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Just the facts Ma'am
July 9, 2008 10:40 PM   Subscribe

This is the city, Los Angeles California. I work Here. I carry a badge. My name's Friday.

Jack Webb envisioned Dragnet as a showcase for the realities of police work. The original Radio Series debuted on NBC radio in 1949. The show's insistence on realism and naturalistic dialogue were a departure from the melodrama found on radio at the time. Using plots pulled directly from the case files of the LAPD, the show covered topics considered harsh and taboo by the standards of the day. Its depiction of sex crimes, crimes against children, and drug use were edgy for the time. Although it was slow to gain listeners, Dragnet found it's audience.

Jump ahead a couple of years to 1952 and the first television series begins. This version of the show is probably not familiar to most people. Filmed in black and white, The TV version brought the radio show's grittiness and realism to the burgeoning format of Television. Both the radio show and the black and white television version ran successfully and consecutively until the late 1950's

Webb mounted a revival of the television series in 1967. This version of the show is most familiar to modern viewers, as this was the version picked up for syndication by Nick at Nite. It ran from 1967 to 1970.

Although it seems hokey by today's standards, Dragnet's legacy in the history of entertainment is secured. It was voted into Time Magazine's list of the 100 greatest tv shows of all time. Its use of actual case files as the basis for plots makes it the forerunner to Law and Order. The show's insistence on using technical jargon and details of investigation make it a forerunner of shows like CSI. The show's main four note theme is instantly recognizable. And it even spawned a catchphrase that can still be heard today.

Webb was attempting to mount third revival of the show when he passed away in 1982. His funeral was attended by officals from the LAPD, the badge he used on the show, 714, was retired from service, and an LAPD police academy auditorium was named in his honor. Auditorium was named in his honor.
posted by tylerfulltilt (48 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I wonder what kind of Dragnet royalty checks Harry Morgan is still receiving from that show?
posted by spock at 10:48 PM on July 9, 2008

Dragnet: Larry Craig
posted by humannaire at 10:57 PM on July 9, 2008

In Maryland you can hear episodes of Dragnet on 88.5 WAMU Sunday night at 7:30pm, along with other old radio shows on The Big Broadcast. They hold up pretty well.
posted by stavrogin at 11:02 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

To be fair, Dan Akroyd's Friday in the 80s film did indeed utter the phrase "Just the facts, ma'am." ISTR it was when he met his soon to be girlfriend.
posted by wierdo at 11:20 PM on July 9, 2008

City of Crime
sorry, couldn't help it
posted by real_paris at 11:28 PM on July 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

City of Crime
sorry, couldn't help it
posted by real_paris at 11:28 PM on July 9

That is internet gold; thank you
posted by Merik at 11:43 PM on July 9, 2008

I'd like to see the original 50s show, since I've only ever seen the late 60s revival, which is supposedly pretty much just a lame imitation. For the most part, the purpose of the late 60s version seemed to be anti-drug and anti-hippie propaganda, and some unintentional classics resulted. Bless his heart, Webb really did believe that a young person would go totally insane and ruin their future by taking LSD once. Watch the episode where he has a show-length one-sided argument with an "LSD guru" who's obviously supposed to be Timothy Leary, and you'll get a good idea of the show's philosophy and reason for existing. The one where the hippie couple get high and let their baby drown in the bath is another classic, with the iconic ending shot of Friday angrily ripping up and destroying a bag of pot (hey, there goes the evidence!) over a commode as dramatic music swells.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:47 PM on July 9, 2008

It's doubtful that Harry Morgan gets a cent. In those days, actors got residuals for the first three reruns, and that was it.
posted by Class Goat at 12:15 AM on July 10, 2008

Those stories, I've seen them. They're fibs, but they're short.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:21 AM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Once I got old enough to understand what "camp" or "kitsch" was, watching the late 60's Dragnet for those qualities simply became too easy. I started to focus on other things, like enjoying all the shots of late 1960's cars driving around in LA. I made it a game to identify them, and of course back in those days TV didn't pixelate or "fuzz out" the licence plates, a total distraction in today's TV.

I also enjoyed how Gannon and Friday would drive all the way across LA to interview a witness or suspect, and the individual would always be home...
posted by Tube at 12:21 AM on July 10, 2008

City of Crime
sorry, couldn't help it
posted by real_paris at 11:28 PM on July 9

Take a 3 minute limerick that summarises the plot, an 808, some really really bad dancing by tom hanks and dan akroyd, and you end up with something truly magical. Kudos.

