Dragnet and Me
When people think of Dragnet, most will think of a Color TV Nick at Nite rerun featuring an aging and portly Jack Webb as Joe Friday, along with an elderly looking sidekick in pre-Colonel Potter Harry Morgan playing Officer Bill Gannon. Friday crusading against drugs on television is what some people remember and what many criticize.
A 1987 Dragnet movie made “In Loving Memory” of Jack Webb didn’t help, painting Friday as little more than a by-the-book LAPD apparatchnik and Nick at Nite commercials for their reruns of the 60s sshow made Friday and Jack Webb an object of ridicule.
When I was a young child, all I saw were the commercials on Nick at Nite. If Dragnet came on, and we kids were in the room, my dad would change the channel. Some may think this harsh or too strict, but looking back, I can understand why he did it. Friday and Gannon dealt often with the seamier side of life. They didn’t do it in a sensationalized way, but still, I think my dad saw something to be said for the innocence of childhood.
However, Dragnet would come into my life in an entirely different way, through Public Television. Square One TVwas a well-made children’s show with the purpose of teaching math. The show was smartly written, teaching math in a way that was fun and engaging for children, but not talking down to them. The writers had an appreciation for a classic telvision. Several sketches were based on the Honeymooners, and the best part of the show was Mathnet, a take-off on Dragnet featuring Kate Monday and George Frankly solving crimes using math.
As Michael J. Hayde pointed out in his book, the creators of Mathnet were big time dragnet fans. Thad Brown was a featured character name in the original series, and on Mathnet, they used Thad Green. The shows were well-written because like the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar radio serials of 1955-56, the stories were told five times a week, allowing for great plot development, particularly for a kids show. I didn’t miss a single episode. Here’s a sample clip with Friday and Monday out of their normal outfits, which featured slacks and blue blazers.
I remember eagerly sitting glued to PBS as Kate Monday and George Frankly made their primetime debut in a special Mathnet movie. Sadly, the show went off the air and is hard to find in reruns.
But by the time that had happened, my dad didn’t think I was too young to watch Dragnet, so I had no trouble watching the show on Nick at Nite. It was great to Friday and Gannon take on and beat the bad guys, and deliver speeches that should have been put in the Congressional record. (As I learned later, many were.)
In the 1990s, I got up to early to catch the last bits of an all-night marathon as Nick at Nite bid a fond farewell, and I saw, “Night School” which remains an emotional favorite. I sighed as it went off, as I didn’t know when I would see Dragnet again.
It wouldn’t be until the next Century. Walking through Wal-Mart, I saw a Dragnet DVD and on the front cover was Gannon and Friday. I didn’t recognize any of the titles. For $5 I bought the DVD. I took it home, put in the DVD player, and have to admit that I was confused by what I saw. It was a much younger Joe Friday in black and white, with a plus sized partner named Frank Smith.
I did some research online and found that there really two different runs of Dragnet. The 1970s show that I grew up with, and a show that had revolutionized police dramas in the 1950s. I watched every 1950s episode of Dragnet I could find. I hit the Mother Lode with the purchase of a 25-episode disc off Overstock.com (although I was slightly miffed as they advertised it as containing 50 episodes.)
Then, finally, NBC Universal decided to put Dragnet 1967 on DVD. I bought a copy at Best Buy and enjoyed all 17 episodes. While, I was just glad to see the Dragnet I grew up with, others complained about the sparse extras offered, as all that was included was one episode of the 1950s Dragnet radio show from Radio Spirits.
Of course, 17 episodes and 1 radio show didn’t last long, so I was off to search online. I found two more radio episodes, featuring Jack Webb with a different partner, Bill Lockwood over at a now defunct podcast. So, all told, I’d been able to find 3 Radio Episodes, about 30 TV shows from the 1950s TV show, and 17 episodes of the 1970s TV show. I wanted to enjoy more and continued an Internet search that landed me on Ebay where I paid $7 for a DVD disk containing more than 300 episodes of Dragnet.
I’d just started using Talkshoe, a service that at the time paid show producers for the number of downloads their show got in hopes of selling advertising. I began a political podcast, as well as a few others that have been mostly abandonned. When Talkshoe started allowing users to upload shows without recording them live, I had the idea to begin sharing my Dragnet radio shows. I thought, “Who knows? Somebody else might want to hear them.”
Since, I began this show in March, 2007, I’ve immersed myself in the topic of Dragnet and Old Time Radio. I knew little when I started, and the early shows reflect that.
In April of 2008, through the Blubrry Network, we welcomed Citrix’s GoToMyPC as a valued sponsor to our program and its through their continued support that we’ve been able to make many improvements including the purchase of better microphones and hosting shows on our website.
Since I first began doing the show, I found many ways to get my Dragnet fix. I bought Dragnet, the board game.
I watched the New Dragnet from 1989-90 and while it wasn’t on the same level as the original, it was a well-done update given the small budget of a syndicate show.
I also watched Dick Wolf’s LA Dragnet and found it to be an abomination against the original series and closed the window within the first 12 minutes.
I tracked down and bought a copy of the 1954 VHS copy of Dragnet the Movie. I also bought several overpriced used VHS tapes from the Columbia House collection, containing episodes of Dragnet that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to continue to hunt down these used rarities. I got a Netflix subscription (affiliate link) and Netflix as well as Hulu now offers all four seasons of Dragnet 1967-70 for online streaming. I tore through the first three seasons with wreckless abandon. However, I’ve been taking season 4 very slowly.
It’s not that Season 4 is weaker than other years (in fact, it’s far better than Season 3.) Rather, I want to make the shows last because they’re not making any new ones. For the same reason, I’ve only listened two radio episodes that I haven’t yet played on the podcast. For the same reason, I’ve stopped going to buffets as much, I’ve stopped devouring Dragnet. I’d rather savor it.
Each week, I get a brand new 57 year old episode of my favorite show and I get to to share it with an ever-growing worldwide audience of people who enjoy it with me and to read how it brings back memories and provides needed breaks to the monotony of lonely nights. I’ve heard from every corner of America and from the U.K., Poland, Australia, and am pleased to introduce this great show to people from places like France, Germany, and Pakistan.
It’s a real treat, and I hope you’ll join me as I continue this journey through all the episodes of the Dragnet radio show.