Sunday, August 19, 2012

A classic reborn: Dragnet (1967)

Perhaps it was popular demand after a feature film had been released a few months earlier, but Jack Webb's seminal crime drama, Dragnet, which first transitioned from radio to television in 1952, returned to NBC in January 1967 as a mid-season replacement, and this version ended in 1970 after 3 1/2  seasons.

As before, Webb wore multiple hats as director, producer, and star, as Sgt. Joe Friday (Webb) narrated each episode. This time, Webb was partnered with Harry Morgan, who at the time was better known for his sitcom work, cast as Officer Bill Gannon. The tag team of Art Gilmore and John Stephenson were the announcers. Gilmore, to his credit, also appeared on camera periodically as a police captain.

In "The Big Explosion", Friday & Gannon have to locate some stolen gelatin dynamite. Another television veteran, Olan Soule (ex-Captain Midnight), who, like Morgan, had been busy doing sitcoms (i.e. The Andy Griffith Show) prior to Dragnet, was cast as forensic scientist Ray Murray, but also got in some time as a judge in at least one or two episodes. Murray provides Friday & Gannon with some important advice in their investigation.

As we all know, Dragnet would be reborn on the tube twice more, first in the syndicated New Dragnet in the late 80's, following Dan Aykroyd & Tom Hanks' comic homage to the series in a 1987 feature film that saw Gannon promoted to Lieutenant, and in 2003, when Dick Wolf (Law & Order) took over the franchise and remolded it as a 1 hour series starring Ed O'Neill (ex-Married....With Children) as Friday.

Here's "The Big Explosion".

Rating: A+.


magicdog said...

Despite all the changes that came with portraying police on TV, I still enjoy watching Joe Friday do his thing!

Partly it's because Jack Webb wanted to bring the true experiences of cop shop to the masses, rather than the sensationalized adventures that was on TV & radio at the time. I'd heard that Webb went as far as to make sure the correct phone numbers were pasted on the phones, even though they wouldn't have been visible to the viewers! That's dedication.

It also helped that the stories were based on actual events, even if somewhat sanitized for TV.

having dealt with Neo-Nazis, I wonder what Joe Friday & Bill Gannon would have thought of the Black Panthers and La Raza?

I'd seen the "New Dragnet" series and it wasn't bad, but there's no beating Joe Friday!

hobbyfan said...

I missed out on "The New Dragnet" only because it was on while I was bowling, and I never taped it. I did, however, watch the reboot with Ed O'Neill, and I thought that was pretty good, as people forget that O'Neill, now starring on Modern Family, has played cops before (i.e. Adventures of Ford Fairlane, opposite Andrew Dice Clay), and has range as an actor. It's a shame he doesn't get enough movie roles these days.

Sooner or later, I'll put up an ep of the original 1950's Dragnet and review the radio show, too.