Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rant #875: World Wide Webb

Sixty-one years ago today, in 1951, the TV show "Dragnet" made its television debut, and the world of TV police drama has never been the same since.

Starring Jack Webb, its creator, as no-nonsense cop Sgt. Joe Friday, the NBC-TV show not only made Webb a star, but it changed the face of that genre forever.

Beginning its long run on radio, Webb had definite messages he wanted to bestow on the public, and he used "Dragnet" as a springboard for his anti-crime crusade, with Los Angeles as his landscape.

In black and white, of course.

Unlike Rod Serling, who used the sci-fi angle of "Twilight Zone" to push his own agenda, Webb couldn't hide behind space aliens to show you what he believed in.

He was forced to do it in an "in your face" manner, and he did it really well.

He strived for realism, and he showed that "cops and robbers" isn't all excitement.

There is lots of boredom, lots of behind the scenes work leading up to catching a criminal.

It wasn't all guns and bullets flying. Paperwork had to be done, leads had to be sorted out, every page had to be turned to weed out criminals, and you saw it all on "Dragnet."

As for Webb as Joe Friday, he had that "no-nonsense" look, and his delivery was non-stop, like a machine gun with words. Lots of close-ups were used during the show, which accentuated that in-your-face manner.

And lots of cigarette puffs too.

The actual grit of downtown Los Angeles was also shown, which made the show very realistic.

And who can forget that theme song, or at least the beginning of it?

It stays in your mind forever.

The success of the original "Dragnet" lasted through the late 1950s, and allowed Webb to do many other things, including make movies and music.

He was also married for a time to sultry singer Julie London.

Anyway, when NBC wanted a gritty police drama in the late 1960s, they once again turned to Webb, and "Dragnet" was resurrected.

In color, of course.

The crimes were different in the second show--a lot about drugs, of course--but Webb was back as Sgt. Joe Friday. He added Harry Morgan as his sidekick, Bill Gannon, and off they went throughout Los Angeles, smelling out every drug dealer and nefarious crook imaginable.

That is my touch point for the show. I watched it as a kid, and I loved it.

Once again, that no-nonsense approach to crime, and the way Webb dealt with it within the confines of a TV show, was the drawing card.

And again, that theme just drew you in.

The show was successful, ran a few seasons, and once again allowed Webb to venture into other areas.

He was also involved with other shows, such as "Adam-12," another favorite of mine, and "Emergency," a show which I really didn't care for, but among its stars was Julie London, his former wife.

Webb passed on, but efforts to resurrect "Dragnet" and "Adam-12" continued without him in the 1990s, as two short-lived revivals appeared in syndication.

Each one was worse than the other, and without Webb's guidance, they died quick deaths.

You can still find the second "Dragnet" series on TV. I know Antenna TV runs it daily.

The original series is also available, but you will have to look a bit harder for it. It has been put out on DVD, so go to for a search.

Sure, "Dragnet" is very dated when you watch it today, almost funny, almost camp.

But it still reverberates with me.

I watch the show, and I am brought back to another time and place, but the themes hold up even today.

Obey the law, and you will benefit from that law.

But break the law, and Sgt. Joe Friday--and his real life counterparts--will be after you.

And you will be caught and prosecuted in a court of law.

And if found guilty, you will serve time.

Simple as that.

And Webb got that point across each and every episode.

"The story you are about to see is true. The names were changed to protect the innocent ... ."

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