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This series has taken a rap from latter-day critics, who can't stand
that it's not "Dragnet" (1952). A few misguided souls actually view it as
"camp comedy," and the terminally hip scoff at Sgt. Friday's rabid anti-drug
What makes this series rise above such criticism is the sincerity of all players, its dead-on realism in every situation and performance, and the fact that each story is TRUE. As with practically everything Jack Webb did, this show was ahead of its time in many ways. "Dragnet 1967-70" preached "just say no" twenty years before it became fashionable. Friday's assertions about the addictive nature of drugs, and that marijuana users tend to move on to harder stuff, is still borne out by statistics. The absence of gunplay and wild car chases underscore what a cop's day-to-day life REALLY is. Best of all, the chemistry between Webb and Harry Morgan is unbeatable.
Yes, a lot of the same actors are used over and over, but that was just as true in the 1950's version. Members of the LAPD, and other police departments, assert that "Dragnet" and "Adam-12" (also a Webb production) are still TV's most realistic cop shows. Forget what you've read before and give this version of "Dragnet" a try.
I love this show! It's dated, the humor is old, but who cares. The crimes committed are interesting, and Jack Webb is idealistic as a no-nonsense cop. I haven't seen the show in years though, because Nick at Nite doesn't run it anymore and I don't get TV Land (that sucks!)
OK, maybe this isn't the best show in television history, but it is a good
one to watch. Even though I have seen every episode many times, I never get
tired of watching it.
After viewing the show all these years, it is fun to try and spot which of
the many recurring actors and actresses appear in that episode--like the
late Virginia Gregg!! She was a hoot to watch in many of the episodes.
It is also fun to see someone portray a cop or good guy in one episode and then play a villian in another episode. Now, even though this doesn't have anything to deal directly with any episode of Dragnet, I think that it was really nice how Jack Webb hired his ex-wife's husband in a few episodes and later was the producer of "Emergency" with his ex-wife Julie London and her husband Bobby Troup. I doubt very seriously that many people in Hollywood would be so mature and do that today.
This is still the greatest police drama that ever was made. When I was growing up, the second version of the show in the late 60's/early 70's was the only version I knew and it not only showed how police track down criminals, but it was also the first show that dealt with the day to day operations of the L.A.P.D.. Everything was covered from watching how a young man (or woman) becomes a police officer to community relations. This version really tried to hammer down the point that police officers are human beings and that they do have lives outside the squad room.
This was a great show. Unfortunately, it does appear a little dated
today--almost 40 years later. Also, too many people have discounted
this show because they have been warped by seeing crap like the DRAGNET
movie starring Dan Aykroyd. For the time it was made, this was one of
the very best cop shows on TV--if not the very best.
Unlike the earlier incarnation of the TV show that Jack Webb produced and starred in from the 1950s, this version is less violent and more subdued--showing a lot of the more mundane aspects of police work. And, the show was meant to be more entertainment AND public service work to build support for our cops. The earlier show was more important just for entertainment. Plus, in this series, Detective Smith has been replaced by Detective Gannon (played by Harry Morgan).
So why did I like it so much? Well, aside from its realism, I think that Jack Webb's interpretation of Joe Friday was probably the coolest square guy I have ever seen. Yes, he was rigid and by-the-book, but he had the absolute best lines in TV history. For every scumbag he had the greatest snappy comebacks--sometimes making the entire episode worth while.
While not every episode clicked (some were too preachy or dull), there were so many great episodes. For example, the several episodes starring Burt Mustin, the Blue Boy episode, the white supremacist (with perhaps the greatest Friday one-liner), the guy who stole superhero memorabilia and thought HE was a superhero, etc. are all wonderful examples of fantastic TV. If you see one episode and it doesn't win you over, try a few more--I can guarantee if you give it a fair try you'll be hooked.
By the way, the best of the four seasons is the first. Part-way through season 2 and continuing into the series the shows often were more desk-bound and often concerned more mundane things like public relations and the like. While not bad, these later episodes were a bit claustrophobic and lacked the zip of the earlier ones.
PS--while the style is VERY different, try to find a copy of the DRAGNET movie Jack Webb made in the 1950s. It's one of the best Film Noir movies and is a very tough and gritty film--and VERY different from DRAGNET 1967.
