Dragnet

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"Their job... to enforce the laws, and preserve the safety of decent citizens."

"The story you are about to hear/see is true. Only the names have been changed, to protect the innocent."

Archetype of the Police Procedural, Dragnet followed the exploits of Sgt. Joe Friday (badge number 714) and his partner, Bill Gannon, as they investigated crime in Los Angeles.

Dragnet was the brainchild of its star and writer, Jack Webb, who brought to the screen a level of realism in the Police Procedural that had never been seen before and has only rarely been seen since. This was accomplished via contacts he had in the LAPD, who provided him with both anonymized versions of actual cases and details on contemporary police procedure.

Unqualified, the title Dragnet usually refers to an entire franchise of series which ran intermittently from 1949 to 1971:

  • Dragnet, the original radio series, which ran from 1949-1957.
  • Dragnet (Also called Badge 714), a black and white TV series running from 1951-1959, along with a theatrical film adaptation in 1954. Many (perhaps all) of the episodes in this incarnation have lapsed into the public domain.
  • Dragnet 1967, a Revival of the original series, which ran (under a different title each year) from 1967 to 1971. (This series was launched by a movie, unsurprisingly titled Dragnet 1966.) While sometimes considered the show's weakest incarnation, and prone to unintentional self-parody, this series is the most familiar one to modern audiences. Being filmed in color, it was more attractive to syndicators, and still being under copyright, it's the only incarnation that has received an official DVD release.

Officer Bill Gannon, played in the revival series by Harry Morgan (as Henry Morgan), was actually a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, the last and best known of at least four partners Friday had in the course of the show. Barton Yarborough portrayed Friday's original partner, Sgt. Ben Romero, from the start of the radio show until his death in December 1951, just three episodes into the first TV version. He was briefly succeeded by Barney Phillips as Detective Sgt. Ed Jacobs, then by Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith from late 1952 to the end of the TV show's original run in 1959.

Unlike just about every other police show in history, the focus of Dragnet was not always on homicide: Friday and his partners rotated through the various departments from week to week, allowing them to solve not only murders, but also fraud, arson, and drug-smuggling.

Each episode ended with a mugshot of the perp as a Narrator related the results of their trial.

The show spawned a number of Catch Phrases, such as "The story you are about to hear is true"; "This is the city: Los Angeles, California"; and "My name's Friday. I'm a cop" (eventually, "My name is Friday; I carry a badge"). But the most famous phrase identified with the show - "Just the facts, Ma'am" - is actually a Beam Me Up, Scotty born from a series of Dragnet parodies created by Stan Freberg.

Dragnet also spawned a 1987 feature film, a combination homage and Affectionate Parody featuring Dan Aykroyd as a new Joe Friday, the nephew of Webb's character, and Tom Hanks as his partner. Harry Morgan reprised his role as Bill Gannon, now a captain. The film follows Friday as he continues his uncle's legacy of straight-laced crime-fighting, teaming with undercover detective Pep Streebek. The duo are assigned to investigate a series of bizarre and (seemingly) unrelated robberies and vandalisms, eventually uncovering a dastardly plot by an underground pagan group of undermine all authority in Los Angeles.

Two years later, another Dragnet (sometimes The New Dragnet) revival (In Name Only) aired in syndication. It featured an LAPD cop named Vic Daniels, and the only connection to its namesake was the Framing Device of the opening narration.

Dick Wolf attempted another Revival in 2003 with a series which was eventually retitled LA Dragnet, staring Ed O'Neil as Joe Friday. The show failed to distinguish itself from the dozens of other cop shows on at the time (CSI, Law and Order, NYPD Blue, etc.), and lasted only a season and a half. This may have been largely due to a lot of people being unable to get past the idea of "Al Bundy as a cop," despite the fact that O'Neil, a highly accomplished actor, created a wonderfully cynical, seen-it-all characterization that was both distinct from Jack Webb's portrayal and nothing like his Married... with Children role.

Mathnet, a math-themed parody of Dragnet, was the central sketch of the educational program Square One TV.

The four note Sting used as a Theme Tune and at commercial breaks is one of the most recognizable musical cues in the history of television and radio. Even today, the sting signifies the forces of law and order as a calm, methodical and relentless force hounding criminals. Listen here (.wav file).

