Today, January 12th, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of one of the more memorable revivals ever to hit network television, at least in my opinion. On this date, one of the iconic characters of TV and radio cop shows made his comeback onto NBC. It was the ubiquitous Jack Webb and his show “Dragnet,” with his iconic character Sergeant Joe Friday leading the way. However, unlike the 1950s version, this show was different in tone.
Watch just about any episode of the original and you will see that they would usually do standard cop/action fare. Bad guy commits crime, police track him down, dramatic standoff, and resolution. When you get to the modern world of 1967 however, it’s quite apparent that formula would probably not work from week to week. What Webb and his production team did is absolutely what was needed for the time: a modern approach to the storytelling. It is quite evident from the premiere episode: “The LSD Story.”
Everybody remembers that episode for these images of one Benjamin Carver, played by guest star Michael Burns:
I don’t think kids these days are painting their faces whilst high on drugs, but nonetheless it’s still pretty disturbing. Of course, he dies at the end of the episode from, you guessed it, an overdose. But where this show excels is the fact that this plot element isn’t treated as some glorifying realization, but as grim and irritating as the overdose of any person would be. People should be warned about the dangers of narcotics, then and now. They are not things to be played with, and certainly can ruin you and quite possibly everyone around you as well.
Of great note here also about the series in general is the change in Friday’s partner. In the 1950s series, Ben Alexander played Friday’s sidekick, Officer Frank Smith. Webb had wanted to bring him back for Dragnet 1967, however, Alexander was already committed to a short lived series on ABC called “Felony Squad.” So, Webb turned to another venerable actor, Harry Morgan, to play a new sidekick, Bill Gannon. Morgan was great at playing a character with a straightforward, dry sense of humor that his tone could certainly convey. I like Gannon and his weird demeanor in this show, especially when he talked about his life outside of the job. One could envision a whole spinoff of Gannon’s adventures outsid….. no, no, no, don’t give NBC bad ideas…
Would this show work in 2017? Not in this form. Probably not in any form. Remember that 2003 attempt to revive it? If you don’t, don’t worry about it, it was bad.