Jack Webb was being interviewed once about his show Dragnet and he said that he hoped that by creating this show and its portrayal of police work that it would make the public more sympathetic to our brave boys in blue and their job easier. The amount of abuse that police have to take is horrible and ridiculous Mister Webb said. Its is small wonder that the police were so fond of him. They once gave him an award from "the best real cops to the best reel cop". Jack Webb in fact is the only person to ever be given a policeman's funeral by the LAPD who was not a police officer. He served in the Air Force in WWII and began to work as a disc jockey and a small part movie actor after the war. It was while making a film called He Walked By Night that Webb befriended a Los Angeles policeman who introduced him to police files and a light went on in Jack's head and the rest is history. Webb used actual cases from the LAPD and the script went through several hands before it even went on the air from patrolman to captain. Webb even instructed his actors to "deadpan" their lines to add to the air of realism. He read his won lines off a teleprompter. I admit that if Webb had been any more wooden you could have made an end table out of him. Even his walk was like a man whose shorts were too tight. Joe Friday was really a very boring person who wore the same suit all the time. He didn't love his job but did it and served uncomplainingly. Dragnet tackled a lot of topics that were controversial at the time like teenage drug abuse. There was one episode once about a father who went to Friday and Bill Gannon and told them his daughter was smoking pot. There was one excellent scene where Friday angrily lectures the girl and her husband about thier addiction. This episode had a horrifying ending where they crash a party at their house and find that they have drowned their little girl in the bathtub. Gannon gets sick at the sight and it is the most powerful Dragnet that I have ever seen. Another episode has Friday engaging in hand to hand combat with a teenager holding a live grenade. Jack Webb was one of the true pioneers with this series and with Adam 12. He brought us all a lot of enjoyment and made the police out to be the heroes that they are. I often wonder what he would think of tv series like The Shield and NYPD Blue. He would probably be turning over in his grave.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently finished watching most of the 69 episodes from this series
on DVDs. After recovering from the brief psychotic episode they induced
I tried to figure out just what the subtext of this series was. I mean,
what made it so very popular in the late 60s.
The series must have been dear to Jack Webb's heart. It's too consistent to be anything else. Webb and the show were one and the same. The stories were based on real cases from the LAPD. I understand that. But the presentation was all Webb's. And I thrilled whenever Webb said the words "Los Angeles" and used a "hard" g, as in the original Spanish name for the city.
The design of the program -- the sets, the people we meet -- there was hardly any variation. Every setting seems to be middle class, even the hotel for poor old people. the set design was sparse, the carpets apricot. Sometimes a perp may look weird. He may have painted his face half blue and half yellow if he took LSD, or he may be dressed as Captain Crusader, but everyone else is well groomed and neatly dressed. In Webb's L.A. there is no such thing as a slum or a dangerous neighborhood. All the neighborhoods look alike and Webb, as the narrator, has to tell us we're looking at a run-down house.
It's politically correct, and this has to be part of its appeal. There is the occasional homosexual -- in one episode a hair dresser who gushes that he "could do wonders" with Joe Friday's hair. He isn't ridiculed but the character is played for mild laughs. Blacks are sometimes present but they are always victims of racist comments by bad guys, and Joe Friday straightens the racists out quickly because it's not the American way. And the bad guys who insult them aren't ordinary people but Nazi freaks.
The values embodied in the program are straight down the line -- ordinary middle class, patriotic, law-abiding, respect for elders and authority figures, and thoroughly Republican in the old-fashioned sense of cautious about change and careful about responsibility. Dope is bad, and so is anything else that deviates much from the norm. The anthropologist Ralph Linton drew a distinction between "ideal" culture and "real culture." This program definitely leans towards the ideal, a world in which cops always leap forward to help anyone in distress. (See "Serpico" for a glimpse of the "real".)
Nobody gets away with anything. If you break the law, you pay for it. In a moment the results of that trial.
The format itself gives us a spurious sense of accuracy and attention to the verities. "It was 8:45 PM. It was hot and dry in Los Angeles. We were working the night watch out of Littering." How is it possible to doubt that this is what actually happened?
Acting. Jack Webb is good, and so is Henry (Harry) Morgan, although I wish the latter would make up his mind about his name. Maybe it's Harry (Henry) Morgan, come to think of it. That brief loss of contact with reality seems to have fused a couple of synapses. Anyway, Webb and H. (H.) Morgan had their roles down pat -- from the dramatic to the comic. For the most part, the rest of the acting was robotic. That didn't necessarily detract from the show's value, inasmuch as non-actors don't get in the way of the text. As far as that goes I'm not sure the performers can be blamed. The greatest actors in the world would have a tough time overcoming the stilted scripts. "Hah, Fuzz, you can't say that to me because I'm not under arrest." Webb: "You forgot one thing, mister." "Huh? What's that?" Webb: "Now you are."
