26 Facts You Might Not Know about Dragnet

This is the television show. Sometimes in the world of television, someone troubles the peaceful lives of ordinary citizens. That's when one man goes to work. His name's Friday. He carries a badge.

Jack Webb's straitlaced cop show Dragnet first aired more than 60 years ago, but it still captivates fans around the world. Here are a few facts that you might not know about it.

1. The series may be best known today as a late 60s television drama. But it spanned multiple media over decades. First, Dragnet was a 318 episode radio show that aired from 1949-1957.

2. Then Jack Webb (right) took his brainchild to television, airing 276 episodes from 1951-1959.

3. The show was immensely popular, so Webb created a feature-length Dragnet movie in 1954.

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4. The first television show went off the air in 1959. Webb tried to reboot the series with another movie in 1966.

5. A Dragnet comic strip ran from 1952-1955.

6. The relaunched television series was a great success with 98 episodes aired from 1967-1970. You can watch it for free on Hulu.

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7. There was 52-episode remake of the series from 1989-1991 . . .

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8. . . . and a Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks movie in 1987.

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9. . . . and a 10 episode series with Ed O'Neill that aired from 2003 to 2004.

10. Jack Webb, who played Sgt. Joe Friday, was born on a Friday.

11. Jack Webb never knew his father, who abandoned Webb and his mother before he was born. The only strong male role model in his family was an uncle named Frank Smith. Friday's partner in the 50s television series was Officer Frank Smith, whom Webb named after his uncle. Here he is on the left portrayed by actor Ben Alexander.

12. At a young age, Webb fell in love with the cinema. He especially enjoyed the directing style of Frank Capra, which was a great influence on his own. Michael J. Hayde writes that Webb adopted Capra’s “rapidly paced action, clipped speech, tight close-ups, and machine-gun editing.” (10)

13. Webb had a knack for cartooning. He submitted a portfolio to Walt Disney’s animation studio, but never heard back from it.

14. Webb began to develop Dragnet while working on the 1948 cop movie He Walked By Night. The LAPD provided a technical advisor for the film, Sgt. Martin Wynn. Wynn was disgusted by the fake way that Hollywood depicted police work. During a conversation with Webb, he blurted out what he could make old police files available so that screenwriters and directors could get a real sense of police work. Webb accepted.

15. Webb intentionally used police jargon that laymen wouldn’t understand in order to make the show appear realistic.

16. Webb borrowed his opening lines “The story you are about to hear is true . . .” directly from the opening of He Walked By Night.

17. Webb’s favorite number was 7. So he named his production company Mark VII Productions. Joe Friday’s badge number is 714, which is 7 and 7+7.

18. Some fans wrote to Webb with crime tips. Michael J. Hayde describes one example:

After “The Big Lay-Out” aired on radio, a North Hollywood teenager sent him a confidential letter in which she detailed all the narcotics activity in her neighborhood, naming places and people. Webb immediately turned the letter over to the Department and later made the resulting case into another episode: “The Big Note.” (68)

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19. In 1958, Jack Webb produced a musical album called You’re My Girl: Romantic Reflections by Jack Webb. Here is a track from it with Webb, er, singing “Try a Little Tenderness.” It is delightfully bizarre.

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20. In 1953, satirist Stan Freberg released St. George and the Dragonet, an audio spoof of Dragnet. It imagined the legend of St. George and the Dragon as a hard-boiled cop show. Webb loved it. Here's a stop-motion animated version of Freberg's track.

21. Dragnet was heavily merchandised. There were several toys, puzzles, and games marketed toward children, including this board game.

22. The LAPD was so pleased with Dragnet that it gave Webb a detective’s badge with Friday’s number on it and named two buildings on its police academy “Jack Webb” and “Mark VII.” That badge was later placed inside the cornerstone of one of the buildings.

23. In addition to paperback novels, the series also produced a children’s book in 1957 from Whitman Publishing.

24. When Webb began shooting the 1966 revival of the series, LAPD Chief William H. Parker presented Webb with a new service revolver and badge. The revived series gave Friday the rank of Sergeant, even though he had been promoted to Lieutenant during the 1950s series.

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25. Webb understood that his highly stylized, formulaic show was ripe for parody. He even embraced it, as demonstrated by this clip from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

26. When Webb died in 1982, the LAPD flew its flags at half staff to honor him. This was the first time that it had ever done so for a non-police officer. It also retired Friday’s 714 badge number.

Partial bibliography:
Hayde, Michael J. My Name’s Friday: The True But Unauthorized Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2001. Print.

Images: Mark VII Productions, Paramount, Disney, jayman6, Amazon.com

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I've got a copy of the kid's book but it has Friday and Gannon on the cover. The copyright lists both 1957 and 1970 as the year. I wonder if it's different from the 1957 book or if they just changed the names to reflect the later series.
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