Dragnet (franchise)

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For other uses, see Dragnet (policing).
Dragnet title screen.jpg
Dragnet opening frame from the 1950s version
Created by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb
Ben Alexander
Harry Morgan
Narrated by Hal Gibney
John Stephenson
George Fenneman
Jack Webb
Opening theme excerpt from Miklós Rózsa's score for The Killers
Composer(s) Walter Schumann (1951-1958)
Nathan Scott (1958-1959)
Lyn Murray (1967-1968)
Frank Comstock (1968-1970)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8 (1951–1959)
4 (1967–1970)
2 (1989–1991 & 2003–2004)
16 (total)
No. of episodes 314 (radio 1949-1957)
276 (TV 1951–1959)
98 (TV 1967–1970)
52 (TV 1989–1991)
22 (TV 2003–2004)
762 (total)
Executive producer(s) Jack Webb
Producer(s) Jack Webb
Location(s) Los Angeles, U.S.
Running time 30 minutes (1951–1959; 1967–1970; 1989–1991)
60 minutes (2003–2004)
Production company(s) Mark VII Productions(1951-1954)
Mark VII Limited (1954, 1954-1959, 1967-1970)
Universal Television (1967-1970, 1989-1990, 2003-2004)
The Arthur Company (1989-1990)
Wolf Films (2003-2004)
Distributor MCA TV (1951-1959, 1974-1997)
Warner Bros. (1954)
Universal Television (1970-1974, 1997-2004)
Studios USA Television (1998-2002)
NBCUniversal Television Distribution (2004-present)
Original channel NBC (1951-1959, 1967-1970)
Syndication (1989-1991)
ABC (2003-2004)
Film (1954)
Original run December 16, 1951 – December 4, 2004 (last run)

Dragnet is an American radio, television and motion picture series, enacting the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from the police term "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.

Dragnet is perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave audience members a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.[1]

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals, and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media.

The show's cultural impact is such that after five decades, elements of Dragnet are familiar to those who have never seen or heard the program:

  • The ominous, four-note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music (titled "Danger Ahead") is instantly recognizable (though its origins date to Miklós Rózsa's score for the 1946 film version of The Killers).
  • Another Dragnet trademark is the show's opening narration: "Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." This underwent minor revisions over time. The "only" and "ladies and gentlemen" were dropped at some point, and for the television version "hear" was changed to "see". Variations on this narration have been featured in subsequent crime dramas, and in parodies of the dramas (e.g. "Only the facts have been changed to protect the guilty").

The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday ran on radio from June 3, 1949, to February 26, 1957, and on television from January 3, 1952, to August 23, 1959. Webb revived the series which ran from January 12, 1967, to April 16, 1970. NBC's radio and television networks carried all three series. There were three Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Webb in 1954; a TV movie produced in 1966; and a comedy spoof in 1987. In 1982 a third TV series was being prepared by Webb but his death scrapped the revival. After Jack Webb's death, two Dragnet revivals were attempted; one was for weekly syndication in 1989 and the other was for ABC in 2003.

A daily newspaper comic strip version of Dragnet distributed by the Los Angeles Mirror Syndicate ran in newspapers from June 23, 1952 to May 21, 1955 (with a preview week that ran in many papers promoting its impending start). Writing was by Dragnet scripter Jack Robinson (uncredited) with art by Joe Sheiber (June 23, 1952-Sept. 20, 1952), Bill Ziegler (Sept. 22, 1952-January 9, 1954) and Mel Keefer (Jan. 11, 1954-May 21, 1955). Comics historian Ron Goulart in his book The Funnies states that the frequent turnover of artists on the strip was due to Webb's desire to find someone "who could draw him as good looking as he thought he ought to be."[2]



Dragnet was created and produced by Jack Webb, who starred as stoic Sergeant Joe Friday. Webb had starred in a few mostly short-lived radio programs, and Dragnet would make him a major media personality in his era.

Dragnet origins were in Webb's small role as a police forensic scientist in the 1948 film He Walked by Night, itself inspired by the violent 1946 crime spree of Erwin Walker, a disturbed World War II veteran and former Glendale California police department employee.[3][4] The film was depicted in semidocumentary style, and Marty Wynn (a LAPD sergeant from the Robbery Division) was a technical advisor on the film. Inspired by Wynn's accounts of actual cases and criminal investigative procedure, Webb convinced Wynn that day-to-day activities of police officers could be realistically depicted in a broadcast series, without the forced melodrama heard in the numerous private-detective serials then common in radio programming.[5] (Interestingly enough, the film contained two elements that would transfer over to the Dragnet television series: the opening text overlay containing the phrase mentioning that the story is true and "only the names are changed --- to protect the innocent", which was then immediately followed by various shots of Los Angeles with a narrator beginning with the iconic phrase "This is the city. Los Angeles, California.")