Joe Friday's badge, number 714, which appears during the opening titles, is a real LAPD badge, not a reproduction. Joe Friday is the only fictional character ever to be issued an official badge number by a US police department.

When Jack Webb died in 1982 he was given full police honors at his funeral although he had never actually served in the force. The chief of police also announced that badge number 714 would be retired and would never be assigned to anyone else.


Tropes used in Dragnet include:

The (various) Series[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Abandonware: Much of the radio series dropped into the public domain. As a consequence, several hundred episodes are available for download from miscellaneous sources -- for example, at archive.org in both ZIP-archive and single-episode formats.
  • Always on Duty: Webb did his best to avert this. It is made clear that our main characters are one team out of many working one shift out of many and that just as much happens off-camera as on.
  • Author Filibuster: The 1967 series was quite fond of this as Joe Friday has had his fair share of long-winded lectures about the moral of the episode.
    • In one episode a policeman (Kent Mccord, pre-Adam-12 )is accused of robbing a liquor store. He says that whether or not he's found guilty he'll leave the force. Friday gives him an epic six-minute rant about how tough police officers have it.
  • Badass: Joe Friday could be one when the situation called for it. There is an early episode when Joe and Bill track down a couple thugs who shot another cop with a shotgun. Joe kicks down the door, shoves a shotgun in the perp's face and says: "Flinch and you'll be chasing your head down Fifth Street." Later on, he tells the same guy, "I've bumped into jaywalkers tougher than you."
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: Joe Friday never actually said "Just the facts, ma'am."
  • Big Eater: Bill Gannon. Or perhaps more accuratly Weird Eater. As part of his comic relief role, when Gannon wasn't trying to make an honest man of Joe he was usually telling Joe about recipes like his secret bbq sauce ("here's the secret, Joe...add a quart of vanilla ice cream"), buying chili and cupcakes when the two do policework in restaurants and bakeries, and offering Friday a bite of sandwiches combining such things as pastrami pickle and peanut butter. And as he'd say -- the topper ("are you listening, Joe?") would be his favorite and most famous sandwich: The Garlic Nut-Butter Sandwich. (See Your Favorite, below).
  • Bottle Episode: The aforementioned six-minute rant occurs in an episode called "The Interrogation" in which the only characters are Friday, Gannon, and the guy they're questioning (a cop named Paul Culver, played by Kent McCord aka Jim Reed of Adam-12 fame). It's just the three of them in a room in Internal Affairs for the half hour.
  • Broken Aesop: In one episode, "A Gun for Christmas", the two investigate the shooting of a child near Christmas. They learn it was done accidentally by the boy's best friend when they were playing with the boy's Christmas gift, a rifle. The dead boy's father storms over to the friend's house, but when he sees how hurt the boy is over the loss of his friend, gives the boy all the dead child's Christmas toys. Lesson learned: kill your friend and you get all their toys.
  • By-The-Book Cop: Friday and his partners. This is presented as a positive trait, too -- standard procedure is standard for a reason, and on this show, trying to second-guess that usually makes things worse.
  • Catch Phrase: Several examples frequently used or parodied, including, "My name is Friday. I carry a badge."
  • Character Filibuster: Mostly overlaps with Author Filibuster, as Joe Friday (whose views are indistinguishable from Jack Webb's) gets the vast majority of the big speeches. "The Big Prophet" is an exception. The discussion between Friday and Gannon and a Timothy Leary Expy/suspect is, almost literally, an episode-length formal debate over "Resolved: Drug use is harmless." The Leary character, while a Strawman Political whose arguments are demolished by the detectives, actually gets a pretty good opportunity to state his case, and about as much time to do so as the cops get.
  • Christmas Episode: The series did at least two. One was about a little boy borrowing a statue of the baby Jesus to give it a ride in his wagon. And then there was ".22 Rifle for Christmas", which lives up to its ominous title (see the TearJerker page for more details).
  • Contractual Immortality: Even if one didn't know the series would continue, one would expect Joe Friday to survive being shot (as he was in "The Big Ben".)
  • Cop Show
  • Did Not Do the Research: Jack Webb may have been a stickler for research most of the time, but he did make at least one mistake. In the episode centering on the stolen dog reward scam, Gannon is trying to guess dog breeds from a book, and getting them all wrong. Friday IDs one of Gannon's mistakes as a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Hound and says it's extinct. The Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is in the Sporting group, not the Hound group, and it's not extinct.
  • Drugs Are Bad
  • Ear Trumpet: Appears in one episode as Joe Friday and his partner attempt to question a hard-of-hearing witness.
  • Framing Device
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Friday comes close to calling a suspect's mother the 'B' word.

