TV / Radio

Dragnet
with Jack Webb and Harry Morgan
Dragnet
Watch the intro

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There are 2 comments for this item.

Posted by Duff at 12:25 am (PDT) on Fri September 30, 2016   
@LoyalTubist - Thanks for all the informative comments!
Posted by LoyalTubist at 9:12 pm (PDT) on Thu September 29, 2016   
Dragnet began as a radio program on NBC in June 1949. The first two episodes were so graphically violent that NBC wanted to dump the show. There are no known recordings of the first radio episode. It and the second show had a completely different theme and the pace was rapid fire. The third episode was totally different, much more like the Dragnet we know and love. Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb) was partnered with Sergeant Ben Romero (Barton Yarborough). Joe was a shy bachelor who lived with his mother (Peggy Webber, who was actually five years younger than Webb). Ben was a family man with children, who always worried about his kids. The TV version debuted two years after the radio version had been on. Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack after making only one TV episode. His death was written into the Dragnet story. Heard on radio and seen on television "The Big Sorrow" was the only episode that wasn't taken from the LAPD  files, but the actual lives of the performers (they managed to put a crime in the show too). After Yarborough died Friday had Officer Frank Smith (initially portrayed by Herb Ellis) as his partner. Ben Alexander (a former child actor who earned most of his money selling cars at his Ford dealership in Highland Park) took the part of Frank Smith in the following season. Frank was a lot like Ben Romero being a family man, but he didn't worry so much about them.

Both the radio and TV versions of Dragnet used the same cast and the same stories, though not anywhere near the same time. Both were sponsored by Fatima and Chesterfield cigarettes (for the first few months, the radio show was sustaining, having only NBC as its sponsor). There were two announcers, Hal Gibney and George Fenneman. Gibney would often simply echo what Fenneman said. 

If you notice, many of the episodes have titles with "The Big..." Also, with cigarettes as a sponsor smoking played a big part in the storyline. L.A. City Hall was not a smoke-free work area back in the 1950s (the police got their own building before the next Dragnet series started in 1967). Shot mostly on the streets of Los Angeles, the interior scenes were done at the Disney Studios in Burbank (although this was never mentioned in the credits). Warner Brothers handled the distribution of the Dragnet feature film (whose studios are also in Burbank). The radio show was done at the NBC Studios at the corner of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood (razed in 1965). The radio show stopped production in 1955. The TV show stopped in 1959 (Joe got promoted to Lieutenant in 1957).

Dragnet returned to NBC television in 1967. Ben Alexander was working on another show, so Joe got a new partner, Officer Bill Gannon, played by Harry Morgan. He was back to the rank of Sergeant. And this show was was a co-production of Mark VII Productions and Universal. This show lasted three seasons.

Since Dragnet left the air, the rank structure for LAPD detectives has changed: They would all (Officers and Sergeants) have the rank of Detective.

When Jack Webb died he was given a funeral with full police honors. His badge number, 714, was retired.

There were two more Dragnet TV shows: The New Dragnet, which used different characters, and L.A. Dragnet, which had two detectives named Joe Friday (Badge 714) and Frank Smith. I guess the producers forgot Joe's badge had been retired.

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