Decemberboy I remember seeing one of those sixties-era Dragnet anti-drug episodes a few years ago, featuring the menace of SP33D TRIPPERS!!11!!!!1
The hilariously naive mashing of two totally different drug subcultures into one terrifying enigma of evil was not lost on my stoned arse I can tell you.

Just the facts indeed.
posted by nudar at 12:35 AM on July 10, 2008

I could have done without the video. Listening to the City of Crime song during the closing credits last time I saw the movie (in HD, no less!) was enough, thanks. ;)
posted by wierdo at 1:05 AM on July 10, 2008

It's doubtful that Harry Morgan gets a cent. In those days, actors got residuals for the first three reruns, and that was it.

In 1960, what SAG officials feared a decade earlier became reality. Actors didn’t receive a dime for films they made for major motion picture studios when those films were licensed to television networks...

On March 7, 1960, Guild members, by an 83 percent vote, approved a strike. The strike immediately shut down the major studios and several feature films in production. The producers complained that the payment of residuals was too costly.

SAG members have been collecting residuals ever since. The Residuals Department sent out 1.8 million checks worth $238.5 million to Guild members in 1995. The final figures for 2003, which are not yet available, may be the largest yet both in terms of checks sent and dollars distributed.

Look for the union label.
posted by three blind mice at 1:17 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some more Dragnet/Jack Webb facts here, including the famous "Blue Boy" clip.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:33 AM on July 10, 2008

I wonder what kind of Dragnet royalty checks Harry Morgan is still receiving from that show?

Is he still alive? Yes, it looks like he is:
TJ: Do you still keep in touch with the other folks from M*A*S*H?

FARR: Sure! Yeah, you bet! Sometimes, Alan. You know, he lives out here and, of course, he lives in LA. And usually, when he and Arlene come in and he's going to be there for a while, he'll let everyone know and then we'll all meet and go out to dinner someplace. But Harry Morgan is 93 now. It's a little difficult for him. He's on a walker and his wife is not that well to get around. Loretta Swit sees Harry quite a bit and I think Mike Farrell might see Harry. I haven't seen Harry…we all went out to dinner, I think it was six months ago or so with Bill Christopher and his wife, Loretta, Mike and his wife, Shelley Fabares, Harry and his wife, Barbara, and me and my wife, Joy. I usually e-mail Mike or Loretta, but I haven't seen them in a while. You know California, it's very spread out unlike out here.
posted by pracowity at 1:49 AM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Fun fact: the hopelessly corrupt Det. Shane Vendrell from The Shield has badge number 714.
posted by Rangeboy at 2:25 AM on July 10, 2008

In the 1997 movie classic, L.A. Confidential, "the fictional TV show Badge of Honor, on which Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is the technical adviser, is loosely based on Dragnet. Throughout the film, fellow officers tease Jack by saying 'Just the facts!', which is Sgt. Joe Friday's famous line from the series." IMDB.
posted by Dave Faris at 2:36 AM on July 10, 2008

I think Dragnet is often underrated by people today. Because of the often dated nature of the shows, you tend to forget how ground-breaking it was at the time, dealing with real issues and attempting to tell the policeman's narrative for the first time. Webb's politics weren't really quite as cut and dried as they seemed, either. Although he had some conservative stances with regards to drugs (some of which I think was born out of ignorance due to the relative newness of LSD at the time that the shows were made) and hippies, he was certainly willing to take a stand against conservatives, like when he pissed off the NRA with the don't-buy-your-kids-a-gun episode "The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas", which will make even the most jaded mefite sniffle.
posted by unreason at 3:33 AM on July 10, 2008

Yeah, that theme music, that's a classic. For a few years back in the 80's I had an ongoing project of doing live accompaniment (using a sampler and percussion) for the Fleischer Brother's pre-Betty Boop character Koko the Clown (1920s/30s-era cartoons). I used to use some "instantly recognizable" sample snippets in some of those, which was always good for a laugh, and in one cartoon where Koko appears as a cop, I used to trigger the Dragnet theme. It always went over well: everybody knew it.

Here's the "jazzed up" version: big fun from Enoch Light and his Orchestra!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:54 AM on July 10, 2008

The original copaganda TV show. It was at least more original than the crappy badge-worship shows it inspired, like Adam-12 and CHiPs.