Webb frequently visited police headquarters, rode along on night patrols with Sgt. Wynn and his partner Officer Vance Brasher, and attended Police Academy courses to learn authentic jargon and details that could be featured in a radio program. When he proposed Dragnet to NBC officials, they were not especially impressed; radio was aswarm with private investigators and crime dramas, such as Webb's earlier Pat Novak for Hire. That program didn’t last long, but Webb received high marks for his role as the titular private investigator, and NBC agreed to a limited run for Dragnet.

With writer James E. Moser, Webb prepared an audition recording, then sought the LAPD's endorsement; he wanted to portray cases from official files to demonstrate the steps taken by police officers during investigations. The official response was initially lukewarm, but in 1949 LAPD Chief Clemence B. Horrall gave Webb the endorsement he sought. Police wanted control over the program's sponsor, and insisted that police not be depicted unflatteringly. This would lead to criticism, as less flattering departmental aspects, such as LAPD's racial segregation policies, were never addressed.


Jack Webb in an advertisement for Fatima Cigarettes, ca. 1951. The now defunct Fatima brand was the primary sponsor of the early Dragnet radio episodes from 1949 to 1952.

Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The early months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the format and eventually grew somewhat comfortable with their characters (Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually flat demeanor). Gradually, Friday's deadpan, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop, tough but not hard, conservative but caring." Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. After Yarborough's death in 1951 (and therefore Romero's, who died of a heart attack, on the December 27, 1951 episode "The Big Sorrow"), Friday was partnered with Sergeant Ed Jacobs (December 27, 1951 - April 10, 1952, subsequently transferred to the Police Academy as an instructor), played by Barney Phillips; Officer Bill Lockwood (Ben Romero's nephew, April 17, 1952 - May 8, 1952), played by Martin Milner (with Ken Peters taking the role for the June 12, 1952 episode "The Big Donation"); and finally Frank Smith (introduced in "The Big Safe", May 1, 1952), played originally by Herb Ellis (1952), then Ben Alexander (September 21, 1952 – 1959). Raymond Burr was on board to play the Chief of Detectives. When Dragnet hit its stride, it was one of radio's top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but did not seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives rarely took center stage. (Friday was a bachelor who lived with his mother; Romero, a Mexican-American from Texas, was an ever fretful husband and father.) "Underplaying is still acting", Webb told Time. "We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton, and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

Most later episodes were entitled "The Big _____", where the key word denoted a person or object in the plot. In numerous episodes, this would be the principal suspect, victim, or physical target of the crime, but in others was often a seemingly inconsequential detail eventually revealed as key evidence in solving the crime. For example, in "The Big Streetcar" the background noise of a passing streetcar helps establish the location of a phone booth used by the suspect.

Throughout the series' radio years, one can find interesting glimpses of pre-renewal Downtown L.A., with working class residents and the cheap bars, cafes, hotels and boarding houses which served them. At the climax of the early episode "James Vickers", the chase leads to the Subway Terminal Building, where the robber flees into a tunnel only to be killed by an oncoming train. By contrast, in episodes set in outlying areas, it is clear that the locations are far less built up than they are today. Today, the Imperial Highway, extending 40 miles east from El Segundo to Anaheim, is a heavily used boulevard lined with low-rise commercial development. In an early Dragnet episode[6] scenes along the Highway, at "the road to San Pedro", clearly indicate that it retained much of the character of a country highway at that time.


Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used authentic touches, such as the LAPD's actual radio call sign (KMA367), and the names of actual department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the crime lab or Chief of Detectives (and later LAPD Chief from 1967–69) Thad Brown.

Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fenneman intoning the series opening ("The story you are about to hear is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.") and Hal Gibney describing the premise of the episode. "Big Saint" (April 26, 1951) for example, begins with "You're a Detective Sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job: break it."

After the first commercial, Gibney would officially introduce the program: "Dragnet, the documented drama of an actual crime, investigated and solved by the men who unrelentingly stand watch on the security of your home, your family and your life. For the next thirty minutes, transcribed in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, you will travel step-by-step on the side of the law through an actual case from official police files. From beginning to end—from crime to punishment—Dragnet is the story of your police force in action."

Later, the opening would be shortened to: "Dragnet, the documented drama of an actual crime. 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. From beginning to end—from crime to punishment—Dragnet is the story of your police force in action."

