Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The name's Friday

Who needs cable when there’s This, Me TV, and Antenna TV, all of them providing old movies and classics from TV’s golden age?

One of the classics currently airing on Me TV is Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. The influential and much parodied series which Webb both created and produced began on radio in 1949. In 1951, the TV version premiered on NBC and would run until 1959. Other than I Love Lucy, Jack Webb's baby was just about the most popular program on television during the era and even inspired a 1954 theatrical film that was among the year's ten biggest grossing movies. The original black-and-white episodes are rarely seen on television these days, but are available on DVD. The version airing on Me TV is the revival that began airing in January 1967 and ran for three and a half seasons before Webb voluntarily turned in Joe Friday's badge to focus more on producing. His Mark VII Limited productions was busier than ever in the 1970s, flooding the airwaves with such hits as Adam 12, Hec Ramsey, and Emergency, as well as such misfires as O’ Hara, United States Treasury (with David Janssen) and The D. A. (starring Robert Conrad).

A Dragnet episode that I caught recently took Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday into the home of his partner, Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan), and was characterized by the kind of matter-of-fact dialogue that was one of the show’s trademarks.

Friday was spending several days at Gannon’s home while the latter’s wife is away. A couple of neighbors come by to play cards, one of whom is a Systems Analyst.

“What does a Systems Analyst do?” Friday asks.

“Analyze systems” was the reply.

The Systems Analyst looked familiar. Only when the credits rolled did I realize it was Jack Sheldon, the trumpet player in the band on Merv Griffin’s TV show who sang the title song in The Long Goodbye, and did a little acting on the side. That makes sense. Jack Webb was a jazz aficionado who made Pete Kelly’s Blues and cast his ex-wife, singer Julie London, and her next husband, musician Bobby Troup (who wrote “Route 66”), in Emergency, the last great success that Webb enjoyed before his death one day before Christmas Eve 1982.

A police drama isn’t a police drama without a crime, so the episode gives us a girl selling door-to-door magazine subscriptions. That’s not against the law, but telling potential customers that you’re paying your way through a non-existent college is. To the slammer she goes.

Watching Webb’s sometimes awkward manner and hearing his monotone speaking voice, I kept wondering who he reminded me of. Suddenly, it hit me. Charlie Brown! Listen to that voice, then listen to the voice of Peter Robbins who voiced Charles Schulz’s hapless hero in the earliest Peanuts TV specials. Joe Friday is Charlie Brown, all grown up. It makes sense. Charlie Brown was an honest, decent kid surrounded by often dishonest and frequently nasty children like Lucy Van Pelt. Joe Friday was an honest, decent man who kept the streets safe from drug dealers, thieves, and killers.

Dragnet is airing Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. (EST) on Me TV.

Brian W. Fairbanks


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