"The Christmas Story" was an episode of the television series Dragnet that aired on NBC on December 21, 1967. It starred Jack Webb (who also produced and directed), Harry Morgan, Bobby Troup and Harry Bartell. It was a remake of an episode from 1950s Dragnet series called "The Big Little Jesus". The original episode had been produced on both the radio and television versions of the program. The Christmas Story is the only episode in the series' run that was not based on an LAPD incident (in actuality, from the files of the San Francisco Police Department) and the only episode remade from an earlier episode. Bartell and Webb, as well as Herb Vigran and Ralph Moody, reprised their roles from Big Little Jesus.
Joe Friday and Bill Gannon are called to investigate a case of Baby Jesus theft at the San Fernando Mission church. which has a large Hispanic congregation. Father Xavier Rojas (Bartell) explains that a statue of the infant Jesus Christ is missing from the church's Nativity scene. Though the statue is of little financial value, it would be very disheartening to the congregation if the statue were missing at Christmas Mass. However, as the theft occurred on Christmas Eve, that leaves less than 24 hours for Friday and Gannon to locate the statue and recover it. In spite of their best efforts, Friday and Gannon cannot locate the statue and come to the church to give Father Rojas the bad news when a young boy, Paco Mendoza (Fernando Vasquez) comes in with the statue on a red wagon. Paco explains to the Father that he'd prayed that he'd receive a wagon on Christmas and if he were given it, he'd give the infant Jesus the first ride. Needless to say, no charges are pressed. After, as Father Rojas says, "Paco's family are very poor." Friday replies, "Are they?"
There are many similarities between The Christmas Story and The Big Little Jesus, since the same script (with some revisions) was used. There remain some differences though:
Friday's partner in the original is Frank Smith. Bill Gannon is his partner in the remake.
The church was located in downtown Los Angeles in the original, but the San Fernando Valley in the remake.
The main suspect, Claude Stroup, was portrayed by James Griffith in the original, and by Bobby Troup in the remake.
Sgt. Friday is a bit rougher with the suspect in the original episode.
When Friday realizes he cannot locate the statue in time for Christmas Mass, he says to his partner morosely "Merry Christmas" in both episodes. In the original he tosses Smith's hat to him as they leave. In the remake he hands Gannon a miniature Christmas tree.
Syndicated prints of this episode are taken from its reairings, which occurred in both seasons three and four. To disguise the fact that these were reruns, the original titles were replaced with the corresponding titles for their respective seasons, which used a block-letter font instead of the typewriter-style font the show Dragnet was using for its credits at the time of the episode's original airing (although the copyright dates remain the same). In addition, Lyn Murray's closing fanfare was replaced by Frank Comstock's rearrangement of "Dragnet March" as the closing theme. The DVD releases corrected this and restored the original titles and Murray's closing theme.