Female Suspect: You know, you're kinda sexy....for a cop.
Joe Friday: ...And I bet your Mother had a loud bark!

  • Generic Cop Badges: Subverted, see above.
  • Hey, It's That Sound: The animation production company Williams Street (Sealab2021, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost Coast to Coast and many other Adult Swim productions) uses the audio from Jack Webb's Mark VII Productions Vanity Plate for their own Vanity Plate.
  • Hospitality for Heroes: In one episode, Friday and Gannon bust a perp just before he can go after a restaurant owner. Immediately afterwards, a line of dialogue reveals that the cops haven't had lunch yet. The restaurant owner immediately offers a free lunch; when they refuse she tells them to sit down and order anyway, there's nothing controlling the size of the portions she serves them.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes of the original radio/TV series were titled "The Big (something)".
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Joe Friday. His only vice is cigarettes, which can be Handwaved given the time the TV show was filmed.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: By Walter Schumann. The famous "dum-da-DUM-dum" sting was actually swiped from Miklós Rózsa's score to the 1946 film The Killers. Later arranged as a swingin' big-band number by Ray Anthony (which became a hit single), and a rather excellent four-part fugue by Stephen Malinowski.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Friday is a Knight in Shining Armor who sometimes slips into this, particularly in the 1967 revival when confronting egregious examples of late '60s societal decay.
  • Late Arrival Spoiler: Many radio episodes in the archives are titled with the name of the person ultimately proven guilty.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Despite his years of competent service to the force, Friday is apparently never able to rise above the rank of sergeant.
    • Well, actually, he does make lieutenant toward the end of the original series, but for the revival show he's knocked back down to sergeant without explanation.
    • Jack Webb once explained that this was because in real life a police lieutenant would have more of a Desk Jockey position and wouldn't be involved in the nuts and bolts of an investigation. That wasn't what Webb wanted for the character, and he wanted to keep the show as true-to-life as possible, so...
  • Locard's Theory: Possibly the earliest TV instance, in an early episode.
  • Los Angeles: "This is the city..."
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Different episodes puts Friday and his partner in different departments -- whichever one is appropriate for the case being investigated, basically -- but within each episode jobs are delegated as normal.
  • Momma's Boy: Middle-aged bachelor Friday still lives with his mother, at least in the older version. In the color version, he's got his own apartment.
  • Motive Rant: A frequent staple.
  • The Movie: One was made in 1966 as a prospective pilot for the revived series; however, it didn't air until 1969.
  • Narrator: Friday himself.
  • Opening Narration: By Friday. In the 1966 revival, his opening narrations often included facts and statistics about the city of Los Angeles relating somehow to that episode's case.
    • By the time of Dragnet 1971, Webb more often then not just opened with a standard "This is the City - Los Angeles California. My name is Friday...I carry a badge", before the opening credits.
  • Overt Operative: When Joe Friday has to go undercover and pretend to be anything other than a cop. In-Universe, he's good at it, but it can be awfully tough for the audience to buy, since everything about Jack Webb's demeanor just screams "cop."
  • Perp Sweating: A particular talent of Friday and his partner.
  • Police Procedural
  • Precious Puppies: Ginger, a drug sniffing dog. The closing narration tells us she did her job so well the Underground paid her their highest complement: they put a price on her head.

Joe Friday: (To a fellow cop belittling the dog program) "Woof"

