Dragnet: The Big Hit and Run

By Brian Moakley Dec 15, 2023

A grandmother and her grandson are crossing the street when a bakery truck speeds around the corner, seemingly out of control. There is nothing the grandmother can do, but hold the boy close to her. The truck doesn’t slow, but plows into both the them. The truck doesn’t stop.

A distant phone rings. A somewhat somber man picks it up. His name is Friday and it is his job is to find that driver.

About Dragnet

Dragnet may not have been the first police procedural show on television (and radio), but it is the certainly the most famous. It set the templates for shows such as NYPD Blue and Law and Order. It was also one of the rare old time radio shows that successfully transitioned to television.

Dragnet was a hit show on both television as well as radio.

Growing up, my perception of Dragnet was a hokey black and television white show made in the 1950s. I even scoffed at the seemingly ridiculous tagline: “just the facts, mam”. I reasoned, that a show that “lame”, couldn’t possibly be good.

Mind you, I had never watched an episode.

Somewhere along the line, I managed to get a hold of a few Dragnet radio episodes, and probably because I had nothing else interesting in my old time radio queue, I forced myself to listen to it.

I’m guessing I rolled my eyes at the famous Dragnet opening … “dah de dah-dah”, but I imagine it didn’t take long for all those preconceptions of the show to melt away in the realization that Dragnet was not only somewhat “modern” but also, strangely gripping.

Why It’s Good

Dragnet is based off real cases. It’s a show that digs deep into the nuts and bolts of police work. The actors are deadly serious, even when joking around. They are professionals whether it’s tracking down a killer or giving out a parking ticket.

Jack Webb was a prolific actor, but he will always be remembered for Dragnet

Friday himself should be a completely boring character. He’s a cop who lives with his mother. His work is his life and he puts his soul into it. Yet, Jack Webb is utterly riveting in his portrayal. I’ve listened to other Jack Webb shows and he’s never impressed me with any of his performances. But in this show, he is subtle, somewhat cold, and very determined.

You see, Joe Friday doesn’t serve LAPD for a paycheck. He is a cop to the core, chasing his quarry with the same ruthless efficiency as a T-1000. Friday can’t be bought, persuaded, or even coerced. He will press and press until someone or something breaks. And Jack Webb gets it perfect.

The Big Hit and Run Killer

In this episode, I really like the actor who played the cafe owner. He has as a pretty distinct voice and later in the series, he returns to the show as forensic specialist (Not the character, but the actor). Although I do like to think that the character was so impressed with Friday and Romero, he decided to join the force.

You can also watch the television episode (internet archive)

As for Romero, he’s pretty awesome in a Van Heflin kind of way. He was played by the actor Barton Yarborough. Barton does a great job playing back up to Joe Friday and would have been a mainstay throughout the show had he not from a sudden heart attack. His death becomes the focus of “The Big Sorrow” and it’s a pretty somber episode for sure.

On an aside, I’m not quite sure why every Dragnet episode is named “The Big …”, but I do like it.

Concluding Thoughts

If you do like Dragnet and looking for something similar, check out Tales of the Texas Rangers. That’s another procedural that takes place in Texas (not surprisingly). It’s kind of grim. It seems like in every show some family is murdered and the killer always gets the chair, but the show itself is pretty good. You can also read up on some of my other old time radio favorites.

Not Dragnet good, but good enough. Dragnet is truly in a league of its own.

By Brian Moakley

Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Jezner Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading