Dragnet was one of those shows that I watched on Nick-At-Nite a hundred years ago when I was a kid. It shouldn’t have captured the attention of a hip, 80’s child, but as we all know, I’ve never been hip or normal.
Dragnet features Detective Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and his partner Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) working a variety of cases from juvenile to bunko to homicide to robbery. The show tackled current society issues like drugs, juvenile delinquency, student dissidence, and such. It was done in a documentary style, with narration at the beginning and ending of the show saying that the stories were seen were true and the names had been changed to protect the innocent (not a whole lotta innocent people on this show) as well as Friday’s running narrative during the episode. The end of the show featured what happened to the perps they caught. Several episodes featured a bad guy at the end that you never saw during the run of the show.
The show is remembered best for the rapid fire dialogue, heavy music, and the no-nonsense attitude of the cops.
It also had some pretty memorable episodes, including the famous “blue boy” episode which dealt with LSD, which was still legal. In addition to sending people on trips and encouraging some who were waiting for take-off to smoke marijuana (which I would think would make you too lazy to take the trip, but whatever), it caused one guy to paint himself like he was going to a college football game, half blue and half yellow. This kid also had the supportive “my son would never do anything wrong!” parents that led him to enterprise in LSD and then succumb to its effects when he attempted to go out as far as possible.
It’s an interesting episode as it depicts the frustration the police had while trying to deal with a drug that wasn’t illegal, but really kinda needed to be. You also got introduced to a lot of LSD lingo that pretty much disappeared by the time I was offered a hit in high school (I declined because it was finals week and I still had to take my Bio II final and the last thing I needed was the cat skeleton coming alive and trying to scratch my eyes out).
Though the show is remembered for its seriousness, it actually can be quite funny. There’s a great episode in which Gannon and Friday are trying to watch a football game at Gannon’s house and they’re constantly being interrupted by neighbors and their complaints. I laughed throughout most of that episode.
Not to mention that Mr. Morgan’s sense of humor was never discouraged. Bill Gannon’s personal life could be pretty entertaining at times.
Mr. Webb was pretty dedicated to accuracy when it came to the show. The procedures and lingo were all by the book. That rapid fire dialogue everyone remembers was a necessity. A lot needed to be said in one episode and they only had thirty minutes to do it. Much of the exposition was done in Friday’s voice overs, but that was mostly for scene changes. The dialogue was strictly business. They couldn’t stop to explain things. Kindly, strap in and keep up, thanks.
When it comes to guest stars, this is one of those shows in which you look for the repeaters, not the big names. People like: Virginia Gregg, Sam Edwards, Ralph Moody, Burt Mustin, Henry Corden (who Monkees fans will recognize as Mr. Babbitt), Leonard Stone, Buddy Lester, Ed Deemer, Stuart Nisbet, Virginia Vincent, Robert Brubaker, and Emergency! favorites Bobby Troup, Marco Lopez, Tim Donnelly, and Ron Pinkard. And of course Reed and Malloy (Kent McCord and Martin Milner) from Adam-12 made appearances.
If you’re looking for some names you know, here are a few: Jan-Michael Vincent, Keye Luke, Scatman Crothers, Doodles Weaver, Barry Williams, Lorraine Gary, Howard Hesseman, and Veronica Cartwright.
Like I said in the beginning, there’s really no reason this show should have appealed to an 8 year old kid. Even today, people call it boring. I call it fascinating. That jam-packed dialogue (done with the aid of a teleprompter), the unexpected wit, the view of a different time. It’s nifty.
There’s a reason this show was used as a police instruction manual. It’s just that good.