The story usually began with footsteps, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like "Tuesday, February 12. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Robbery Division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrand, Chief of Detectives. My name's Friday." Friday would then narrate where he or both he and his partner were going, then the time he/they arrived at the location followed by a door opening and an elaboration of the location: "I was on my way in to work, and it was 4:58 PM when I got to Room 42 ... (door opening) Homicide." ("The Big String", January 18, 1953)

Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in hours, or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time: in "City Hall Bombing" (July 21, 1949), Friday and Romero had less than thirty minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb. In one episode, "The Big Ben" (March 15, 1951), after Friday was shot and hospitalized Romero took over the voice-over narration for the remainder of the episode.

At the end of the episode, usually after a brief endorsement by Jack Webb for the sponsor's product, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect, usually tried in "Department 187 of the Superior Court of the State of California, in and for the City and County of Los Angeles", convicted of a crime and sent (in most episodes) to "the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California" or "examined by [#] psychiatrists appointed by the court", judged mentally incompetent and "committed to a state mental hospital for an indefinite period". Murderers were often "executed in the manner prescribed by law" or "executed in the lethal gas chamber at the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California". Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice or escaped, at least on the radio Dragnet. In 1950, Time quoted Webb: "We don’t even try to prove that crime doesn’t pay ... sometimes it does."

Specialized terminology was mentioned in every episode but rarely explained. Webb trusted the audience to determine the meanings of words or terms by their context, and Dragnet tried to avoid awkward, lengthy exposition that people would not use in daily speech. Some specialized terms such as "A.P.B." for "All Points Bulletin" and "M.O." for "Modus Operandi" were rarely used in popular culture before Dragnet introduced them to everyday America.

While most radio shows used one or two sound-effect experts, Dragnet used five: a script clocking in at just under 30 minutes could require up to 300 effects. Accuracy was underlined: The exact number of footsteps from one room to another at Los Angeles police headquarters were mimicked, and when a telephone rang at Friday's desk, the listener heard the same ring as the telephones in Los Angeles police headquarters. A single minute of ".22 Rifle for Christmas" is a representative example of the evocative sound effects featured on Dragnet. While Friday and others investigate bloodstains in a suburban backyard, the listener hears a series of overlapping effects: a squeaking gate hinge, footsteps, a technician scraping blood into a paper envelope, the glassy chime of chemical vials, bird calls, and a dog barking in the distance.

Sometimes the mundane intruded. When shows ran short, directors stalled for time. In "The Big Crime", Dragnet interrupted a scene while a real-estate agent spent a full minute answering and explaining a phone call, simply filling in time.[7]

The old radio programs ended each week with a remembrance of fallen officers who died on the job. The remembrance would be read over somber organ music, and would be officers from all over the country.

Topics and themes[edit]

Scripts tackled topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting), yet Dragnet made them all interesting due to fast-moving plots and behind-the-scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute" (December 15, 1949), they even had a locked room mystery.

Promotional photo or card sent to viewers and listeners of the program during the time the show was on both radio and television.

Though tame by modern standards, Dragnet — especially on the radio — handled controversial subjects such as sex crimes and drug addiction with unprecedented and even startling realism. In one such example, Dragnet broke an unspoken (and rarely broached) taboos of popular entertainment in the episode ".22 Rifle for Christmas" which aired December 22, 1949 and repeated at Christmastime for the next three years. The episode followed the search for two young boys, Stanley Johnstone and Stevie Morheim, only to discover Stevie had been accidentally killed while playing with a rifle that belonged to Stanley—who'd be receiving it as a Christmas present but opened the box early; Stanley finally told Friday that Stevie was running while holding the rifle when he tripped and fell, causing the gun to discharge, fatally wounding Morheim. NBC received thousands of complaint letters, including a protest by the National Rifle Association. Webb forwarded many of the letters to police chief Parker who promised "ten more shows illustrating the folly of giving rifles to children".

".22 Rifle for Christmas" was replaced as the series' Christmas story on December 22, 1953 with "The Big Little Jesus", which followed the detectives' investigation of the theft of a statue of the baby Jesus from a church Nativity scene. With its happier ending than ".22 Rifle", this episode was repeated at Christmastime the following year. The late-1960s version of Dragnet included a newly produced version of "The Big Little Jesus", which featured Barry Williams (later of The Brady Bunch) as one of the altar boys.

