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Dragnet title screen.jpg
Dragnet opening frame from the 1950s version
Format Crime drama
Created by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb
Ben Alexander
Harry Morgan
Narrated by John Stephenson
George Fenneman
Jack Webb
Opening theme excerpt from Miklós Rózsa's score for The Killers
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of episodes 276 (1951–1959)
100 (1967–1970)
52 (1989–1991)
22 (2003–2004)
Producer(s) Jack Webb
Location(s) Los Angeles, U.S.
Running time 30 minutes (1951–1959; 1967–1970; 1989–1991)
60 minutes (2003–2004)
Original channel NBC
Original run 1951 – 2004

Dragnet, syndicated as Badge 714, is a radio and television crime drama about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.



Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave millions of audience members a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real-life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.[1]

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals, and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media.

The show's cultural impact is such that even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never seen or heard the program:

  • The ominous, four-note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music (titled "Danger Ahead") is instantly recognizable (though its origins date back to Miklós Rózsa's score for the 1946 film version of The Killers).
  • Another Dragnet trademark is the show's opening narration: "Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." This underwent minor revisions over time. The "only" and "ladies and gentlemen" were dropped at some point, and for the television version "hear" was changed to "see". Variations on this narration have been featured in many subsequent crime dramas, and in satires of these dramas (e.g. "Only the facts have been changed to protect the innocent").

The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday ran on radio from June 3, 1949 to February 26, 1957 and on television from December 16, 1951 to August 23, 1959, and from January 12, 1967 to April 16, 1970. All of these versions ran on NBC. There were three Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Webb in 1954; a TV-movie produced in 1966; and a comedy spoof in 1987. There were also television revivals, without Webb, in 1989 and 2003. A newspaper comic strip version of Dragnet, written by Jack Webb and Joe Scheiber, ran in newspapers from about 1952 to 1955.



Dragnet was created and produced by Jack Webb, who starred as the terse Sergeant Joe Friday. Webb had starred in a few mostly short-lived radio programs, but Dragnet would make him one of the major media personalities of his era.

Dragnet had its origins in Webb's small role as a police forensic scientist in the 1948 film, He Walked by Night, inspired by the actual murder of California Highway Patrol officer Loren Roosevelt in Los Angeles. The film was depicted in semidocumentary style, and Marty Wynn (an actual LAPD sergeant from the robbery-homicide division) was a technical advisor on the film. Webb and Wynn became friends, and both thought that the day-to-day activities of police officers could be realistically depicted, and could make for compelling drama without the forced sense of melodrama then so common in radio programming.[2]

Webb frequently visited police headquarters, drove on night patrols with Sgt. Wynn and his partner Officer Vance Brasher, and attended Police Academy courses to learn authentic jargon and other details that could be featured in a radio program. When he proposed Dragnet to NBC officials, they were not especially impressed; radio was aswarm with private investigators and crime dramas, such as Webb's earlier Pat Novak for Hire. That program didn’t last long, but Webb had received high marks for his role as the titular private investigator, and NBC agreed to a limited run for Dragnet.

With writer James E. Moser, Webb prepared an audition recording, then sought the LAPD's endorsement; he wanted to use cases from official files in order to demonstrate the steps taken by police officers during investigations. The official response was initially lukewarm, but in 1950 LAPD Chief William H. Parker offered Webb the endorsement he sought. Police wanted control over the program's sponsor, and insisted that police not be depicted unflatteringly. This would lead to some criticism, as LAPD racial segregation policies were never addressed, nor was there a suggestion of police corruption.


Jack Webb in an advertisement for Fatima Cigarettes, ca. 1951. The now-defunct Fatima brand was the primary sponsor of the early Dragnet radio episodes.

Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters (Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor). Gradually, Friday's deadpan, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop, tough but not hard, conservative but caring." (Dunning, 210) Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. Raymond Burr was on board to play Captain Ed Backstrand. When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but didn’t seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives were mentioned but rarely took center stage. (Friday was a bachelor who lived with his mother; Romero was an ever-fretful husband and father.) "Underplaying is still acting", Webb told Time. "We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” (Dunning, 209) Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

"Just the facts, ma'am"

While "Just the facts, ma'am" has come to be known as Dragnet's catchphrase, it was never actually uttered by Joe Friday; the closest he came were, "All we want are the facts, ma'am" and "All we know are the facts, ma'am".[3] "Just the facts, ma'am" comes from the Stan Freberg parody St. George and the Dragonet.[4]

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.

Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fenneman intoning the series opening ("The story you are about to hear is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.") and Hal Gibney describing the basic premise of the episode. "Big Saint" (April 26, 1951) for example, begins with, "You're a detective, Sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job: break it."

After the first commercial, Gibney would officially introduce the program: "Dragnet, the documented drama of an actual crime. For the next thirty minutes, in cooperation with state, federal and local authorities, you will travel step-by-step on the side of the law through an actual case history, transcribed from official police files. From beginning to end—from crime to punishment—Dragnet is the story of your police force in action."

The story then usually began with footsteps and a door closing, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like: "Tuesday, February 12. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of robbery division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrand, chief of detectives. My name's Friday."

Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours, or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time: in "City Hall Bombing" (July 21, 1949), Friday and Romero had less than 30 minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb.

At the end of the episode, usually after a brief endorsement by Jack Webb for the sponsor's product, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect. They were usually tried by a court "in and for the City and County of Los Angeles", convicted of a crime and sent to "the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California" or "examined by [#] psychiatrists appointed by the court", judged mentally incompetent and "committed to a state mental hospital for an indefinite period". Murderers were often "executed in the manner prescribed by law" or "executed in the lethal gas chamber at the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California". Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet. In 1950, Time quoted Webb: "We don’t even try to prove that crime doesn’t pay ... sometimes it does" (Dunning, 210)

Specialized terminology was mentioned in every episode but was rarely explained. Webb trusted the audience to determine the meanings of words or terms by their context, and furthermore, Dragnet tried to avoid the kinds of awkward, lengthy exposition that people would not actually use in daily speech. Several specialized terms (such as "A.P.B." for "All Points Bulletin" and "M.O." for "Modus Operandi") were rarely used in popular culture before Dragnet introduced them to everyday America.

While most radio shows used one or two sound effects experts, Dragnet needed five; a script clocking in at just under 30 minutes could require up to 300 separate effects. Accuracy was underlined: The exact number of footsteps from one room to another at Los Angeles police headquarters were imitated, and when a telephone rang at Friday's desk, the listener heard the same ring as the telephones in Los Angeles police headquarters. A single minute of ".22 Rifle for Christmas" is a representative example of the evocative sound effects featured on "Dragnet". While Friday and others investigate bloodstains in a suburban backyard, the listener hears a series of overlapping effects: a squeaking gate hinge, footsteps, a technician scraping blood into a paper envelope, the glassy chime of chemical vials, bird calls and a dog barking in the distance.

Sometimes the mundane intruded. When shows ran short, directors stalled for time. In one case, Dragnet interrupted a scene while a realtor spent a full minute answering a phone call, not advancing the story but filling in time.[5]

Scripts tackled a number of topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting), yet "Dragnet" made them all interesting due to fast-moving plots and behind-the-scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute" (December 15, 1949), they even had a locked room mystery.

Though rather tame by modern standards, Dragnet—especially on the radio—handled controversial subjects such as sex crimes and drug addiction with unprecedented and even startling realism. In one such example, Dragnet broke one of the unspoken (and still rarely broached) taboos of popular entertainment in the episode ".22 Rifle for Christmas" which aired December 21, 1950. The episode followed the search for young Stevie Morheim, only to discover he’d been accidentally killed while playing with a rifle that belonged to a friend; his friend told Friday that Stevie was running while holding the rifle when he tripped and fell, causing the gun to discharge, fatally wounding Morheim.

NBC received thousands of complaint letters, including a formal protest by the National Rifle Association. Webb forwarded many of the letters to police chief Parker who promised "ten more shows illustrating the folly of giving rifles to children." (Dunning, 211) Another episode dealt with high school girls who, rather than finding Hollywood stardom, fall in with fraudulent talent scouts and end up in pornography and prostitution.

The tone was usually serious, but there were moments of comic relief: Romero was something of a hypochondriac and often seemed henpecked; though Friday dated women, he usually dodged those who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.

Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957 (the last two seasons were repeats) as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's increasing popularity. In fact, the TV show would prove to be effectively a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same [including the scripts, as the majority of them were adapted from radio]. The TV show could be listened to without watching it, with no loss of understanding of the storyline.


1951–59 original version

When television was interested in Dragnet, Webb bucked the prevailing wisdom which argued that radio staff could not adapt to the new medium. He insisted on hiring radio staff (from actors to writers and production staff) as much as was feasible to work on the television version.[2] This loyalty would endear Webb to many of his Dragnet colleagues for decades to come.

The pilot for Dragnet, "The Human Bomb" (adapted from the July 21, 1949 radio episode), aired on television on December 16, 1951 as a special presentation of the NBC program Chesterfield Sound-Off Time. It introduced the many close-ups that became Webb's trademark. After the pilot's success,[2] the regular series debuted in January 1952. Friday's original partner in the TV episodes (as on the radio) was Sgt. Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarborough, who died of a heart attack after only three episodes were filmed. The Romero character (who also died of a heart attack, as acknowledged on the December 27, 1951 radio episode, "The Big Sorrow") was replaced by first by Detective Sergeant Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then by Officer Frank Smith. Smith was first played by Webb crony Herb Ellis. After four episodes, Ben Alexander took over the role on both television and radio.

Television offered Webb the opportunity to increase the realism to a point unmatched by any other program for years. Many early episodes involved cases which had been handled by the Robbery or Homicide Divisions, which was at that time located in the ground floor of the Los Angeles City Hall. Webb had his set designers precisely duplicate the office,[2] including details such as the remnant of a notice which had been torn from the bulletin board, leaving only one corner. He insisted that Friday and his partner use badges in the then-unique shield shape used by LAPD. This led to the loan of actual LAPD badges, brought in every morning from the Office of the Chief of Police in the care of an officer who acted as technical advisor.

Webb was uncomfortable with firearms and mentioned this to the technical advisor. When an early script called for Friday to use a shotgun, LAPD detailed Jesse Littlejohn, a member of the Robbery Division's elite "Hat Squad", to teach Webb how to handle the riot gun. In the episode, Friday carries the shotgun using proper technique, but passes it to his partner rather than fire it himself. In thanks for this and assistance by other officers, Webb dropped their names into scripts, beginning a tradition which continued through the end of production of Dragnet and Adam-12; all officers' names are real (except for recurring characters and officers suspected of wrongdoing, in which cases the names were changed to protect the innocent).

Two hallmarks of the TV show came at the end of each episode:

  • The arrested criminal stands uncomfortably, presumably for the mug shot and the fate of the perpetrators is stated, as a verdict of a court "in and for the City and County of Los Angeles" on an appropriate date.
  • A sweaty, glistening left hand appeared, holding what would turn out to be a stamp for indenting metal; a heavy hammer struck the top of the handle of the stamp, twice, loudly; the stamp was removed to reveal the imprint "VII" (over which the words "Mark" and "Limited" were superimposed on a title card), referring to the production company, Mark VII Limited Productions.

Jack Webb thought Ben Alexander made an ideal partner. The dramatic scripts of the 1950s usually feature at least one comic interlude with Alexander to lighten the tone. Thus Frank offhandedly chats with Joe about his latest enthusiasm (favorite foods, fad diets, hobbies, home life, etc.). Alexander stayed with Dragnet through its original run, which ended in 1959. In the final first-run episode, Joe Friday was promoted to Lieutenant (still retaining the badge number "714") and Frank Smith was promoted to Sergeant.

The show did not end because of bad ratings, but because of Webb's decision to pursue other projects. While Dragnet was still on the air, reruns began to air in syndication in the fall of 1953 as Badge 714,[2] per the custom of the time.

1967–70 remake

In the seven years since the original version ended production, punitive "law and order" sentiments had generally fallen out of favor with the American public, particularly with the Kennedy administration and a progressive-minded Federal judiciary setting the tone for a somewhat much less stringent attitude toward criminals.[citation needed] But such tolerance evaporated among more conservative Americans in the mid-1960s as they faced such challenges as the Civil Rights Movement and rebellion and the sexual revolution among young people. Webb exploited that angst among Middle Americans by returning Dragnet, with its uncompromising stand against crime of any kind or motivation, to the airwaves.