I particularly enjoyed the episodes that were built around a dialog between Jack Webb and H. (H.) Morgan, on the one hand, and some rebellious spirit on the other. A Timothy Leary clone appears in one and the repartee is gripping. Leary himself, as I understand it, is now circling the earth in outer space, or at least a portion of his ashes are. The orbit will decay with time as, lamentably, did his attempt to transform the world into a virtual reality without the intervention of machinery. (PS: Kids, Timothy Leary was this ex-Harvard professor who took LSD and advised everyone to "tune in, turn on, and drop out," and -- well, never mind.) Curiously enough, there was a similar talky argument with a producer of pornographic films in another episode. In historical reality, baser human instincts have triumphed over the spiritual, as usual, and the internet is now awash with free videos that belong in an anatomy class, while no one remembers the meaning of the word "psychedelic."
It's enjoyable mostly because it's a trip backward in time. It's a Grandma Moses painting of reality. Webb is telling us what's what. It's like being Twilight Zoned back into a period before the center could not hold and things fell apart. The lines were clear and if you crossed them, well you had Webb and Morgan (H. (H.)) to cope with -- and you didn't win.
By the way, I don't mean to seriously suggest that during the illness I experienced after this marathon viewing, I was a danger to myself or others. The chief symptom was an inability to walk and swing my arms at the same time and an irresistible impulse to wear the same gun-metal gray sports jacket and dark slacks no matter what I was doing. I developed a tendency to nod emphatically too, but my shrink told me to stop it. If any nodding was done around here, he'd do it.
This show was solid, hard-hitting, and real.
I read the autobiography of Thomas Redden (I am pretty sure that was his name), the L.A. Chief Of Police when Draget was on the air. He said that Jack Webb invited him to the set one day. Webb asked Redden to let him know if anything was amiss. Redden said that he was astounded at what he saw. The set he mentioned was the set where Friday and Gannon sat at the tables, discussing cases, going over evidence, etc. Redden said that the set was 100% accurate, down to the location of the ash trays on the tables.
Jack Webb was a stickler for accuracy. That shines through in the shows. From what I've heard, the procedures shown in Dragnet are still pretty accurate, and were very accurate for those days. Dragnet hold up well, even though it's been almost 40 years since Jack Webb last appeared as Joe Friday.
Viewers used to series today such as Law & Order and CSI probably won't enjoy this classic show from the 1960s, but if you need a break from gritty realism and hard-boiled dramas this is a great show to watch. The 60s version of Dragnet was somewhat like the original show in the 1950s, but dealt with the topics of the day like drug use, race relations, student unrest, etc. Jack Webb plays Joe Friday to the hilt again, maybe a little less authoritarian that back in the 1950s version but still quite a memorable character nonetheless. By contrast, Harry Morgan plays Friday's partner, Officer Bill Gannon, as just a regular guy who happens to be a cop. You get the feeling that Gannon could easily move to some other career if he wanted to without much difficulty, while Friday seems to be interested only in police work; it's hard to imagine Joe Friday taking a day off, let alone do anything like go to the movies, visit a museum, etc. The supporting characters come and go regularly, as others have mentioned, but do a good job with their limited roles. Also, the crimes that Friday and Gannon investigate are quite interesting, and most episodes are well written. There will always probably be a debate as to whether the 50s or 60s version of Dragnet was best, but either way this series has held up well and is still a lot of fun to watch today.
*****Five out of Ten Stars*****
Producer Jack Webb was known as an extremely economical TV producer: His Mark VII productions routinely used minimal sets, even more minimal wardrobes (Friday and Gannon seem to wear the same suits over entire seasons, which minimized continuity issues) and maintained a relatively tight-knit stock company that consisted of scale-paid regulars who routinely appeared as irate crime victims, policewomen, miscreants and clueless parents of misguided youth. Which is pretty evident if you follow the show consistently. In fact I find it comical, in an annoying way, that some actors clearly play good characters in some episodes and criminals in other episodes.
In real life Jack Webb was a hard worker that had a great sense of humor, loved to drink, and smoke cigarettes. That being said, "Dragnet" is over-rated. PLEASE let me explain: Webb's decision to have actors read off cue cards and read their lines monotone isn't my idea of a method in making a TV show more realistic; which was Webb's reasoning behind this production decision. Also, the whole idea of these stories being real life depictions of actual events is somewhat misleading. These stories were BASED on real cases. Liberties were clearly taken in the writing department in an effort to make the stories more palatable to Webb's goals and the main TV viewing audience.
So, don't' get me wrong; I like watching Dragnet. Webb's introductory history lessons about Los Angeles are really quite enjoyable at the beginning of each episode. It's also great to see the location shots filmed in the Los Angeles area at that time in the late 60s: It's classic America before LA turned into the sess-pit it is now. Putting it into perspective, "Dragnet" has some endearing qualities, but Jack Webb's cue card production style gets an F from me.
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