Another episode dealt with high school girls who, rather than finding Hollywood stardom, fall in with fraudulent talent scouts and end up in pornography and prostitution. Both this episode and ".22 Rifle for Christmas" were adapted for television, with few script changes, when Dragnet moved to that medium. An episode, "The Big Trio" (July 3, 1952), detailed three cases in one episode, including reckless and dangerous (in this case, fatal) driving by unlicensed juveniles. With regard to drugs, Webb's strident anti-drug statements, continuing through the TV run, would be derided as camp by later audiences; yet his character later showed concern and sympathy for addicts as victims, especially in the case of juveniles.

The tone was usually serious, but with moments of comic relief: Romero was something of a hypochondriac and often seemed henpecked; Frank Smith continually complained about his brother-in-law Armand; though Friday dated, he usually dodged women who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.

Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957 (the last two seasons were repeats) as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's growing popularity. A total of 314 original episodes were broadcast from 1949 through 1957. In fact, the TV show proved to be a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same [including the scripts, as the majority were adapted from radio]. The TV show could be listened to without watching, with no loss of understanding of the storyline.

"Just the facts, ma'am"[edit]

While "Just the facts, ma'am" is known as Dragnet's catchphrase (it has been parodied many times by other productions), that precise phrase was never actually uttered by Joe Friday. The closest lines were "All we want are the facts, ma'am" and "All we know are the facts, ma'am".[8] The "Just the facts, ma'am" phrase did appear in the parody St. George and the Dragonet, a 1953 short audio satire by Stan Freberg (see below). The phrase was spoken by Ben Alexander in a 1966 cameo appearance on Batman.[citation needed]


1951–59 original version[edit]

When television was interested in Dragnet, Webb bucked the prevailing argument that radio staff could not adapt to the new medium. He insisted on hiring actors, writers, and production staff from radio as much as was feasible to work on the television version.[5] This loyalty would endear Webb to many Dragnet colleagues for decades to come, but more important was that it brought continuity between the television and radio series. This made it possible for a busy person to listen to the audio and get the whole story.

The pilot for Dragnet, "The Human Bomb" (adapted from the July 21, 1949 radio episode), aired on television on December 16, 1951 as a special presentation of the NBC program Chesterfield Sound-Off Time. It introduced the many close-ups that became Webb's trademark. After the pilot's success,[5] the series debuted in January 1952. Friday's original partner in the TV episodes (as on the radio) was Sgt. Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarborough, who died of a heart attack after just three episodes were filmed. The Romero character (who also died of a heart attack, as acknowledged on the December 27, 1951 radio episode, "The Big Sorrow") was replaced first by Detective Sergeant Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then by Officer Frank Smith. Smith was first played by Herb Ellis. After four episodes, Ben Alexander took the role on television and radio.

Television offered Webb the opportunity to increase realism to a point unmatched by any other program for years. Many early episodes involved cases handled by the Robbery or Homicide Divisions, located in the ground floor of the Los Angeles City Hall. Webb's set designers duplicate the office,[5] including details like the remnant of a notice torn from the bulletin board, leaving only one corner. He insisted that Friday and his partner use badges in the unique shield shape used by LAPD. This led to the loan of LAPD badges, brought in every morning from the Office of the Chief of Police in the care of an officer who acted as technical advisor.

Webb was uncomfortable with firearms and mentioned this to the technical advisor. When an early script called for Friday to use a shotgun, LAPD detailed Jesse Littlejohn, a member of the Robbery Division's elite "Hat Squad", to teach Webb how to handle the riot gun. In the episode, Friday carries the shotgun using proper technique, but passes it to his partner rather than fire it himself. In thanks for this and assistance by other officers, Webb dropped their names into scripts, beginning a tradition which continued through the end of production of Dragnet and Adam-12; officers' names are real, except for recurring characters and officers suspected of wrongdoing, in which cases the names were changed to protect the innocent.

Two hallmarks of the TV show came at the close of each episode:

  • Just before the show took its final commercial break, the show's announcer would inform the audience of something related to the case, usually the opening date the perpetrator's trial which would take place in the Los Angeles County Superior Court (this would be accompanied by an onscreen card so the viewer could read along). After the break the camera faded in for what was presumably the perpetrator's mug shot, consisting of him/her standing uncomfortably against the wall, while the results of the trial were announced. The perpetrator's name and fate were then superimposed over the screen, specifically regarding what prison he/she was incarcerated in (or, in the case of perpetrators deemed unfit to stand trial, what state facility he/she was committed to).
  • A sweaty, glistening bronze colored left hand appeared, holding a stamp for indenting metal; a heavy hammer struck the top of the handle of the stamp, twice, loudly; the stamp was removed to reveal the imprint "VII" (over which the words "Mark" and "Limited" were superimposed), referring to Webb's production company, Mark VII Limited Productions. The hands were Webb's, giving a signature/personal stamp to the end of the show.