When Webb remounted Dragnet in 1966, he tried to get Ben Alexander to rejoin him as Frank. Alexander was then committed to an ABC police series, Felony Squad, and its producers would not release him. Webb reluctantly recast the role of Joe Friday's partner: Bill Gannon, played by movie and TV veteran Harry Morgan. Oddly, Morgan in 1949 had a voice role as rooming house proprietor "Frank Gannon" in the episode entitled "James Vickers". Bill Gannon, like Frank Smith, was businesslike on duty but chatty in informal situations. Ben Alexander's light-comedy dialogues now fell to Morgan, who played some of it more broadly; in "The Big Neighbor" his ad libs cause Webb to openly burst out laughing, and in "The Weekend," Gannon's step-by-step preparation of a "garlic-nut-butter sandwich" is greeted with incredulous reactions from his friends.

Webb produced a TV movie pilot for the new, color version of the show for Universal Television, although it did not air until January 1969. NBC bought the show on the strength of the movie and debuted it as a mid-season replacement for the sitcom The Hero on Thursday nights in January 1967. In order to distinguish it from the original, the year was included in the title of the show (e.g., Dragnet 1967). Although Joe Friday had been promoted to Lieutenant in the last episode of the original 1950's production, Jack Webb decided to revert to Sergeant with his familiar badge number, "714." Lieutenant badge number 714, which was worn by Joe Friday, was issued to LAPD officer Dan Cooke who was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and had served as the long-time technical advisor for Dragnet. Dan Cooke was also technical advisor to the KNBC documentary "Police Unit 2A-26, directed by John Orland, and he brought it to the attention of Jack Webb, who hired Orland to direct and film the "This is the City" mini-documentaries about Los Angeles that preceded most of the TV episodes during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

The remake would also distinguish itself, and gain notoriety among some viewers, for its greater emphasis than the original upon juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, student dissidence, and relations between the police department and the community. Webb would later state that an explicit goal of the Dragnet revival and his subsequent shows was to improve the reputation of local forces throughout the U.S., particularly in urban areas. The generally conservative posture of the show toward the hippie movement (the so-called "counterculture") earned the new Dragnet both appreciative fans and dismayed critics, the latter of whom deemed Webb as a rigid authoritarian who could not adjust to social change. However, most of the criticism of the counterculture on the show was not so much based on the hippies' desire for change, but more on their impatience for it and tactics for achieving it. Also, the show was decidedly positive in its assessment of American blacks and other racial minorities, mitigating somewhat the charges against Webb of xenophobia.

The show enjoyed good ratings on NBC's schedule for four seasons, although its popularity did not exceed that of the 1950s version. In 1968, Webb decided to spin off from Dragnet a show based on the experiences of patrol officers. Named Adam-12, that show would go on to run seven years in its own right. Much like he had done 11 years earlier, Webb decided voluntarily to discontinue Dragnet after its fourth season in order to focus on creating, producing, and directing Adam-12 and numerous other shows for Mark VII Limited during the next decade. The 1970s would in fact be Webb's most prolific decade as a television packager, although only Adam-12 and Emergency! would last more than one year.

Reruns of this version were popular on local stations, usually during the late afternoons or early evenings, in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s, they found their way to Nick at Nite and, beginning in the late 1990s, its sister cable channel TV Land. Currently the program airs over many of the stations of the broadcast digital subchannel network Retro Television Network. Currently all four season are available for free on-demand streaming on for US residents.

Later in Webb's career

Webb had begun the process of bringing Dragnet back to television yet again in 1982, writing and producing five scripts and even picking Kent McCord to play his new partner in "Dragnet '83" before suddenly dying of a heart attack two days before Christmas 1982.

After Webb's death, Chief Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department announced that badge number 714—Webb's number on the television show—had been retired, and Los Angeles city offices lowered their flags to half-staff. At Webb's funeral, the LAPD provided an honor guard, and the Chief of Police commented on Webb's connection with the LAPD. An LAPD Auditorium was named in his honor. Webb was buried with the famous LAPD 714 Sergeant badge that opened, and closed the 1967–70 incarnation of the series.

Film versions

In 1954, a theatrical feature film adaptation of the series was released, with Webb, Alexander, and Richard Boone.

