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FDL Movie Night: TV’s “Dragnet”

This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here. I carry a badge. My name’s Friday. The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I grew up watching Dragnet, which began its run in 1967 and lasted three and a half seasons. I thought it was pretty weird, but I learned lots of things about my hometown, and about life in general–like how to judge the quality of a fur, from the episode where Joe Friday’s partner Frank Gannon went undercover to bust a burglary ring.  It was always fun to to try and guess the what the sentences for crimes would be.

In Dragnet 67-69, Jack Webb emphasized his law-and-order/anti-counterculture beliefs. He also subtly revealed his ideals of anti-racism and civil equality. And his love of smoking; Webb smoked up to three packs a day and smoked on camera. He was a hard drinker. And unlike his character Joe Friday, who was a permanent bachelor, Webb was married three times.

Webb drew on a pool of character actors for his cast, and he and Harry Morgan, who played Gannon, wore the same suits much of the time, cutting down on production costs.

The partners certainly got transferred a lot–maybe because, I thought in my young mind, no one liked or cared to work with them. As I got older–duh, it was to show off how LAPD worked.

In the first of our episodes tonight, “The Big Problem”, Friday and Gannon work the Emergency Control Center to keep peace in Los Angeles during the memorial services for Martin Luther King, Jr. It also shows a great overview of Los Angeles as the art capital of the West Coast, giving a look in the intro at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (which cost $20 million to build then), and art galleries in West Hollywood.

In “Public Affairs”, Friday and Gannon are assigned to the community relations department in a specific division to help counter reports of police brutality and misbehavior. Thirty years later that division of the LAPD would become synonymous with just those issues. Foothill was where Rodney King’s videotaped beating would eventually cause Los Angeles to erupt in violence.

And in a small piece of trivia, Friday never said:

Just the facts, ma’am

The line, well lines, as the phrase has two versions, reads:

All we want/know is the facts ma’am.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.