Jack Webb thought Ben Alexander was an ideal partner. The dramatic scripts of the 1950s feature at least one comic interlude with Alexander to lighten the tone. Thus Frank offhandedly chats with Joe about his latest enthusiasm (favorite foods, fad diets, hobbies, home life, etc.). Alexander stayed with Dragnet through its original run, which ended in 1959. In the final episode of the penultimate season, Joe Friday was promoted to lieutenant (retaining the badge number "714") and Frank Smith was promoted to sergeant. During the final season, Joe and Frank continued to work as partners, and the promotions seemed to make no difference in their actual jobs.

Dragnet was successful, competing with I Love Lucy as the most popular series on television.[5] It did not end due to bad ratings, but because of Webb's decision to pursue other projects. While Dragnet was on the air, reruns began to air in syndication in the fall of 1953 as Badge 714[5] (the custom of the time was to rename series in syndication).

Broadcast history[edit]

  • January 3, 1952—December 29, 1955: Thursday at 9:00 pm on NBC
  • January 5, 1956—June 26, 1958: Thursday at 8:30 pm on NBC
  • September 23, 1958—April 28, 1959: Tuesday at 7:30 pm on NBC
  • July 7, 1959—August 23, 1959: Sunday at 8:30 pm on NBC


  • October 1951—April 1952: #20/36.3 (tied with All Star Revue)
  • October 1952—April 1953: #4/46.8
  • October 1953—April 1954: #2/53.2
  • October 1954—April 1955: #3/42.1
  • October 1955—April 1956: #8/35.0
  • October 1956—April 1957: #11/32.1
  • October 1957—April 1958: Not in the Top 30
  • October 1958—April 1959: Not in the Top 30

1967–1970 revival[edit]

Webb and Morgan in 1968.

Webb relaunched Dragnet in 1966. He tried to persuade Ben Alexander to rejoin him as Frank Smith. Alexander was then committed to an ABC police series, Felony Squad, and the producers would not release him. Webb reluctantly came up with a new character to take the role of Joe Friday's partner, calling upon his longtime friend Harry Morgan to play Officer Bill Gannon. Morgan had previously portrayed rooming house proprietor "Luther Gage" in the 1949 radio series episode "James Vickers". George Fenneman returned as the show's primary announcer with John Stephenson replacing Hal Gibney in the role of announcing the trial dates and subsequent punishments for the offenders. Fenneman replaced Stephenson in that role during the fourth season. Unlike the previous Dragnet series, the revival was produced and aired in color.

Webb produced a TV movie pilot for the new version of the show for Universal Television, although the pilot was not aired until January 1969. NBC bought the show on the strength of the movie and it debuted as a mid-season replacement for the sitcom The Hero on Thursday nights in January 1967. To distinguish it from the original, the year was included in the title of the show (i.e., Dragnet 1967). Although Friday had been promoted to lieutenant in the final episode of the 1950s production, Webb chose to have Friday revert to sergeant with his familiar badge, "714".[9]

When real-life LAPD Sergeant Dan Cooke, Webb's contact in the department during production of the revived Dragnet series, was promoted to lieutenant, he arranged to carry the same lieutenant's badge, number 714, as worn by Joe Friday. Cooke was technical advisor to the KNBC documentary "Police Unit 2A-26", directed by John Orland. He brought that to the attention of Webb, who hired Orland to direct and film the "This is the City", a series of mini-documentaries about Los Angeles that preceded most TV episodes during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.[citation needed] The show enjoyed good ratings on NBC's schedule for four seasons, although its popularity did not exceed that of the 1950s version.

Much as was done 11 years earlier, Webb decided voluntarily to discontinue Dragnet after its fourth season to focus on producing and directing his other projects through Mark VII Limited. The first of these projects was a spinoff of Dragnet titled Adam-12, a thirty-minute police procedural like its parent series but focusing on patrol officers rather than detectives. The series premiered in the fall of 1968 and ran for seven seasons, coming to an end in 1975. Adam-12, in turn, spawned its own spinoff in 1972 titled Emergency!; this series, which ran until 1977, instead of focusing on the LAPD, had its focus instead on firefighters and (primarily) paramedics in a fictional Los Angeles County Fire Department squadron.