In 1987, a comedy movie version of Dragnet appeared (also titled Dragnet), starring Dan Aykroyd as the stiff Joe Friday (the original Detective Friday's nephew), and Tom Hanks as his partner Pep Streebeck. The film contrasted the terse, clipped character of Friday, a hero from another age, with the 'real world' of Los Angeles in 1987 to broadly parodic effect. Beyond Aykroyd's effective imitation of Webb's Joe Friday (and Harry Morgan's small role reprising his earlier role as Bill Gannon, now a captain and Joe Friday's commander), this film version shares little with the previous incarnations. Although officially a remake, the film was more a parody than a true remake. Despite this criticism, the film was a hit with audiences. LAPD Lieutenant Dan Cooke, who had served as technical advisor for the Jack Webb series, also served as technical advisor for this production.

Other media

In 1958, Webb authored a book titled "The Badge." The book was a series of true stories told from the view of a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant and others. It had a number of photographs and recently was reissued with a foreword by James Ellroy, the author of "LA Confidential."

Remakes after Webb's death

The 1989 series: The New Dragnet

In 1989, The New Dragnet appeared in first-run syndication, featuring all-new characters, and aired in tandem with The New Adam-12, a remake of another Webb-produced police drama, Adam-12.

The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage and Bernard White as the detectives, and Don Stroud as Capt. Lussen. The show lasted three seasons.

The 2003 series: L.A. Dragnet

In 2003 another Dragnet series was produced by Dick Wolf, the producer of NBC's Law & Order series and spinoffs, a series that was strongly influenced by Dragnet. It aired on ABC, and starred Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday and Ethan Embry as Frank Smith. After a 12-episode season that rather closely followed the traditional formula, the format of the series was changed to an ensemble crime drama.

Now titled L.A. Dragnet, Friday was promoted to Lieutenant but received less screen time (Frank Smith was written out entirely) in favor of a group of younger and ethnically-diverse detectives (played by Eva Longoria, Christina Chang, Desmond Harrington and Evan Dexter Parke). With most of the trappings that made Dragnet unique no longer in place (and being one of the final original scripted series to air on ABC's struggling Saturday night schedule), the program had the feel of a generic procedural drama without a defining unique characteristic in the eyes of critics and viewers, and it was canceled only five episodes into its second season. Another three episodes aired on USA Network in early 2004, with the final two of the series' 22 episodes remaining unaired in the U.S. until the launch of the Sleuth channel in 2006. In some places (such as the Netherlands) this show is renamed Murder Investigation instead of Dragnet.


Dragnet and its unique presentation style have been frequently referenced or lampooned.

