Dragnet (1951 TV series)

Dragnet – later syndicated as Badge 714[1] is an American television series, based on the radio series of the same name, both created by their star, Jack Webb. The shows take their name from the police term dragnet, a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. Webb reprised his radio role of Los Angeles police detective Sergeant Joe Friday. Ben Alexander co-starred as Friday's partner, Officer Frank Smith.

Also known asBadge 714
Created byJack Webb
StarringJack Webb
Ben Alexander
Narrated byHal Gibney
John Stephenson
George Fenneman
Jack Webb
Opening theme"Dragnet Theme"
Composer(s)Walter Schumann (1951–58)
Nathan Scott (1958–59)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes276 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Jack Webb
Producer(s)Jack Webb
Production location(s)Los Angeles, U.S.
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Mark VII Productions
Mark VII Limited (1954–59)
DistributorNBC Film Division
Original networkNBC
Original releaseDecember 16, 1951 (1951-12-16) 
August 23, 1959 (1959-08-23)

The ominous, four-note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music (titled "Danger Ahead"), composed by Walter Schumann, is instantly recognizable.[2] It is derived from Miklós Rózsa's score for the 1946 film The Killers.[3]


During its early success on radio, Dragnet was popular enough to move to television. More important was that it brought continuity between the television and radio series, using the same script devices and many of the same actors. Liggett & Myers sponsored Dragnet, both on radio and on TV, during the 1950s, with Webb seen smoking Chesterfields.[4]

Webb was comfortable playing Joe Friday on radio but balked at the prospect of playing the role before the cameras; according to author-biographer Michael J. Hayde, Webb's choice for the TV Joe Friday was Hollywood actor Lloyd Nolan, whose casual underplaying Webb admired. But Webb was too well established in the radio Dragnet and the network insisted that he continue in the leading role.

The template for the TV show was simply the proven radio formula, embellished with visuals. The two familiar leads, Jack Webb and Barton Yarborough, settled in for the first season, disrupted when Yarborough suffered a heart attack and died. Webb wrote his partner's demise into the storyline, and Sgt. Friday rode with various partners until settling on Ben Alexander as detective Frank Smith. Most of the episodes available to viewers today feature Webb and Alexander.

The 1950s Dragnet episodes in black-and-white differ significantly from the 1960s Dragnet episodes in color. The earlier series took a documentary approach, with Sgt. Friday and the police force often encountering the seamy side of Los Angeles, with a steady succession of callous fugitives, desperate gunmen, slippery swindlers, and hardbitten women. Most of the cast members were veteran radio actors who could be relied upon to read the matter-of-fact dialogue naturally. Webb used most of his ensemble players again and again in different roles: Jack Kruschen, Vic Perrin, Harry Bartell, Peggy Webber, Barney Phillips, Herb Ellis (actor), Carolyn Jones (then billed as Caroline Jones), Clarence Cassell, Ralph Moody, Natalie Masters, Herb Vigran, and many others. Webb staged each story with newsreel-like authenticity, enhancing the visual action with extremely tight close-ups (unheard of in the days of tiny television screens), location photography, and unusual camera angles. Much of this inventiveness went unused in the 1960s revival. Although still using convincing dialogue readings, the new Dragnet lost the documentary "look" and seemed more staged and studied, like other dramatic shows of its type.

Just before the show took its final commercial break, the show's announcer would inform the audience of something related to the case, usually the opening date on which the perpetrator's trial would take place in the Los Angeles County Superior Court (this would be accompanied by an onscreen card so the viewer could read along). After the break the camera faded in for what was presumably the perpetrator's mug shot, consisting of him standing uncomfortably against the wall, while the results of the trial were announced. The perpetrator's name and fate were then superimposed over the screen, specifically regarding in what prison he/she was incarcerated, or, in the case of perpetrators deemed unfit to stand trial, to what state facility he was committed.


Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 14 December 14, 1951 (1951-12-14) June 20, 1952 (1952-06-20)
2 33 September 12, 1952 (1952-09-12) June 26, 1953 (1953-06-26)
3 39 September 4, 1953 (1953-09-04) May 28, 1954 (1954-05-28)
4 39 August 27, 1954 (1954-08-27) May 27, 1955 (1955-05-27)
5 39 September 2, 1955 (1955-09-02) June 1, 1956 (1956-06-01)
6 34 September 24, 1956 (1956-09-24) May 23, 1957 (1957-05-23)
7 39 September 26, 1957 (1957-09-26) June 26, 1958 (1958-06-26)
8 39 September 23, 1958 (1958-09-23) August 23, 1959 (1959-08-23)

Broadcast history

  • January 3, 1952 – December 29, 1955: Thursday at 9:00 pm on NBC
  • January 5, 1956 – June 26, 1958: Thursday at 8:30 pm on NBC
  • September 23, 1958 – April 28, 1959: Tuesday at 7:30 pm on NBC
  • July 7, 1959 – August 23, 1959: Sunday at 8:30 pm on NBC


  • October 1951 – April 1952: #20/36.3 (tied with All Star Revue)
  • October 1952 – April 1953: #4/46.8
  • October 1953 – April 1954: #2/53.2
  • October 1954 – April 1955: #3/42.1
  • October 1955 – April 1956: #8/35.0
  • October 1956 – April 1957: #11/32.1
  • October 1957 – April 1958: Not in the Top 30
  • October 1958 – April 1959: Not in the Top 30

DVD releases

Half of the episodes of this series are in the public domain, with an estimated fifty-two episodes released on many DVD labels. A number of these collections recycle the same fifty-two episodes. These include "The Human Bomb," "The Big Actor," "The Big Mother," "The Big Cast," "The Big September Man," " The Big Phone Call," "The Big Casing," "The Big Lamp," "The Big Seventeen," "A .22 Caliber Rifle For Christmas," "The Big Grandma," "The Big Show," "The Big Break," "The Big Frank," " The Big Hands," "The Big Barrette," "The Big Dance," "The Big Betty," "The Big Will," "The Big Thief," "The Big Little Jesus," "The Big Trunk," "The Big Boys," "The Big Children," " The Big Winchester," "The Big Shoplift," "The Big Hit & Run Killer," "The Big Girl," "The Big Frame," "The Big False Make," "The Big Producer," "The Big Fraud," "The Big Crime," "The Big Pair," "The Big Missing," "The Big Bar," "The Big Present," "The Big New Year," "The Big Rod," "The Big Lift," "The Big Gap," "The Big Look," "The Big Glasses," "The Big Bird," "The Big Smoke," "The Big Bounce," "The Big Deal," "The Big Hat," "The Big Net," "The Big War," "The Big Oskar," and "The Big Counterfeit." Often some are mislabeled as there are no onscreen titles.

Amazon.com provides free streaming for most of the episodes listed above.

Eclectic DVD released a collection of 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 includes episodes from Burke's Law; Peter Gunn; Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Mr. Wong, Detective; and Bulldog Drummond.


  1. "Here Are The Facts! "Dragnet" Is the Season's Hottest Show". Billboard. 31 July 1954. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  2. Hischak, Thomas S. (2015). The Encyclopedia of Film Composers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 604. ISBN 1442245506. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  3. Phillips, Gene D. (2012). Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir. Scarecrow Press. p. 138. ISBN 0810881896. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  4. "LSMFT Hit Parader Doesn't Satisfy Here". Variety. September 16, 1953. p. 1. Retrieved October 6, 2019.


  • Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture. Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-96903-4.
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