St.George and the Dragonet (transcript)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:01 AM on July 10, 2008

naturalistic dialogue

on dragnet? you must be kidding!
posted by quonsar at 5:21 AM on July 10, 2008

And if using your knowledge of the Fibonacci sequence to solve the case and get the bad guys was more your speed, there was always Mathnet.
posted by Spatch at 5:22 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

also: natural language comes naturally, naturalist language is buck naked, naturalistic language is wearing a skin-toned body stocking.
posted by quonsar at 5:24 AM on July 10, 2008

naturalist language is buck naked

No, naturist language is buck naked. Naturalist language goes tramping about in the woods looking for interesting insects.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:39 AM on July 10, 2008

Naturalistic language: Does a bear shit in the woods?
Naturalist language: The bear shits in the woods.
Naturist language: There's bear shit in the woods!
Natural language: OH FUCK A BEAR
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:53 AM on July 10, 2008 [8 favorites]

Jack Webb's death was not natural. He was assassinated by People Against Goodness And Normalcy. Pee Ay Gee Ay Enn. Pagan.

posted by middleclasstool at 6:08 AM on July 10, 2008


what you have to remember is that we're talking about "for the time." Most aspects of the show are kind of hokey today. but back then this type of writing wasn't seen or heard in mainstream productions
posted by tylerfulltilt at 6:37 AM on July 10, 2008

posted by caddis at 6:55 AM on July 10, 2008

Jack Webb was in He Walked by Night (1948; IMDB), which inspired the original Dragnet radio series was.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:01 AM on July 10, 2008

Naturist language: There's bear shit in the woods!

I thought Naturist language would be more: Hey look! I'm bare in the woods!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:04 AM on July 10, 2008

I always love that opening sequence, where the City Hall is the tallest building of the downtown skyline. Oh, and how the Rampart district seems like a nice, middle-class neighborhood.
posted by malocchio at 7:32 AM on July 10, 2008

True crime fans should check out The Badge, Webb's collection of horrific crimes that he couldn't use on the show. James Ellroy credits it as a major inspiration.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:54 AM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Jack Webb was in He Walked by Night (1948; IMDB), which inspired the original Dragnet radio series was.

Thank you kirkaracha, this was driving me nuts trying to remember it. There are a passel of not-quite-noir procedurals from the just-postwar era set in LA that are worth checking out; they are linked by a flat lighting style which looks very much like the classic 1950s drama show lighting familiar from Dragnet and other location-shot series of the era.
posted by mwhybark at 8:10 AM on July 10, 2008

Our favorite table at the H.M.S. Bounty in Los Angeles is the Jack Webb table. The restaurant is across the street from the site of the Ambassador Hotel.
posted by quartzcity at 8:27 AM on July 10, 2008

Hulu has all the Dragnet awesomeness you can handle... online and streaming for free... as does Netflix Watch It Now. The best ones are when Friday confronts the acid temple gurus and pot heads, when their total squareness smacks right up against free love in the 60's.
posted by ph00dz at 8:56 AM on July 10, 2008

Well worth a watch is the 1954 Dragnet movie starring Webb and Ben Alexander.

I remember the shotgun murder being rather explicit for the time period, and it being pre-Miranda they take a suspect in the back room and pretty much work him over.

An exchange from that sequence I've always enjoyed:

Max Troy: Now, listen to me, Cop. I pay your salary.

Sgt. Joe Friday: All right, sit down. I'm gonna earn it.

Max Troy: You already have, the kind of money you make. What do they pay you to carry that badge around, 40 cents an hour?

Sgt. Joe Friday: You sit down! That badge pays 464 dollars a month. That's what the job's worth. I knew that when I hired on. $67.40 comes out with withholding. I give $27.84 for pension and 12 bucks for widows and orphans. That leaves me with $356.76. That badge is worth a dollar 82 an hour so Mister, better settle back into that chair because I'm about to blow about 20 bucks of it right now.
posted by marxchivist at 9:00 AM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

TUbe said: "I also enjoyed how Gannon and Friday would drive all the way across LA to interview a witness or suspect, and the individual would always be home..."

That's because before the national enchantment took hold, people actually lived in their homes. There was a person there, cooking, making a nest, etc. And if older, would often enjoy his neighborhood, sit around, wait for younger families to come over for visits. Remember?? ... before the enchantment?
posted by yazi at 9:08 AM on July 10, 2008

The LSD seems hokey in this day and age? Six Feet Under featured an LSD freak-out death, one set in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, CSI Miami had an entire episode dedicated to a murder resulting from that ever-so documented psychological phenomenon known as porn creep. I watched a Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode over the weekend involving a homicidal "cougar." Etc., etc. The standard TV cop show owes a great deal to the cheesy topicality of Dragnet (along with Hawaii Five-0) in the case of the CSI shows, which introduced the whole "vacation area beset by more murders and crime than occur there in reality" bit, although more-violent-than-actual thing now applies to NYC as well). The shows are occasionally reactionary, in a hilarious way, that clearly echoes Dragnet. Why the supposedly more intelligent Six Feet Under , not a police procedural drama, was just as silly in the case of the LSD death is more of a mystery. The show's creators may have been going for a spoof or comic homage, but I thought they failed.
posted by raysmj at 9:27 AM on July 10, 2008