  • In the third issue of Mad (January–February, 1953), Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder offered "Dragged Net!", a parody of the radio series. Since the show had been televised before Mad began, observant readers noted Webb was not caricatured and thus determined that Kurtzman did not yet own a TV set. The comic book's first radio-TV satire came in Mad #11 when Kurtzman and Elder offered a second "Dragged Net!", this time with caricatures.
  • Comedian Stan Freberg produced a record featuring two of his skits "St. George and the Dragonet" and "Little Blue Riding Hood" This sold one million copies in three weeks, becoming the first comedy record to sell one million copies, and prompting production of "Christmas Dragnet", which was re-released as "Yulenet". Quotes taken from these three skits became common in American law enforcement circles; some remain, half a century later. Freberg went to Webb to get the sheet music for the radio show. Webb let Freberg use the sheet music, and also the orchestra from the radio show.
  • A TV appearance of the Three Stooges, featured a parody of the radio show's style. Each player introduced himself as a name ending in the syllable "day". They went on to do a routine talking in the deadpan, staccato style of the show. This routine was also captured in their 1955 theatrical film, Blunder Boys.
  • A parody was done on the Sid Caesar show with him and Carl Reiner playing the characters. While investigating crimes, they would walk up to a victim’s apartment, and knock on the door. As the door opened they would introduce themselves by mumbling their identities and quickly and hastily showing their badges from the underside of their suit lapels.
  • In several Tums commercials, Dragnet's famous four-note-plus-five-note opening theme was used as a jingle ("Tum-Tum-TUM-Tum... Tum-Tum-TUM-Tum-TUMS!"; the second half was used as the main jingle for several years). Eric Burdon & The Animals also spoofed the show's opening at the beginning of their hit single "San Franciscan Nights", as well as the punk band The Afflicted in their recording "Here Come the Cops". The electronic music band Art of Noise also took the jingle for its song, Dragnet '88, composed for the soundtrack of the 1987 comedy Dragnet, and the lyrics are entirely composed of the show main gimmicks.
  • In the Simpsons episode "Mother Simpson" Joe Friday and Bill Gannon are parodied as agents during the FBI's search for Homer's mother; Harry Morgan furnished the voice for the animated Bill Gannon. According to the DVD Commentary, the animation for Joe Friday was based on the Will Elder MAD magazine parody. Another episode to parody the show, specifically the ending clip, was in the episode Marge on the Lam's ending.
  • Other animated references include Rocket Squad, a futuristic parody with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as Detectives Monday and Tuesday. Says Monday of Tuesday, "He always follows me." Woody Woodpecker also took a shot at the format with "Under the Counter Spy", concluding with the production company's pounding hammer missing the stamp and hitting the hammerer's thumb. The opening line was also changed to "The story you are about to hear is a BIG FAT LIE." Also in Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, the episode was "Dragster Net" in which Officer Fishtail, voiced by Don Messick and Captain Tough, voiced by Paul Winchell had solved the crime in their own words and misadventures. At the conclusion of the episode, Officer Fishtail and Captain Tough pounding the hammer with the words, "A Skid Mark Production".
  • On television, Dragnet was the subject of a popular routine (featuring Webb himself and Johnny Carson) on The Tonight Show. The routine began with Webb's usual pronouncement, "This is the city... Los Angeles, California", accompanied for this bit by a photo of the downtown area laden with smog. The case involved "Claude Cooper, a kleptomaniac from Cleveland who copped the clean copper clappers...", Carson and Webb's tongue-twisting wordplay, involving words primarily starting with the letters "C" and "CL", went on for almost three minutes, with Webb keeping a straight face. The bit has become a Tonight Show classic.
  • Dragnet was parodied by Sesame Workshop, first, as a Sesame Street muppet skit involving two police detectives after a letter W, which disguises itself by turning upside down, into an M; then, much later, as "Mathnet", an ongoing film segment of the PBS series Square One TV.
  • James Ellroy featured a thinly-veiled twist on Dragnet in his L.A. Confidential novel with a popular 1950's TV police drama, Badge of Honor, which is also seen in the film adaptation of L.A. Confidential. Ellroy's perspective on Los Angeles cops as crooked and vice-ridden contrasts sharply with Webb's portrayals of police. The Brett Chase character in Confidential was based on Jack Webb. Among other novels with references to Dragnet is Thomas Pynchon's V.. Pynchon described two minor characters, Patrolman Jones and Officer Ten Eyck, as "faithful viewers of the TV program Dragnet. They'd cultivated deadpan expressions, unsyncopated speech rhythms, monotone voices."
  • In Die Hard 2, John McClane sends a fax message to Al Powell. When the girl who sent the fax asks him what he is doing later, McClane thumbs his wedding ring and says, "Just the fax, ma'am, just the fax."
  • The avant-garde band The Residents announced a 2006 project, The River of Crime, which is, as their website calls it, "A modern day Dragnet... The series follows the reminisces of its unseen narrator as he discloses a lifelong obsession with wickedness and vice. But, as opposed to the ironic and terse Joe Friday, a classic crime solver, The River of Crime's narrator is a crime collector."[6]
  • The character Nick Brick from the 1997 video game LEGO Island has a voice that is an obvious Joe Friday impersonation.
  • In the video game Destroy All Humans scanning a police officer a few times will bring up the thought "I'm goin' all Joe Friday; I have a dragnet out for evildoers."
  • Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic book has two supernatural beings (Loki and Puck) posing as stereotypical police detectives, and they are described by another character in the series as 'Dragnet refugees'.
  • Alan Moore's Watchmen graphic novel starts with a murder being investigated by two police detectives, one of whom bears a strong resemblance to Jack Webb.
  • In UK SF Comic 2000AD a short story called Chronocops (written by Alan Moore) featured time-travelling detectivesJoe Saturday and Ed Thursday, parodying Dragnet, MAD magazine's style and numerous time-paradox clichés, such as attempting to kill one's own grandfather.
  • In War Boy by Thorn Kief Hillsbery, the character Radboy makes a list of satirical names for his impromptu environmental protest group trying to save the redwoods. One is "Rust the Ax Ma'am".
  • First Choice's Armed and Extremely Dangerous features a sample of the theme song.
  • On the PBS aired show Square One was a series called "Mathnet". This parody of Dragnet featured detectives at the Los Angeles Police Department (later the New York Police Department) who solved mysteries using their mathematical skills. Each episode would start off with "The story you are about to see is a fib... but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real".
  • In the Seinfeld episode entitled "The Library," first aired on October 16, 1991, the character "Mr. Bookman," played by Philip Baker Hall, was modeled on Jack Webb's character Sgt. Friday.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Statue", Kramer not only comments that he looks like Joe Friday when wearing Jerry's grandfather's hat but also later pretends to be a police officer similar to Joe Friday he retrieves a statue from the house of Ray Thomas.
  • In the second season episode of Fox's 21 Jump Street titled "Two For the Road" Captain Fuller is being interrogated after being arrested for DUI and after the Internal affairs officer says he is just trying to ascertain the facts, Fuller replies in disgust, "Great, I'm talking to Joe Friday now"

