1950s series find the 1960s series lacking in some ways. While it was a good, wholesome show for the entire family, it wasn't the old series. Of course, Joe Friday's partner, Bill Gannon, would get better stuff in the years to follow, as Col. Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H.
One thing a nitpicky guy like me notices is that at the end of Dragnet in the 1950s, Joe Friday was promoted to Lieutenant. When the show came back on the air in the 1960s, he was back to Sergeant.
There were two other programs with the Dragnet name. One was a syndicated program in the late 1980s. It had different characters and a very different feel. The other premiered in 2003: Joe Friday, now Detective Joe Friday, had badge 714 and a partner named Frank Smith, who was Joe's permanent partner after Ben Romero died in 1951 on the original series.
Actually, this show was rude in that the LAPD retired Friday's badge after his death. He had a State Funeral in Los Angeles City Hall. When Jack Webb died, so did Joe Friday.
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