  • Radio Drama
  • Real Time: "Attempted City Hall Bombing".
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Kent McCord and occasionally Martin Milner appearing as their Adam-12 characters Reed and Malloy
  • Roman à Clef: As it says on The Other Wiki, "Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used many authentic touches, such as the LAPD's actual radio call sign (KMA367), and the names of many real department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the crime lab or Chief of Detectives Thad Brown." The then-Chief of Police was always credited at the end of every episode.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Usually instigated by Ben Romero (in the radio series), Frank Smith or Bill Gannon (in the television series).
  • Series Continuity Error: When Friday faces a police board over shooting a robber, Gannon testifies that he and Friday had been partners for five years. A few episodes later in the episode The Big Neighbor Friday mentions they've been partners for eight years.
  • Shout-Out: Friday's badge number (714) commemorated Babe Ruth's career home run total.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Friday often gets off a good one, like this rejoinder to a committed neo-Nazi: "You keep harping about minorities. Well, mister, you're a psychotic, and they're a minority, too."
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation
  • Spiritual Successor: Adam-12, essentially the "patrolman" version of Dragnet, was also produced by Webb. Both stars had already appeared on Dragnet multiple times (indeed, Martin Milner had appeared on the radio version).
  • Standard Police Motto: This was the Trope Maker, bringing the LAPD's now-famous motto into the public eye.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Friday's various partners.
  • Syndication Title: Badge 714
  • Telephone Exchange Names and various historical footnotes, like actually being able to hear an intercity telephone call being manually handed off from one operator to another for a couple of minutes before it's finally completed to some distant rural hamlet, are common in the original radio series and portrayed fairly accurately for that era.
  • They Fight Crime (obviously)
  • Totally Radical
  • Vanity Plate: According to the other Wiki, those sweaty hands banging out Mark VII are none other than Jack Webb's himself.
  • Very Special Episode: One episode of Dragnet 1968 took place on April 4, 1968... the day Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. The episode details a special police bunker that Gannon, Friday and a handful of officers bunkered down in, awaiting any signs of rioting that might come in LA and across the country.
    • One Dragnet 1968 had Joe Friday face a police inquiry board after killing a robber he caught in the act. The ending featured Friday in the 'mugshot' tag with the overlay 'Joe Friday - Returned to Duty'.
  • What Could Have Been: According to the Other Wiki, Jack Webb was working on a second Dragnet revival in 1982 with five scripts completed. With Harry Morgan committed to M*A*S*H (television) and its After Show After MASH, Webb would have changed partners once again, this time to a character played by Kent McCord (Although it's unknown if it would have been his Adam 12 character or a new one).
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Friday and Gannon would be on detail to many different police divisions -- from Homicide to Bunco to Community Relations -- for the current episode's case. While Webb was a stickler for details, he opted for less realism here to allow for a wider variety of stories. By comparison, in the 2003 revival, Friday was always assigned to Homicide.
  • You Look Familiar: Tim Donnelly qualifies both in terms of the Dragnet series itself (five different roles), as well as the Dragnet/Adam-12/Emergency shared universe (two roles in Adam and his regular role as Firefighter Chet Kelly in Emergency). There were many of these, actually. Virginia Gregg was a recognizable recurring actress at 13 roles. There were many actors who played many roles, but apparently according to IMDB, Don Ross holds the record at 31sodes.
    • Kent McCord appeared as another patrolman in one early episode before appearing a Officer Reed here and in Adam-12.
  • Your Favorite: For Bill Gannon, his Garlic Nut-Butter Sandwich.

Bill Gannon: "Take two slices of pumpernickel bread, spread one with your preferred variety of peanut butter, spread one with cream cheese, crush garlic cloves over the cream cheese side, allowing juice to drip into cream cheese (to taste), join slices into sandwich form, cut into quarters and enjoy!"

Dragnet Parodies / Shout Outs[edit | hide]

  • In The Beatles song She Came In Though The Bathroom Window, "Sunday's on the phone to Monday/Tuesday's on the phone to me."
  • The Stan Freberg recording St. George and the Dragonet which gave us the Beam Me Up, Scotty phrase "Just the facts, Ma'am".
  • In an episode of The Honeymooners Ed Norton says "Dum da Dum Dum".
  • An episode of It Takes a Thief titled "The Scorpio Drop" in which star Robert Wagner starts the Cold Open with "This is the city, Washington D.C. My name is Mundy...I'm a thief." Oddly enough on May 5, 2012 this episode aired on Digital station Antenna TV directly after an actual episode of Dragnet, without even a commercial between the Universal logo and the start of the parody.
  • Mad Magazine once featured Dumbnet -- A What IV Production
  • An episode of The Monkees features Peter saying, "Hey, its time for Dragnet! Anyone got a tv?" During 2012, this shot was in use in an Antenna TV ad, which had both programs in their line-up at the time.
  • Seinfeld featured a character called Mr. Bookman, a library official who behaved like Joe Friday.
    • Another episode had Kramer channel a Joe Fridayish inspector in order to get a stolen statue back from a cleaning man.
  • An early episode of Sesame Street featured a segment with Sergeant Thursday and his partner Ben (a parody of Ben Romano) questioning a letter M if it had seen their suspect - a letter W.
  • The PBS series Square One TV would end every episode with Mathnet -- a complete parody of the show.

