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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
One of the great treasures of the Golden Era of Television was its theme songs. In the 1950s, four or five notes were all you needed to hear to know exactly what was coming on. While many themes may still ring a bell today, very few are as recognizable nearly 70 years after it debuted, than the opening for “Dragnet.”
It was the brainchild of Jack Webb, who was extremely underrated for his creativity for the show when television was still in its infancy.
Webb originated the rapid-fire paces, with terse dialogue exchanges, ultra-fast cuts and extreme close-ups to enhance actors’ reactions and emotions.
Webb was also the featured star for its entire run through the 1950s and 60s, playing the role of Joe Friday. He was also responsible for later spinning off several other shows that had successful runs of their own, including “Adam-12” and “Emergency.”
After its opening introduction revealing the backstory, each episode begins with Friday and his partner investigating crimes, almost in a documentary-style approach and usually resulting in the uncovering of the criminals. A quick epilogue gives the results of what happened to the perpetrators and sometimes the victims after the crime was solved. Nearly every show was based on real life cases but, as the narrator includes in every show, “the names were changed to protect the innocent.”
The show’s introduction and catch phrases used throughout the program connected instantly with viewers, and was often copied – both to reconstruct serious police dramas for other shows as well as for parodies (one of the most famous was done on the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” featuring Webb himself.)
“Dragnet” also has its place in television history as it is one of a very small handful of shows to be cancelled by NBC, only to be brought back seven years later by the very same network. Aside from being broadcast in color, the initial show’s return was similar to the ‘50s style in terms of its criminal case load.
However, with the changing landscape of the late sixties, the show quickly evolved into new storylines, many embracing the current culture, with more colorful characters (Joe Friday interrogating hippies was always a hoot) and attempted to tackle topical issues of the times. The newer edition of the show also softened some of the original’s techniques but still featured faster-paced dialogue exchanges and occasionally closer than normal close-ups.
Over the years, Sargent Friday had several sidekicks accompanying him on his 30-minute per week police adventures, but one of the most popular was Harry Morgan, who later became Colonel Potter on another legendary TV hit, M*A*S*H.
There’s many more fascinating details about this radio and television staple of the 1950s and ‘60s – which we will uncover in future blog entries. In the meantime, you can see “Dragnet” for yourself every Wednesday at 2 p.m. on RCN TV.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.