Dragnet (franchise)

Dragnet is an American radio, television, and motion-picture series, enacting the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show took its name from the police term "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects, although the word "franchise" should not be used in relation to it, as that word was not in use for more than a half century later.

Dragnet opening frame from the 1950s version
Created byJack Webb
StarringJack Webb
Barton Yarborough
Ben Alexander
Harry Morgan
Narrated byHal Gibney
John Stephenson
George Fenneman
Jack Webb
Opening themeexcerpt from Miklós Rózsa's score for The Killers
Composer(s)Walter Schumann (1951–58)
Nathan Scott (1958–59)
Lyn Murray (1967–68)
Frank Comstock (1968–70)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons8 (1951–59)
4 (1967–70)
2 (1989–91 & 2003–04)
16 (total)
No. of episodes314 (radio 1949–57)
276 (TV 1951–59)
98 (TV 1967–70)
52 (TV 1989–91)
22 (TV 2003–04)
762 (total)
Executive producer(s)Jack Webb
Producer(s)Jack Webb
Production location(s)Los Angeles, U.S.
Running time30 minutes (1951–59; 1967–70; 1989–91)
60 minutes (2003–04)
Production company(s)Mark VII Productions
Mark VII Limited (1954,
1954–59, 1967–70)
Universal Television (1967–70, 1989–90, 2003–04)
NBC Universal Television Studio (2004)
The Arthur Company
Wolf Films (2003–04)
DistributorNBC Film Division
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original networkNBC (1951–59, 1967–70)
Syndication (1989–91)
ABC (2003–04)
Film (1954)
Original releaseDecember 16, 1951 
December 4, 2004 (last run)

Dragnet is perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave audience members a feel for the danger and heroism of police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.[1]

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting; he achieved both goals, and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media. The show's cultural impact is such that after seven decades after its debut, elements of Dragnet are familiar to those who have never seen or heard the program:

  • The ominous, four-note introduction to the brass and timpani theme music (titled "Danger Ahead") is instantly recognizable (though its origins date to Miklós Rózsa's score for the 1946 film version of The Killers).
  • Another Dragnet trademark is the show's opening narration: "Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." This underwent minor revisions over time. The "only" and "ladies and gentlemen" were dropped at some point, and for the television version "hear" was changed to "see". Variations on this narration have been featured in subsequent crime dramas, and in parodies of the dramas (e.g. "Only the facts have been changed to protect the guilty").


Dragnet began as a radio series.[2]


1951–59 original

1967–70 revival

Webb relaunched Dragnet in 1966, with NBC once again chosen to air the series. He tried to persuade Ben Alexander to rejoin him as Frank Smith. Alexander was then committed to an ABC police series, Felony Squad, and the producers would not release him. Webb reluctantly came up with a new character to take the role of Joe Friday's partner, calling upon his longtime friend Harry Morgan to play Officer Bill Gannon. Morgan had previously portrayed rooming-house proprietor Luther Gage in the 1949 radio series episode "James Vickers". George Fenneman returned as the show's primary announcer, with John Stephenson replacing Hal Gibney in the role of announcing the trial dates and subsequent punishments for the offenders. Fenneman replaced Stephenson in that role during the fourth season. Unlike the previous Dragnet series, the revival was produced and aired in color.

Webb produced a TV movie pilot for the new version of the show for Universal Television, although the pilot was not aired until January 1969. NBC bought the show on the strength of the movie, and it debuted as a midseason replacement for the sitcom The Hero on Thursday nights in January 1967. To distinguish it from the original, the year was included in the title of the show (i.e., Dragnet 1967). Although Friday had been promoted to lieutenant in the final episode of the 1950s production, Webb chose to have Friday revert to sergeant with his familiar badge, "714".[3]

When real-life LAPD Sergeant Dan Cooke, Webb's contact in the department during production of the revived Dragnet series, was promoted to lieutenant, he arranged to carry the same lieutenant's badge, number 714, as worn by Joe Friday. Cooke was technical advisor to the KNBC documentary Police Unit 2A-26, directed by John Orland. He brought that to the attention of Webb, who hired Orland to direct and film This is the City, a series of minidocumentaries about Los Angeles that preceded most TV episodes during the 1969 and 1970 seasons. The show had good ratings on NBC's schedule for four seasons, although its popularity did not exceed that of the 1950s version.

Much as was done 11 years earlier, Webb decided voluntarily to discontinue Dragnet after its fourth season to focus on producing and directing his other projects through Mark VII Limited. The first of these projects was a spinoff of Dragnet titled Adam-12, a 30-minute police procedural like its parent series, but focusing on patrol officers rather than detectives. The series premiered in the fall of 1968 and ran for seven seasons, coming to an end in 1975. Adam-12, in turn, spawned its own spinoff in early 1972 called Emergency!; running as a weekly series until 1977 and as a series of made-for-television movies for two years after that, Emergency! was centered around a fictitious Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic rescue unit, Squad 51, the latter of which was a relatively new and different concept.