The story you are about to see is a fib. But it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real.

  • One Tonight Show clip features Jack Webb parodying himself as he and Johnny Carson talk in a Dragnet style tongue twister - The Case of the Copped Copper Clappers.
  • Teckla opens with Vlad Taltos saying, "This is the city: Adrilankha, Whitecrest." After two paragraphs about the city, its inhabitants, and how the Empire is the ultimate source of justice, he concludes:

But the organization that exists at the core of House Jhereg operates illegally. The Empire is both unwilling and unable to enforce the laws and customs governing this inner society. Yet, sometimes, these unwritten laws are broken. That’s when I go to work. I’m an assassin.


1987 Affectionate Parody Movie[edit | hide]

The Virgin Connie Swail: "How come his is so much bigger than yours?"
Officer Joe Friday: "Miss?"
The Virgin Connie Swail: "The gun."
Officer Joe Friday: "I've never needed more."

  • Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: Not the title theme itself, but the film's other major song, "City Of Crime" which plays over the closing credits, is performed by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks (in-character as Friday and Streebek).
  • The Dragon / The Brute: Emil Muzz.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Police commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick
  • Drives Like Crazy: "Streebek, there's no road here!"
    • During Friday's and Streebek's first police chase together, Friday enumerates a Long List of traffic violations... against his own partner.
    • Later reversed when Friday is rushing to save The Virgin Connie Swail:

Streebek: Don't you remember those films they showed us in high school? Red Asphalt? Blood On The Highway?
Friday: Buddy, you just picked two of my favorites!

Streebek: You're still a virgin?
Connie: Yes!
Streebek: Beat ... [prat-fall]

Friday: I spent a lovely evening in the company of Miss Connie Swail.
Streebek: Wait a minute. Don't you mean The Virgin Connie Swail?
Friday: *Slow Turn, then Smug Smile while the Theme Tune plays dramatically*

  • Intergenerational Friendship: Streebek puts the charm on Friday's grandmother.
  • Jerkass: Jane Kirkpatrick, Jerry Caesar (who narrowly escapes becoming an Asshole Victim later on) and Emil's landlady.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Capt. Gannon is presented as a crusty, "tough love" type of guy. On the other hand, when told that one of the best officers on the entire force has gone missing (let alone the nephew of your old partner), you'd think your reaction would be a little more than "WHO CARES?".
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Word of God (Dan Aykroyd, to be precise) is that Friday averts this.
  • Motor Mouth: Friday.
  • Mythology Gag: At the start of the film, Friday's partner Frank Smith gets Put on a Bus (since he never appears on camera, it's more accurate to say he never got off the bus). One of Friday's partners in the series, as detailed in the body, was also named Frank Smith.

Capt. Gannon: "I'm afraid Frank won't be coming in today, Joe."
Joe Friday: "24 hour flu?"
Capt. Gannon: "It's a bit more serious than that."
Joe Friday: "48?"

  • Of Course I'm Not a Virgin: Totally averted. The virgin Connie Swail doesn't mind people introducing her as such, and Friday doesn't deny it himself.

Joe Friday: "Prepare the virgin [for a virgin sacrifice]?" I don't like the sound of that."
Pep Streebeck: "Let's just hope they're not referring to you."

Friday: [After turning down Sylvia Wiss] Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we're capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don't drag me down into your private Hell.

Friday: I don't care for you or for the putrid sludge you're troweling out. But until they change the laws and put you sleaze kings out of business, my job is to help you get back your stench-ridden boxes of smut; and since I'll be doing it holding my nose, I'll be doing it with ONE HAND!

Ceasar: I'll give you money, I'll give you jewels, I'll give you women! I'll give you anything you want, just name it!
Friday: How about you take your hands off my suit.
Ceasar: Absolutely.

  1. In all fairness, the pagans had plenty of forewarning, since the detectives blew their own cover during The Infiltration.