Reruns of this version were popular on local stations, usually during the late afternoons or early evenings, in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s, they found their way to Nick at Nite and, beginning in the late 1990s, to sister cable channel TV Land. From October 1, 2011 to April 26, 2013, the series ran daily on digital cable channel Antenna TV and before that, the show aired on Retro Television Network.

Dragnet currently airs Monday through Friday on Me-TV. The show is part of the "CriMe TV" morning block with Perry Mason and The Rockford Files, with Dragnet airing back to back from 11:00 am until 12:00 pm. In December 2014, Me-TV added a third airing of Dragnet to its late-night lineup; the series airs at 12:30 am following a second episode of Perry Mason. Me-TV ended the run of Dragnet on January 1, 2015, whereupon it became part of Cozi TV's regular lineup

All four seasons are available on DVD and for free on-demand streaming on Hulu.com and Netflix for US residents.[citation needed]

Later in Webb's career[edit]

Webb had begun bringing Dragnet back to television again in 1982, writing and producing five scripts. Webb was to return as Joe Friday, but since Harry Morgan was doing M*A*S*H and already signed up for AfterMASH he was unavailable. Kent McCord was tapped to play Friday's partner (although it wasn't clear if it would be a new role or the Jim Reed character McCord played on Adam-12. The final two-part 1975 episode of Adam-12 suggests that Jim Reed was indeed going to become a detective, so the connection is plausible). However, before the new series could enter production Webb died unexpectedly from a heart attack on December 23, 1982 and the new Dragnet was scrapped.

After Webb's death, Chief Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department announced that badge number 714 — Webb's number on the television show — was retired, and Los Angeles city offices lowered their flags to half-staff. At Webb's funeral, the LAPD provided an honor guard, and the Chief of Police commented on Webb's connection with the LAPD. An LAPD auditorium was named in his honor. Jack Webb's LAPD sergeant's badge and ID card are on display at the Los Angeles Police Academy.

Film versions[edit]

Dragnet (1954)[edit]

In 1954, a theatrical feature film entitled Dragnet, an adaptation of the series, was released with Webb, Alexander, and Richard Boone. Dennis Weaver plays R. A. Lohrman, a detective captain. The film begins with the shooting of small-time hood Miller Starkie (Dub Taylor) on orders from his boss, Max Troy (Stacy Harris). Friday's and Smith's superior is LAPD Intelligence Division Captain Jim Hamilton (Boone), a department member and the film's technical advisor. The Intelligence Division focused on the pursuit of organized-crime figures, and some of Max Troy's habits resemble that of Mickey Cohen, the known Los Angeles underworld boss; for example, Troy's LAPD file reads that he could be found at "Sunset Strip taverns and joints," as could Cohen. The film depicts the working relationship between the LAPD and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office; Friday and Smith work to gather evidence that the DA's office deems sufficient to gain the indictment and ultimate conviction of Troy and his fellows. One scene contains a violent fist-fight involving the two detectives, with the close-up cinematic technique typical of Webb's style of direction. The movie's ending represents a departure from most "Dragnet' stories; no arrest is made at the story's conclusion. Chester Davitt (Willard Sage), Troy's underling and Starkie's killer, is killed by underworld figures, and Troy succumbs to cancer before the detectives, having gathered sufficient evidence against him, can make the arrest.

The film earned an estimated $4.7 million at the North American box office during its first year of release.[10][11]

Dragnet 1966 (Aired 1969)[edit]

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended as the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967 but was not aired as planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969. The movie stars Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday and Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon. The story focuses on crime more typical of the 1960s than of the previous "Dragnet" era; the detectives are assigned to find a voyeuristic serial killer similar to Harvey Glatman (played by Vic Perrin who appeared in the 1954 film as an assistant district attorney). Also appearing is Virginia Gregg, who had a role in the 1954 feature and was a frequent guest actor in the 1951-59 series and the 1967-70 episodes, and John Roseboro, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who dabbled in acting in the offseason; Roseboro played a plainclothes detective who had been the target of racial slurs by a child molester until Friday came to his aid.

Dragnet (1987)[edit]

Main article: Dragnet (1987 film)

In 1987, a comedy movie version of Dragnet appeared starring Dan Aykroyd as the stiff Joe Friday (the original Detective Friday's nephew), and Tom Hanks as partner Pep Streebeck. The film contrasted the terse, clipped character of Friday, a hero from another age, with the 'real world' of Los Angeles in 1987 to broad comedic effect. Beyond Aykroyd's imitation of Webb's Joe Friday and Harry Morgan's small role reprising Bill Gannon, this film version shares little with previous incarnations. Although officially a remake, the film was more a parody, and a hit with audiences, though no follow-up films were produced. LAPD Lieutenant Dan Cooke, who served as technical advisor for the Jack Webb series, was technical advisor for this production.

