DRAGNET stars Jack Webb as detective Joe Friday in the iconic crime show considered one of the greatest detective shows in the history of television.
Dragnet 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 Dragnetare 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. Webb revived the series which ran from January 12, 1967, to April 16, 1970. NBC‘s radio and television networks carried all three series. 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. In 1982 a third TV incarnation of the series was being prepared by Webb but his death scrapped the revival. After Jack Webb’s death, two Dragnet revivals were attempted; one was for weekly syndication in 1989 and the other was for ABC in 2003.
A daily newspaper comic strip version of Dragnet distributed by the Los Angeles Mirror Syndicate ran in newspapers from June 23, 1952 to May 21, 1955 (with a preview week that ran in many papers promoting its impending start). Writing was by Dragnet scripter Jack Robinson (uncredited) with art by Joe Sheiber (June 23, 1952-Sept. 20, 1952), Bill Ziegler (Sept. 22, 1952-January 9, 1954) and Mel Keefer (Jan. 11, 1954-May 21, 1955). Comics historian Ron Goulart in his book The Funnies states the frequent turnover of artists on the strip was due to Webb’s desire to find someone “who could draw him as good looking as he thought he ought to be.”
“Just the facts, ma’am”
While “Just the facts, ma’am” has come to be known as Dragnet’s catchphrase (it has been copied and parodied many times by other productions), it was never actually uttered by Joe Friday. The closest lines were “All we want are the facts, ma’am” and “All we know are the facts, ma’am.” The “Just the facts, ma’am” phrase did, however, appear in the parody St. George and the Dragonet, a 1953 short audio satire by Stan Freberg.