Reruns of this version were popular on local stations, usually during the late afternoon or early evening, in the early 1970s. From 1991 to 1995, they aired on Nick at Nite, then moved to its sister cable channel TV Land. From October 1, 2011, to April 26, 2013, the series ran daily on the digital cable channel Antenna TV, and before that, the show aired on the Retro Television Network.

Dragnet aired Monday through Friday on Me-TV. The show was part of the "CriMe TV" morning block with Perry Mason and The Rockford Files, with Dragnet airing back to back from 11:00 am until 12:00 pm. In December 2014, Me-TV added a third airing of Dragnet to its late-night lineup; the series airs at 12:30 am following a second episode of Perry Mason. Me-TV ended the run of Dragnet on January 1, 2015, whereupon it became part of Cozi TV's regular lineup.

Webb's later years

Webb had begun working on a revival of Dragnet in 1982, writing and producing five scripts and keeping his role as Joe Friday. Once again he needed to create a new character for Friday's partner; Ben Alexander had died in 1969 and Harry Morgan was tied up with his commitments to M*A*S*H, and its already greenlit followup AfterMASH. Webb decided on Kent McCord, the former Adam-12 star who had several guest appearances early in the 1967 revival series, to fill the undefined role. No indication was given whether McCord would be playing a totally new character, or his Jim Reed character from Adam-12. Webb died suddenly from a heart attack on December 23, 1982, and the revival was scrapped.

After Webb's death, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates announced that badge number 714—Webb's number on the television show—was retired, and Los Angeles city offices lowered their flags to half staff. At Webb's funeral, the LAPD provided an honor guard, and the chief of police commented on Webb's connection with the LAPD. An LAPD auditorium was named in his honor. Jack Webb's LAPD sergeant's badge and ID card are on display at the Los Angeles Police Academy.

Film versions

Dragnet (1954)

In 1954, a theatrical feature film entitled Dragnet, an adaptation of the series, was released with Webb, Alexander, and Richard Boone. Dennis Weaver plays R. A. Lohrman, a detective captain. The film begins with the shooting of small-time hood Miller Starkie (Dub Taylor) on orders from his boss, Max Troy (Stacy Harris). Friday and Smith's superior is LAPD Intelligence Division Captain Jim Hamilton (Boone), a department member and the film's technical advisor. The Intelligence Division focused on the pursuit of organized-crime figures, and some of Max Troy's habits resemble that of Mickey Cohen, the known Los Angeles underworld boss; for example, Troy's LAPD file reads that he could be found at "Sunset Strip taverns and joints", as could Cohen. The film depicts the working relationship between the LAPD and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office; Friday and Smith work to gather evidence that the DA's office deems sufficient to gain the indictment and ultimate conviction of Troy and his fellows. One scene contains a violent fist-fight involving the two detectives, with the close-up cinematic technique typical of Webb's style of direction. The movie's ending represents a departure from most Dragnet stories; no arrest is made at the story's conclusion. Chester Davitt (Willard Sage), Troy's underling and Starkie's killer, is killed by underworld figures, and Troy succumbs to cancer before the detectives, having gathered sufficient evidence against him, can make the arrest.

The film earned an estimated $4.7 million at the North American box office during its first year of release.[4][5]

Dragnet 1966 (aired 1969)

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended as the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967, but was not aired as planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969. The movie stars Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday and Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon. The story focuses on crime more typical of the 1960s than of the previous Dragnet era; the detectives are assigned to find a voyeuristic serial killer similar to Harvey Glatman (played by Vic Perrin, who appeared in the 1954 film as an assistant district attorney). Also appearing is Virginia Gregg, who had a role in the 1954 feature and was a frequent guest actor in the 1951–59 series and the 1967–70 episodes, and John Roseboro, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who dabbled in acting in the off season; Roseboro played a plainclothes detective who had been the target of racial slurs by a child molester until Friday came to his aid.

Dragnet (1987)

In 1987, a comedy movie version of Dragnet appeared starring Dan Aykroyd as the stiff Joe Friday (the original Detective Friday's nephew), and Tom Hanks as partner Pep Streebeck. The film contrasted the terse, clipped character of Friday, a hero from another age, with the 'real world' of Los Angeles in 1987 to broad comedic effect. Beyond Aykroyd's imitation of Webb's Joe Friday and Harry Morgan's small role reprising Bill Gannon, this film version shares little with previous incarnations. The film was more a parody, and a hit with audiences, though no follow-up film was produced. LAPD Lieutenant Dan Cooke, who had served as technical advisor for the Jack Webb series, was technical advisor for this production.

