1 9 5 1 – 1 9 5 9 (USA)
361 x 30 minute episodes
1 9 6 7 – 1 9 7 0 (USA)
98 x 30 minute episodes
“The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent”
The NBC series Dragnet featured the cases of plodding bachelor cop Sergeant Joe Friday, badge number 714, an old-fashioned by-the-book cop in the Homicide Division of the LAPD (pictured below right).
Joe lived at Apartment 12, 4646 Cooper Street and had worked on the force for 11 years when the series began.
This show made Joe Friday to television what Sherlock Holmes was to literature (and The Shadow to radio), and Jack Webb – creator, producer, writer and star – fashioned the police-procedural series into a television classic.
Fans appreciated its unglamorous, realistic depiction of routine police work while detractors criticised the wooden acting.
Actually, Webb sought a documentary mood and even used amateurs – occasionally the people involved in the actual cases upon which an episode was based – resulting in less-than-flashy performances.
Sgt Joe Friday would talk viewers through the dates, times and places of the investigation, straight from the police blotter. “The story you are about to see is true,” ran the opening. “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
The pervasive monosyllables and monotones would have been inappropriate in any medium but half-hour television: on the small screen it translated into intimate, compact slices of life.
Friday’s flat, almost emotionless delivery, and his short, terse expressions such as, “all we want are the facts, ma’am” (when he was questioning someone) and “it’s my job, I’m a cop” (when being praised or berated) became familiar catchphrases for millions of viewers – and material for many parodies.
Friday’s earliest colleague was Ben Romero but when actor Barton Yarborough died after only three episodes, Friday was briefly accompanied by Ed Jacobs (Barney Philips) and then through the show’s glory years by Officer Frank Smith (usually played by the chubby Ben Alexander).
Friday’s work with the LAPD ran from 1951 to 1959, although the series was successfully revived from 1967 to 1970 as Dragnet ’67 (this time in colour) with Harry Morgan (later Colonel Potter in M*A*S*H) joining Friday on the beat as the hypochondriac Bill Gannon.
The new series brought the series bang up to date, dealing with topical issues like drug-pushing and student protest.
Dragnet was the first American police drama series to be screened on British television.
Harry Morgan paid tribute to his time on the show by appearing in a 1987 film parody starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks.
Fess Parker played a policeman in an early episode of Dragnet and played his entire scene kneeling on the floor to avoid towering over Jack Webb and Ben Alexander.
Sgt Joe Friday
Sgt Ben Romero
Sgt Ed Jacobs
Herb Ellis (1)
Ben Alexander (2)
Officer Bill Gannon