Remakes after Webb's death[edit]

The 1989 series: The New Dragnet[edit]

The show returned to television in the fall of 1989 as The New Dragnet in first-run syndication, featuring new characters, and airing in tandem with The New Adam-12, a remake of another Webb-produced police drama, Adam-12. The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage and Bernard White as the detectives, and Don Stroud as their captain. Fifty-two episodes were aired over two seasons. The first 26 episodes aired between October 24, 1989 and January 21, 1990, with the second season of 26 episodes, airing between April 19 and September 9, 1990.

The 2003 series: L.A. Dragnet[edit]

In 2003 a Dragnet series was produced by Dick Wolf, the producer of NBC's Law & Order series and spin-offs strongly influenced by Dragnet. It aired on ABC, and starred Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday and Ethan Embry as Frank Smith. After a 12-episode season that followed the traditional formula, the format of the series was changed to an ensemble crime drama in an attempt to boost ratings.

Retitled L.A. Dragnet, Friday was promoted to Lieutenant with less screen time and Frank Smith was written out, in favor of younger and ethnically-diverse cast played by Eva Longoria, Desmond Harrington, Evan Dexter Parke, and Christina Chang. Roselyn Sanchez was added to the regular cast, in a few episodes. With the Dragnet formula no longer in place, the program had the feel of a typical procedural drama. It was canceled five episodes into its second season. Three episodes premiered on USA Network in early 2004, with the final two on the Sleuth channel in 2006. In places (such as the Netherlands) the show is retitled Murder Investigation.

Related works[edit]


  • In 1958, Webb authored a book titled The Badge, chapters of true stories told from the view of a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant and others. It had a number of photographs and recently was reissued with a foreword by James Ellroy, author of LA Confidential.


  • St. George and the Dragonet, a 1953 short audio satire by Stan Freberg, was a smash hit reaching #1 on both the Billboard and the Cash Box record charts. In this satire, Freberg used the line "Just the facts, ma'am," which entered popular lexicography as an actual catchphrase from Dragnet despite the line never being used on the show. Freberg followed St. George... with Little Blue Riding Hood and Christmas Dragnet.
  • The 1954 Woody Woodpecker cartoon Under the Counter Spy was a parody of Dragnet. At the beginning, a narrator says, "The story you are about to see is a big fat lie. No names have been changed to protect anybody!" At the end, a hammer and stamp make the words "THE END," and the hammerer hits his thumb.
  • The 1955 Three Stooges short film "Blunder Boys" parodies Dragnet. In place of the familiar "Dragnet" theme, the first four notes of The Song of the Volga Boatmen, which is in the public domain, is used. At the end of the film, Moe stamps Larry's head with a hammer; Larry's forehead then reads, "VII 1/2 The End".
  • A 1956 Looney Tunes short, Rocket Squad, starred Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as 'Sgt. Joe Monday' and 'Det. Schmoe Tuesday', respectively. Daffy narrating, giving a running timeline in the manner of Sgt. Friday. This police adventure ends with both officers convicted and imprisoned for false arrest. The opening title reads: "Ladies and Gentlemen, The story you are about to see is true. The drawings have been changed to protect the Innocent". Another short Tree Cornered Tweety, featured Tweety imitating the narrator of Dragnet as he is being pursued by Sylvester again.
  • The final segment of each episode of PBS's Square One was titled Mathnet and opened with the Dragnet theme and an arrangement of the lines "The story you're about to see is a fib — but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real." Each story arc of the show's five-season run lasted five daily episodes (one week) and featured detectives Kate Monday (seasons 1–3) or Pat Tuesday (seasons 4–5) and George Ernest Frankly (all five seasons), of the LAPD in the first two of the show's five seasons and the New York Police Department in the last three seasons, using mathematics to solve crimes.
  • In 1983 "Prog #310" of UK sci-fi comic 2000AD featured a time-travelling parody of Dragnet in the story "Chrono Cops", written by Alan Moore. In 5 pages "Joe Saturday" and "Ed Thursday" encounter several time travel "tropes", including a character attempting to kill his own great-grandfather.[13]
  • November 19, 1995 The Simpsons episode "Mother Simpson" 7/8 has Homer Simpson's mother, Mona Simpson, as a fugitive from Charles Montgomery Burns who is about to be captured after 27 years. Burns is helped by officers Joe Friday and Bill Gannon (voiced by Harry Morgan).
  • Dragnet is parodied at the end of the episode of The New Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh entitled: Sorry, Wrong Slusher. Winnie-the-Pooh performs a closing narration as a mug shot of Christopher Robin is shown on screen, in the style of Dragnet.

