Dragnet and Dragnet (2003)/L.A. Dragnet

Dragnet (1952-1959)
Dragnet (2003)
L.A. Dragnet (2003)
Type: Revival and Name Change

   First of all, you may notice two things about this page. First off, that I didn't just include this as part of my article on all the other myriad Dragnet revivals. Second, that I am not including this show as part of the common reality all the other Dragnets are a part of. The reason for the first is partly because that page was already getting pretty long. Plus, and here is the answer to that second thing as well, it really deserves to be separate since rather than being a continuation of the "old' Dragnet reality, Dragnet 2003 is more of a reboot starting from scratch.

   On the other Dragnet page and on my Law And Order pages I make reference to the fact that to me it is clear that Dick Wolf's Law And Order had the influence of Dragnet all over it: cop stories focusing on the case and not the cops' personal lives, very to the point story structure. Well, with ABC being brought back to ABC by Dick Wolf in 2003 I was proved correct. With a big push to promote the show, Dick Wolf was interviewed all over the place and admitted readily to having been a Dragnet fan and that it did indeed influence Law And Order. And now he was thrilled to be able to reinvent Dragnet for the new millennium.

   The question was, how much do you leave alone and how much do you reinvent? I mean, you have to update it. Do you keep the lead character Joe Friday? Do you keep the distinct theme song? I mean, both kind of define the show but they are also both so burned into everyone's minds in a kind of kitsch way that using them could hurt the show. Dick Wolf chose to keep them both. Given that it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation that was probably the right move. For our purposes though it does mean this is not part of the same continuity as the original show. unless like the Dan Aykroyd movie version of Dragnet this new Joe Friday is the original Joe Friday's nephew or something. That doesn't seem to be the case though.

   So, a new spin on the old Joe, now played by Ed O'Neil and a new spin on the classic theme song. And while the line delivery is not exactly the clipped "reading off the teleprompter" delivery of the original, it is still in the spirit of that to-the-point style. What did they change? Well, they upped the harshness of the crimes. The original show might feature a serious crime but it also was just as likely to deal with something more low key. Not the new Dragnet. We're talking shocking and much more serious crimes.

   And then there are the things that change AND stay the same. Joe Friday always ad a partner to bounce off of. That is still the case. Only in the past Joe's partner was always one of his contemporaries, someone close to his own age who you could almost believe Joe attended the police academy with and who he might go out for a beer with after work (if the cops on the show had personal lives). As on the original Dragnet, Joe's partner was Frank Smith. Only this time Frank Smith was played by Ethan Embry who was around 25 years old, around 32 years younger than Ed O'Neil! So forget the whole equal partner vibe, like it or not this is going to end up having a teacher/student vibe. This may be where the show falls down. I like Ethan Embry as an actor but this was a bad move in my mind. It doesn't even make sense to me. The only reason I can see them doing this is because the network wants to put something in that will attract the younger viewers. That's got to be the worst reason to change a show, especially an update of a classic. The idea should be you are updating and improving the show. To make a change based on nothing but pandering to your audience says the makers of the show aren't above screwing around with the show's quality if it means getting viewers. And ironically I think it also drives viewers away at the same time. If the show's creator's don't respect the material or the viewers, why should I tune in?

   Will this new version fly? Hard to say. All the articles about it go on and on about whether as a franchise it can come back and become a huge hit like Law And Order. What they all failed to mention was that even though Law And Order has been on for forever and is a huge hit with spin offs and such now, it didn't start that way. For the first years it was on the air Law And Order was by no means a huge hit. It stayed on the air because it almost seemed NBC kept forgetting to cancel it. It was on, got some viewers but not huge amounts of them. It was only when it started getting rerun on cable's A&E network that things took off. People who got hooked on the reruns started watching the show on NBC and, BAM, it was suddenly a hit years after it premiered. ABC should keep that in mind if they are expecting Dragnet to be a huge hit out of the gate. It might be a huge hit right off. But it might also be that it's a show that needs to be on a few seasons just doing okay before people start watching it. With so much hype though I don't think ABC will be willing to wait years for it to take off.