Joe Friday had some great lines. I remember when a drunken woman he was interviewing dropped her empty glass on the floor (she was lying on the sofa). Joe picked it up, and the woman asked, "Is it broken?" "Yeah," he deadpanned, "There's a hole in the top."
Another time, a young "mother" (who had abandoned her baby) confronted Joe: "I'd really like to know what you think of me, Sgt. Friday." "My opinion of you and 13 cents will buy me a cup of coffee."
Then there was the time he told an irritating suspect, "I'll bet your mother had a loud bark."
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2008

The best Monolgue in the history of the show is in this episode at about the 17:00 minute mark.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 10:29 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Few know that Jack Webb wrote a book, The Badge. I just started reading it, and it's like Dragnet in book form. A must for any Friday fan!
posted by Lillitatiana at 10:53 AM on July 10, 2008

That monologue rules. Thanks, tylerfulltilt!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:13 AM on July 10, 2008

Strebeck: Wait a minute, don't you mean the virgin Connie Swale?

[Friday turns and smiles as we hear the famous four notes.]

Best. Ending. Ever. :)
posted by WCityMike at 11:25 AM on July 10, 2008

A partial transcript of monologue in tylerfulltilt's link, for those who are too impatient to sit through the whole clip:

It's awkward having a policeman around the house. Friends drop in, a man with a badge answers the door, the temperature drops 20 degrees. You throw a party and that badge gets in the way. All of a sudden there isn't a straight man in the crowd. Everybody's a comedian. "Don't drink too much," somebody says, "or the man with a badge'll run you in." Or "How's it going, Dick Tracy? How many jaywalkers did you pinch today?" And then there's always the one who wants to know how many apples you stole.

All at once you lost your first name. You're a cop, a flatfoot, a bull, a dick, John Law. You're the fuzz, the heat; you're poison, you're trouble, you're bad news. They call you everything, but never a policeman.

It's not much of a life, unless you don't mind missing a Dodger game because the hotshot phone rings. Unless you LIKE working Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, at a job that doesn't pay overtime. Oh, the pay's adequate-- if you count pennies you can put your kid through college, but you better plan on seeing Europe on your television set.

And then there's your first night on the beat. When you try to arrest a drunken prostitute in a Main St. bar and she rips your new uniform to shreds. You'll buy another one-- out of your own pocket. And you're going to rub elbows with the elite-- pimps, addicts, thieves, bums, winos, girls who can't keep an address and men who don't care. Liars, cheats, con men-- the class of Skid Row.

And the heartbreak-- underfed kids, beaten kids, molested kids, lost kids, crying kids, homeless kids, hit-and-run kids, broken-arm kids, broken-leg kids, broken-head kids, sick kids, dying kids, dead kids. The old people nobody wants-- the reliefers, the pensioners, the ones who walk the street cold, and those who tried to keep warm and died in a $3 room with an unventilated gas heater. You'll walk your beat and try to pick up the pieces.

Do you have real adventure in your soul? You better have, because you're gonna do time in a prowl car. Oh, it's going to be a thrill a minute when you get an "unknown trouble" call and hit a backyard at 2 in the morning, never knowing who you'll meet-- a kid with a knife, a pill-head with a gun, or two ex-cons with nothing to lose. And you're going to have plenty of time to think. You'll draw duty in a lonely car, with nobody to talk to but your radio.

No matter what your opinion of police officers is (and I'm one of the first to yell "brutality!" when I see those trigger-happy taser cops on YouTube), this monologue still gives some sobering insight into the nine to five of a cop.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:36 AM on July 10, 2008

Unless you LIKE working Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, at a job that doesn't pay overtime. Oh, the pay's adequate-- if you count pennies you can put your kid through college, but you better plan on seeing Europe on your television set.

Those were the days.

Yes they were.

Now they are no more.

Like I said, copaganda.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:59 AM on July 10, 2008

Jack Webb and Johnny Carson in The Copper Clapper Caper

By the way, Webb apparently insisted that everyone read off of cue cards instead of learning their lines... he thought the stilted delivery sounded more natural.
posted by evilcolonel at 1:48 PM on July 10, 2008

So that is how he got that staccato delivery.

He also created "Adam-12" and "Emergency."
posted by caddis at 2:11 PM on July 10, 2008

That's three strikes. Lock him up and toss the key.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:09 PM on July 10, 2008

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