DVD releases[edit]

Original Series (1951)[edit]

Most, if not all, episodes of this series are in the public domain, and fifty-two episodes were released by many DVD labels.These collections feature a variety of the same fifty-two episodes. These include "The Human Bomb", "The Big Actor", "The Big Mother", "The Big Cast", "The Big September Man", " The Big Phone Call", "The Big Casing", "The Big Lamp", "The Big Seventeen", "A .22 Caliber Rifle For Christmas", "The Big Grandma", "The Big Show", "The Big Break", "The Big Frank", " The Big Hands", 'The Big Barrette", "The Big Dance", "The Big Betty", "The Big Will", "The Big Thief", "The Big Little Jesus", "The Big Trunk", "The Big Boys", "The Big Children", " The Big Winchester", "The Big Shoplift", "The Big Hit & Run Killer", "The Big Girl", "The Big Frame", "The Big False Make", "The Big Producer", "The Big Fraud", "The Big Crime", "The Big Crime", "The Big Pair", "The Big Missing", "The Big Bar", "The Big Present", "The Big New Year", "The Big Rod", "The Big Lift", "The Big Gap", "The Big Look", "The Big Glasses", "The Big Bird", "the Big Smoke", "The Big Bounce", "The Big Deal", "The Big Hat", "The Big Net", "The Big War", "The Big Oskar" and "The Big Counterfeit". Often some are mislabeled as there are no onscreen titles.

Three collections released from Alpha Video feature four episodes each. Eclectic DVD released a collection of three episodes.

Platinum Video released seven episodes from the original series in 2002. The episodes are: "Big Crime", "Big Pair", "Big Producer", "Big Break", "Big September Man", "Big Betty", and "Big Trunk". The two disc set includes episodes from Burke's Law; Peter Gunn; Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Mr. Wong, Detective; and Bulldog Drummond.

Dragnet 1954 Feature Film[edit]

This movie was released on DVD in 2009 as part of Universal Studios' "Vault Series".

Dragnet 1966 Pilot Movie[edit]

This movie is a bonus feature on Shout! Factory's "Dragnet 1968: Season Two" (Release Date: July 6, 2010).

Dragnet 1967–70[edit]

On June 7, 2005, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the first season on DVD in Region 1. Because sales numbers did not meet Universal's expectations, no further seasons were released.

On March 17, 2010, Shout! Factory acquired the rights to distribute the series (under license from Universal). They released seasons 2-4.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1[14] 17 June 7, 2005
Season 2[15] 28 July 6, 2010
Season 3[16] 27 December 7, 2010
Season 4[17] 26 April 12, 2011

The New Dragnet (1989)[edit]

No DVD releases to date of this remake that lasted 2 seasons.

L.A. Dragnet (2003)[edit]

Universal Studios Home Entertainment was going to release the first season of this short-lived remake on DVD on November 11, 2003, but this release was cancelled. It is not known if the set will be released,[18] though it is available for viewing on Hulu.


  1. ^ On a March, 1953 episode, the Detroit Police Officers' Association gave Dragnet a commendation, citing the program's efforts at increasing public esteem of policemen, and furthermore describing Dragnet as the "finest and most accurate" police program on radio or television.
  2. ^ Obscurity of the Day: Dragnet
  3. ^ Crazy Like A Fox, The Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1947
  4. ^ Man Continues to Fight Police Despite Wounds, The Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1946
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Jack, Be Nimble!" Time, March 15, 1954.
  6. ^ Episode was "The Big Chance"; original air date still needed.
  7. ^ Lundin, Leigh (September 20, 2009). "Thomas Carlyle". Professional Works. Criminal Brief. Retrieved September 20, 2009. 
  8. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara and David (December 13, 2008). "Dragnet: 'Just the Facts'". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  9. ^ Snauffer, Douglas (2006). Crime Television, The Praeger television collection. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0275988074. 
  10. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  11. ^ TCM.com
  12. ^ Funniest Moments: Copper Clapper Caper On Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. YouTube (official channel). August 27, 2012. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  13. ^ Againwiththecomics.com
  14. ^ DVD Empire
  15. ^ DVD Empire
  16. ^ DVD Empire
  17. ^ DVD Empire
  18. ^ Dragnet DVD news: Dragnet (2003) DVD Cancelled | TVShowsOnDVD.com


External links[edit]