The Big Top Ten Dragnet Episodes

We’ve been through more than 140 episodes of Dragnet and a listener e-mailed their favorite Dragnet episodes, so I thought this would be a good time to share my favorite episodes we’ve done:

10) Jade Thumb Rings (12-08-49)

1 scene really puts this show on my list. Usually, the show’s characters were all adults, but this time Friday ran into a robbery where the only witness was a little boy with a wild imagination. How Friday gets the straight story from him is radio gold.

9) 16 Jewelry Thefts (08-18-49)

An early episode but a huge favorite. Friday and Romero have to find the loot at the robber’s hideout. How are you going to manage finding their apartment? Simple. Near down the possible hideouts to one location and then walk to each and every one. Not a glorious guns blazing scene, but dogged almost unbelievable tedium makes for great drama.

8:) The Big Knife (03-11-1950)

Dragnet featured many troubled youth stories. This one towers above the rest with a solution and a perp. that gives you the willies.

7) The Big Love  (07-05-1951)

Dragnet derserves credit for beginning to expose the reality of child abuse. Episodes like The Child Killers introduced the topic to people who didn’t want to think about it. Time and time again, Webb dealt with the issue. I don’t think any other episode speaks to the issue in our times as much as the Big Love did. It was shocking, and packed a powerful punch. 

6) The Big Ben (03-15-1951)

This had to be the most unusual Dragnet. The show starts as normal and Sergeant Friday was shot, and Ben Romero takes over the narration. The only narrator substitution in the show’s history. I found the outcome particularly jolting as I’d seen the TV version with Ben Alexander and its Frank Smith that’s shot, not Joe Friday. The way the radio show did it was emotionally compelling and very interesting, though somewhat jarring.

5) The Big Betty (11-23-1950)

This episode featuring an incredibly cruel Bunco scam showed you didn’t have to use physical violence to wreak havoc and commit an absolutely rotten crime. Sergeant Friday lowers the boom on the ringleader with style.

4) The Big Sorrow (12-27-1951)

For emotional drama, it doesn’t get much better than this. While, the script may have gone over the top in a couple places, this was a masterful by Webb as he took his personal grief over the death of his friend, Barton Yarborough and channelled it into his role as Friday, mourning the death of his own partner. I’m unaware of any show that’s dealt with a death quite like this one did.

3) The Big Red, Part One and Part Two (01-03-1952 and 01-10-1952):

The best episodes of Dragnet in terms of action and suspense are those where Sergeant Friday goes undercover. Jack Webb gets to dust off his Pat Novak-Johnny Modero tough guy as he plays with the criminals. And it’s in these episodes that Friday’s life is most in danger. This episode stands out because it was a two parter and unlike the Big Man, Friday goes undercover in both shows, making for a complex story filled with danger and suspense.

2) The City Hall Bombing (Original Air Date: July 21, 1949)

This episode was done twice on radio, this one in 1949 and in 1950 under the name the Big Bomb. The ’49 version was my favorite because of the stronger casting. The plot, an almost literal ticking time bomb, and a dangerous man holding police hostage is timeless. You could update the technology and do the same script today. This was just so good. Jack Webb chose well when he chose this script to launch the TV show.

1) The Big Meet (Original Air Date: October 26, 1950):

This one was Joe Friday’s most suspenseful undercover episode. Going up to buy money from drug dealers and hoping to bluff your way through with a wad of cash is tense enough. But when you can’t see your fellow officers trailing you. Wow.

Honorable Mentions: Red Light Bandit, Big Grandma, and the Big Family

I should note that I’ve only listened to two episodes beyond what’s been played on the show, so I’m sure I’ll find some more favorites before we’re all said and done. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

One Response to “The Big Top Ten Dragnet Episodes”

  1. Marc says:

    Just listened to “The Big Knife.” That is by far the most disturbing episode I’ve heard!!! Really creeped me out!

    “The Big Badge” stands out because of the extensive dialogue between Friday & his “Ma.” That & Friday gets a date!!

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