Remakes after Webb's death

1989 series: The New Dragnet

The show returned to television in the fall of 1989 as The New Dragnet in first-run syndication, featuring new characters, and airing in tandem with The New Adam-12, a remake of another Webb-produced Adam-12. The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage as and Bernard White as detectives Vic Daniels and Carl Molina, respectively, and Don Stroud as Captain Lussen. Fifty-two episodes were aired over two seasons. The first 26 episodes aired between October 24, 1989, and January 21, 1990, with the second season of 26 episodes, airing between April 19 and September 9, 1990.

2003 series: L.A. Dragnet

In 2003, a Dragnet series was produced by Dick Wolf, the producer of NBC's Law & Order series and spin-offs, in turn strongly influenced by Dragnet. It aired on ABC, and starred Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday and Ethan Embry as Frank Smith. After a 12-episode season that followed the traditional formula, the format of the series was changed to an ensemble crime drama in an attempt to boost ratings.

In L.A. Dragnet Friday was promoted to lieutenant with less screen time and Frank Smith was written out, in favor of younger and ethnically diverse cast played by Eva Longoria, Desmond Harrington, Evan Dexter Parke, and Christina Chang. Roselyn Sanchez was added to the regular cast, in a few episodes. With the Dragnet formula no longer in place, the program had the feel of a typical procedural drama. It was cancelled five episodes into its second season. Three episodes premiered on USA Network in early 2004, with the final two on the Sleuth channel in 2006. In places such as the Netherlands, the show is retitled Murder Investigation.


The theme from Dragnet has been recorded by many artists, achieving popular success. Artists who charted with it include Ray Anthony (1953) and The Art of Noise (1987).


  • In 1958, Webb authored a book titled The Badge, chapters of true stories told from the view of a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant, and others. It had a number of photographs and recently was reissued with a foreword by James Ellroy, author of LA Confidential.


  • The Little Shop of Horrors, a 1960 cult classic comedy horror film by Roger Corman, features a parody of the traditional Dragnet dry, hard-boiled voiceover narration throughout, and in the second half of the film, an onscreen parody of Dragnet and Joe Friday's robotic stoicism, a police detective named Joe Fink who says in voiceover “My name is Fink. Joe Fink... I’m a fink”.
  • St. George and the Dragonet, a 1953 short audio satire by Stan Freberg, was a smash hit reaching number one on both the Billboard and the Cash Box record charts. In this satire, Freberg used the line "Just the facts, ma'am", which entered popular lexicography as an actual catchphrase from Dragnet, despite the line never being used on the show, except for Season Two, Episode Eight ("Big Lease"). Freberg followed St. George... with Little Blue Riding Hood and Christmas Dragnet.
  • The 1954 Woody Woodpecker cartoon Under the Counter Spy was a parody of Dragnet. At the beginning, a narrator says, "The story you are about to see is a big fat lie. No names have been changed to protect anybody!" At the end, a hammer and stamp make the words "THE END", and the hammerer hits his thumb.
  • The 1955, Three Stooges short "Blunder Boys" parodies Dragnet. In place of the familiar "Dragnet" theme, the first four notes of "The Song of the Volga Boatmen", which is in the public domain, is used. At the end of the film, Moe stamps Larry's head with a hammer; Larry's forehead then reads, "VII 1/2 The End".
  • A 1956 Looney Tunes short, "Rocket Squad", starred Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as Sgt. Joe Monday and Det. Schmoe Tuesday, respectively. Daffy narrated, giving a running timeline in the manner of Sgt. Friday. This police adventure ends with both officers convicted and imprisoned for false arrest. The opening title reads: "Ladies and Gentlemen, The story you are about to see is true. The drawings have been changed to protect the Innocent". Another short, "Tree Cornered Tweety", featured Tweety imitating the narrator of Dragnet as he is being pursued by Sylvester again.
  • A segment of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show called "Bullwinkle's Corner", which featured Bullwinkle Moose in a poetry reading of "Tom, Tom the Piper's Son," parodied Dragnet, as Bullwinkle is apprehended in the act of stealing a pig by two detectives who interrogate Bullwinkle using a terse, clipped monotone similar in style to Joe Friday and Frank Smith ("You got a name?" "I'm Tom, Tom the Piper's Son." "All right, Piperson, what were you going to do with the pig?").
  • In 1968, Jack Webb appeared in the "Copper Clapper Caper" sketch on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, playing the poker-faced Joe Friday interviewing the equally deadpan victim of a robbery (played by Carson). The details of the crime started with the alliterative "k" or "kl" consonant sound, such as "Claude Cooper, the kleptomaniac from Cleveland."[6]
  • A Sesame Street muppet skit from the early 1970s spoofed Dragnet, featuring Sgt. Thursday and his partner, Ben, searching for a fugitive letter ”W” based on a drawing Ben carries with him of the letter; when they do encounter the letter W it disguises itself turning upside down into a letter “M”.
  • The final segment of each episode of PBS's Square One was titled "Mathnet" and opened with the Dragnet theme and an arrangement of the lines "The story you're about to see is a fib—but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real." Each story arc of the show's five-season run lasted five daily episodes (one week) and featured detectives Kate Monday (seasons 1–3) or Pat Tuesday (seasons 4–5) and George Ernest Frankly (all five seasons), of the LAPD in the first two of the show's five seasons and the New York Police Department in the last three seasons, using mathematics to solve crimes.
  • In 1983, "Prog #310" of UK sci-fi comic 2000AD featured a time-travelling parody of Dragnet in the story "Chrono Cops", written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. In five pages, "Joe Saturday" and "Ed Thursday" encounter several time-travel "tropes", including a character attempting to kill his own great-grandfather.[7]
  • The season-five episode of The Simpsons entitled "Marge on the Lam" centers around Marge Simpson and neighbor Ruth Powers being pursued by police while illegally driving Ruth's ex-husband's car; the episode ends with a Dragnet-style epilogue detailing the characters' fates, as narrated by original series announcer George Fenneman, then the end credits run over a graphic of a police badge while a version of The Simpsons theme done in the style of the famous "Dragnet March" plays. Also, the season-seven episode "Mother Simpson" has Homer Simpson's mother, Mona Simpson, as a fugitive from Charles Montgomery Burns, who is about to be captured after 27 years. Burns is helped by officers Joe Friday and Bill Gannon (voiced by Harry Morgan).
  • Dragnet is parodied at the end of the episode of The New Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh entitled: "Sorry, Wrong Slusher". Winnie-the-Pooh performs a closing narration as a mug shot of Christopher Robin is shown on screen, in the style of Dragnet.
  • Craig Lancaster's novel 600 Hours of Edward features a title character with Asperger's syndrome who watches Dragnet religiously every day and relates much of his life back to it. Dragnet is also mentioned in the sequel Edward Adrift.

