Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dragnet - The Big Seventeen (1952)

Dragnet, syndicated as Badge 714, is a radio and television crime drama about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.
Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave millions of audience members a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real-life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers. 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 even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never seen or heard the program: The ominous, four-note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music (titled "Danger Ahead") is instantly recognizable (though its origins date back 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 many subsequent crime dramas, and in satires of these dramas (e.g. "Only the facts have been changed to protect the innocent"). The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday ran on radio from June 3, 1949 to February 26, 1957 and on television from December 16, 1951 to August 23, 1959, and from January 12, 1967 to April 16, 1970. All of these versions ran on NBC. There were three Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Webb in 1954; a TV-movie produced in 1966; and a comedy spoof in 1987. There were also television revivals, without Webb, in 1989 and 2003. A newspaper comic strip version of Dragnet, written by Jack Webb and Joe Scheiber, ran in newspapers from about 1952 to 1955.

Dragnet was created and produced by Jack Webb, who starred as the terse Sergeant Joe Friday. Webb had starred in a few mostly short-lived radio programs, but Dragnet would make him one of the major media personalities of his era. Dragnet had its origins in Webb's small role as a police forensic scientist in the 1948 film, He Walked by Night, inspired by the actual murder of California Highway Patrol officer Loren Roosevelt in Los Angeles. The film was depicted in semidocumentary style, and Marty Wynn (an actual LAPD sergeant from the robbery-homicide division) was a technical advisor on the film. Webb and Wynn became friends, and both thought that the day-to-day activities of police officers could be realistically depicted, and could make for compelling drama without the forced sense of melodrama then so common in radio programming. Webb frequently visited police headquarters, drove on night patrols with Sgt. Wynn and his partner Officer Vance Brasher, and attended Police Academy courses to learn authentic jargon and other details that could be featured in a radio program. When he proposed Dragnet to NBC officials, they were not especially impressed; radio was aswarm with private investigators and crime dramas, such as Webb's earlier Pat Novak for Hire. That program didn’t last long, but Webb had received high marks for his role as the titular private investigator, and NBC agreed to a limited run for Dragnet. With writer James E. Moser, Webb prepared an audition recording, then sought the LAPD's endorsement; he wanted to use cases from official files in order to demonstrate the steps taken by police officers during investigations. The official response was initially lukewarm, but in 1949 LAPD Chief Clemence B. Horrall offered Webb the endorsement he sought. Police wanted control over the program's sponsor, and insisted that police not be depicted unflatteringly. This would lead to some criticism, as less flattering departmental aspects, such as LAPD's racial segregation policies, were never addressed.

This episode:
Sergeant Friday investigates the destruction of a movie theater by a gang a teenagers! The cops find a small box containing marijuana and put two-and-two together the reefer is making the kids go wild! Turns out that teenage Johnny is pushing weed, yellow jackets, goof balls and "H." His friend tells the policeâbut it's too late...Johnny takes a hot shot and ODs!

31 MIN

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