Dragnet and Dragnet '67 and Dragnet (1989-1990)

Dragnet (1952-1959)
Dragnet '67 (1967-1970)
Dragnet (1989-1990)
Type: Revivals
Group: 11

   Every decade has its "real" cop show: a police drama that seems to get beyond the stereotypes of your average police drama and show you what its really like to be a cop.

   Dragnet was the "real" cop show of the 50's. Unfortunately it lived on and is best remembered for its second incarnation in the 60's and tried to reinvent itself again at the end of the 80's.

   Dragnet actually started on radio and then moved to television. It gave the viewers the feeling they were watching real cops in a number of ways. The show had a log book sort of voice over that followed the action as if lead character Sgt. Joe Friday was taking notes. It claimed that all its stories were taken from actual incidents on the books - only the names had been changed to protect the innocent. The show even had its own distinct sound. As Joe Friday, Jack Webb had a clipped delivery and a directness in how he spoke that was mirrored by everyone else on the show. This came from the actors reading their lines from cue cards as the scene was being filmed. The idea was to give the dialogue an immediacy and an unrehearsed feel. If nothing else it certainly did give it a distinct sound. The show also focused almost exclusively on the characters' life at work with home life mainly getting a mention only here and there in the dialogue.

   The show broke a lot of police show formulas and ended up creating what would become many new ones. The log book narration style can be seen being used in shows as diverse as like Star Trek. The whole style of showing mainly the work life of the cop with little emphasis on home life can be seen being used in shows like Law And Order where the case is everything and character's personal lives are extremely secondary. And style of dialogue delivery and the shows musical stingers have been parodied ad nausium by everyone from Dan Aykroyd and Saturday Night Live to John Hughes in films like Uncle Buck.

   As I've said, Dragnet was the "real" cop show of the 50's. After ending its initial run in 1959, it returned to TV in 1967 now called Dragnet '67. Because these episodes were in color and not black and white like the original series, these are the episodes we today are most familiar with. Color shows are an easier sell in syndication. The problem is, as I've said, the 50's episodes are where Dragnet made its dramatic mark. With its attitudes having a very 50's sensibility and with its style now being the stereotype that other shows were breaking, Dragnet '67 instead of being dynamic seems today almost comedic and on the verge of self parody. In the 60s it was definitely getting out of step with the times. Joe Friday and his partner Bill Gannon were out on the streets confronting 60's drug users and hippies, delivering an anti drug message that was almost preachy. Actually they were confronting sanitized versions of what the older generation felt drug users and hippies were. That didn't exactly help the shows reality level. On top of that, time hasn't helped it. With scandals galore in the Los Angeles Police Department, where Dragnet was set, the show's saintly moralizing detectives and praise of the L.A.P.D. can now sound odd.

   With all of the above Dragnet '67 might sound like a disaster. The thing that saved it from being a disaster is Jack Webb and his character of Joe Friday. The messages the show delivered were ones that Webb, also the shows producer, clearly believed. The fact that it all came from the heart gave the show the bit of genuiness that it needed. When Joe Friday ripped some punk a new one on what good decent values were, it felt like it came from a place of concern - a father trying to put the kids on the straight and narrow - and not from a place of anger and intolerance.

   I think that absolute sincerity and refusal to purposely make fun of itself is what allowed Dragnet '67 to work and was also the downfall of the Dragnet feature film starring Dan Aykroyd as Joe Friday's nephew and Tom Hanks as his partner. That film was parody and didn't have a central message that could come from the heart. The fact that that is what allowed the show to work is clearly demonstrated by how the film version lacking that quality almost worked but didn't.

   Dragnet returned a final time as a syndicated cop series in 1989. With Jack Webb dead, Joe Friday was gone. With Webb's performance style now a cliché I'm sure the show wished to distance itself from that aspect of the original Dragnet anyway. But aside from that, the formula stayed the same - the log book narration, professional cop life over personal drama. Instead of Friday and Gannon we now had Detectives Daniels and Molina. It didn't work though and the show quickly disappeared. The beauty of continuing a long running show is the name recognition. People liked the original so you hope they'll tune in to the new version. The downside is when the original show is so old that many people don't remember it and the rest firmly associate it with and date it to that period of time when it first aired. Add in the absence of the show's heart, Jack Webb, as well as its distinct style and it isn't surprising the show didn't last. "Dragnet? That hammy 60's show? How can they make a new version without Joe Friday? Forget it. I'm watching NYPD Blue. I'm watching Cops. Those shows show what it's really like to be a cop."

Other Dragnet Crossover Links
Dragnet and Dragnet (2003)

Other Dragnet '67 Crossover Links
Dragnet '67 and Adam 12

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