Home media

Original series (1951–59)

Most, if not all, episodes of this series are in the public domain, and 52 episodes were released by many DVD labels. These collections feature a variety of the same 52 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", "The Big .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 no onscreen titles are used.

Three collections released from Alpha Video feature four episodes each. 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.

Dragnet feature film (1954)

This movie was released on DVD in 2009 as part of Universal Studios' "Vault Series".

Dragnet pilot movie (1966)

This movie is a bonus feature on Shout! Factory's "Dragnet 1968: Season Two" (Release Date: July 6, 2010).

Dragnet (1967–70)

On June 7, 2005, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the first season on DVD in Region 1. Because sales numbers did not meet Universal's expectations, no plans were made to release the remaining three seasons.

On March 17, 2010, Shout! Factory acquired the rights to distribute the series (under license from Universal). They subsequently released seasons 2–4.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 17 June 7, 2005
February 13, 2018 (re-release)
Season 2 28 July 6, 2010
Season 3 27 December 7, 2010
Season 4 26 April 12, 2011

The New Dragnet (1989)

No DVD releases to date of this remake that lasted two seasons.

L.A. Dragnet (2003)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment was going to release the first season of this short-lived remake on DVD on November 11, 2003, but this release was cancelled. It is not known if the set will be released,[8] though it is available for viewing on Hulu.


  1. On a March, 1953, episode, the Detroit Police Officers' Association gave Dragnet a commendation, citing the program's efforts at increasing public esteem of policemen, and furthermore describing it as the "finest and most accurate" police program on radio or television.
  2. http://www.radioechoes.com/?page=series&genre=OTR-Detective&series=Dragnet
  3. Snauffer, Douglas (2006). Crime Television, The Praeger television collection. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0275988074.
  4. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  5. TCM.com
  6. Funniest Moments: Copper Clapper Caper On Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. YouTube (official channel). August 27, 2012. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  7. "Againwiththecomics.com". Archived from the original on November 2, 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
  8. Dragnet DVD news: Dragnet (2003) DVD Cancelled | TVShowsOnDVD.com Archived November 10, 2004, at the Wayback Machine


  • Dunning, John, On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-19-507678-8.
  • Michael J. Hayde, My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb, Cumberland House, 2001, ISBN 1-58182-190-5
  • Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture. Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-96903-4.
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