   Something else they should do (which would impress me). Part of Law And Orders setup is that the show is so about the stories and not the cops that on a regular basis they replace old cast members with new ones. I think Dragnet should do that. First off, they should kill off Frank Smith. And not just to ditch the character. Let him hang around a season or so but eventually knock him off. To me killing off a character like that would say to me that this show meant business. And Joe Friday had a number of partners in the original show so it would be in keeping with the original to replace Frank. Then, to really prove themselves if the show does become a hit, I would say just like on Law And Order, when Ed O'Neil's contract gets too expensive, they should. kill Joe Friday off. Horrible? Blasphemy? Maybe. But again, to me that would say this is not a dated cop show from the 50's just retooled a little. If this is a Dragnet where even Joe Friday can die then this is not a safe 50's retread, this is a cop show set in a world where the danger is real, where cops, even good cops like Friday, can die. Again, even if you think this is a horrible idea, you have to admit that would kill the whole Dragnet-as-kitsch vibe but good.

Update: As the 2003-2004 season starts, changes are afoot on the 2003 version of Dragnet. Given what some of them are I'd almost think someone at ABC read the ideas I posted for the show on this page (Yeah, right... I wish). Only its like they read it and utterly misinterpreted it.

   First change: a new name. Instead of Dragnet the show is now called L.A. Dragnet. The official word is that the "L.A." was added to differentiate it from all the other cop shows out there. Uh, okay. I kinda buy that but I suspect another unstated reason. I'll get back to that in a minute.

   Second change: Ethan Embry's Frank Smith is gone. Did they simply write him off or (I hope I hope I hope) did they have the nerve to bump him off. I know its all ghoulish but what a shocking season opener that would make! Frank catching his partner's killer? Come on. That's good solid drama.

   Now, I said they should get rid of Frank Smith. Now I also pointed out that on the original Dragnet Joe Friday had a number of partners. Well, now that's true on the new show... just in a different way. See, in this new Dragnet Joe Friday has been promoted and is now in charge of a whole bunch of young novice cops. Yo, ABC! When I said he had a bunch of Partners I meant he had them ONE AT A TIME!!! Oy. So now instead of one much too young cop, we've got, what, a half dozen? Yippee. Good fix (that would be sarcasm). The idea is that with a big troop of cops they can have them all doing different stuff which will let them cross cut between plots and jazz up the show. This is likely true but I suspect, as with the name change, this reason is only part of the reason for the cat change.

   So what other reasons could there be for these alterations? One word: franchise. NBC has a huge powerhouse franchise in the form of Dick Wolf's the Law & Order shows. CBS is turning C.S.I. into a franchise too. They have two C.S.I. shows and have announced plans for a third. With Dragnet Dick Wolf is trying to give ABC their own unique cop drama. But why wouldn't ABC be anxious to have multiple Dragnets just like the other networks are doing? And if you are going to have multiple Dragents, you need to be able to tell them apart. What better way than to throw a location into the titles. If L.A. Dragnet does well then you can next do Detroit Dragnet, Chicago Dragnet... on and on.

   Now... why does L.A. Dragnet seem like a familiar title. Oh, I know. It's kind of similar to the title of C.S.I.'s first spin off, C.S.I. Miami. Which makes sense if, like I siad, they plan to go the Dragnet all over the country route like C.S.I. is doing Crime Scene Investigators all over the country. C.S.I. is about a team of, duh, Crime Scene Investigators. The format is that each C.S.I. team has about a half dozen young investigators all supervised by an older more experienced investigator. Hey wait a minute... that's L.A. Dragnet's new format. But Dragnet won't just investigate killings. They'll do murders like Law & Order and sex crimes like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit... Hey wait a minute. If I was a cynical bastard (Oh wait, I am) I might think ABC was trying to start their new franchise by borrowing elements from the other current hit cop franchises. Which is not a bad thing. It's just weak that they can't just come out and SAY that's what they're doing.

   One final note on the off chance someone from ABC is checking out this page. Retool the show all you want but if you really want to turn Dragnet into a franchise, remember what I have already stated above: GIVE IT TIME. Give the show time to find an audience. If it doesn't blow the doors off the ratings right away don't panic. Give it time and you could have a mega franchise. Fussing and fret and you'll just end up canceling the show too soon and blowing a good thing.

Other Dragnet Crossover Links
Dragnet and Dragnet '67
Dragnet and Dragnet (1989)

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