DVD Releases/Internet

Original Series (1951)

Most episodes of this series are in public domain, and have been released by many DVD labels.

3 collections have been released to date, two from Alpha Video featuring four episodes each and one from Eclectic DVD featuring three episodes.

Platinum Video released seven episodes from the original series in 2002. The episodes are: "Big Crime", "Big Pair", "Big Producer", "Big Break", "Big September Man", "Big Betty", and "Big Trunk". The two disc set also includes episodes from Burke's Law, Peter Gunn, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Mr. Wong, Detective and Bulldog Drummond.

Dragnet 1967

On June 7, 2005, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the first season on DVD in Region 1; that season is also available as a digital download from iTunes. As of January 2009, all four seasons are available for viewing on the NBC/Universal website and Netflix's "watch instantly" program.

On March 17, 2010, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to distribute the series (under license from Universal). They subsequently announced that Season 2 will be released on July 6, 2010.[7]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 17 June 7, 2005
Season 2 28 July 6, 2010

The New Dragnet (1989)

No DVD releases to date of this remake that lasted 2 seasons; however, it is available on Hulu.

L.A. Dragnet (2003)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment was going to release the first season of this short-lived remake on DVD on November 11, 2003, but this release was subsequently cancelled. It is not known if the set will be released at some point,[8] though it is available for viewing on Hulu.

Interesting Notes

  • One particular episode was turned in by a young officer in the mid 50's. This officer would later become famous as the creator of Star Trek, Patrol Sgt. Gene Roddenberry.[citation needed]
  • In another episode, "The Big Oskar", a robbery victim happens to be the editor of a weekly ‘throw-away’ shopper newspaper, but an editor who takes her job seriously. She lectures Friday on the literary figure "Tom Carlyle" that fell victim to an over-zealous cleaning maid who came across Carlyle’s manuscript for his first volume of the history of The French Revolution and discarded it.[5]
  • In 2009, the USPS issued a 44¢ postage stamp honoring the show on its 50th anniversary. The stamp features Sgt. Joe Friday.


  1. ^ On a March, 1953 episode, the Detroit Police Officers' Association gave Dragnet a commendation, citing the program's efforts at increasing public esteem of policemen, and furthermore describing Dragnet as the "finest and most accurate" police program on radio or television.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Jack, Be Nimble!" Time, March 15, 1954.
  3. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Television (Just the Facts)
  4. ^ Note that the film Dragnet (1987 film) was marketed with the tagline "Just the Facts".
  5. ^ a b Lundin, Leigh (2009-09-20). "Thomas Carlyle". Professional Works. Criminal Brief. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Dragnet DVD news: Dragnet (2003) DVD Cancelled |


  • John Dunning, On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-19-507678-8.
  • Michael J. Hayde, My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb, Cumberland House, 2001, ISBN 1-581-82190-5
  • Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture. Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-96903-4.

External links

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