Dragnet is a pioneering police procedural series which originated on radio and spawned three television incarnations, two features, and countless spoofs. Created by writer/actor Jack Webb, the series focused on deadpan Sergeant Joe Friday (Webb) and his partner, as they investigated a range of crimes, loosely adapted from real-life cases. This was announced through the famous opening signature: "The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." Other trademarks included the terse delivery and the distinctive "Dum-de-dum-dum" Dragnet March theme.
The radio series ran on NBC from 1949 until 1957. Like Gunsmoke, it smoothly transitioned into television, beginning with a 1951 one-off special (featuring original radio sidekick Sgt. Ben Romero). The TV series, which made its proper debut in January 1952, ran concurrently with the radio show for several years (both with new partner Frank Smith), and remained on the air until 1959. A theatrical film version, with the same cast and crew, was released in 1954.
The series was revived in 1967, with another partner, Bill Gannon. The series ended in 1970, and Webb died in 1982. His franchise outlived him, however, first in a 1987 spoof movie version of Dragnet starring Dan Aykroyd as Friday's nephew and Tom Hanks as his partner, in a 1989 syndicated series (with new cast and characters), and in a somewhat grittier 2003 revival, with Ed O'Neill as the new Joe Friday (partnered once again with Frank Smith).
The series remains a keynote in popular culture. The craze for Dragnet spoofery began with Stan Freberg's 1950s trilogy of audio satires, with titles like St. George and the Dragonet, and has extended to the Children's Television Workshop. CTW mined the series extensively on Square One TV (with the droll "Mathnet" segments), but elements of Dragnet have also surfaced on Sesame Street through the years.
- An early Sesame Street insert directly parodied the series, with Sergeant Thursday and his partner Ben on the hunt for a wanted W, accompanied by a variation of the Dragnet March. (First: Episode 0395)
- The song "Searchin'," performed by Floyd Pepper in The Muppet Show episode 120, mentions Sergeant Friday.
- In Episode 1527 of Sesame Street, Big Bird pretends to be a detective like Sherlock Hemlock. Mr. Snuffleupagus becomes his partner, dubbing himself "Sergeant Thursday."
- Dragnet was spoofed in a later Sesame Street sketch where Darlene depends on D-tective Dave to debunk the debacle of her "DOG" word, which is missing its first letter. (First: Episode 3499)
- The Dinosaurs episode "License to Parent" had an epilogue over the end credits narrated by Gary Owens in the style of the Dragnet trial results, showing the perps and giving their sentences. A variation of the Dragnet March is used as underscore.
- Jane Tuesday, the detective star of live action film segments beginning in Sesame Street Season 35, is named in homage to Joe Friday.
- Sesame Street Season 36 included a segment called "Cookie Monster: Food Investigator," identified by Sesame Workshop as a parody of Dragnet.
- During a car chase in the 1987 film, Sgt. Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd) and Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks) crash through a street vendor selling stuffed animals including a Big Bird and Baby Kermit. Friday: "Look out! Muppets!"
Several actors from the original Dragnet starring Jack Webb (including the radio series and both TV incarnations) appeared in Muppet/Sesame Street projects
- Raymond Burr played the chief of detectives (often called Ed Backstrand) on the radio series (ca. 1949-1951) and Chief Detective Thad Brown in the first TV episode of Dragnet ("The Human Bomb," 1951).
- Kent McCord played various police officers in five 1967 episodes (notably Officer Paul Culver in "The Interrogation") and then Officer Jim Reed (of Webb's Adam-12 series) in three episodes (1967-1968)
- Leonard Nimoy played Julius Carver in "The Big Boys" (1954) and Karlo Rozwadowski in "The Big Name" (1959).
- Olan Soule played lab analyst Ray Pinker in the TV series (1952-1959) and the same role (renamed Ray Murray) in the 1967 version.
- John Stephenson appeared in several episodes of both radio and TV versions, and for the 1967 series, was the announcer who provided the trial results.
1987 Dragnet movie:
- Dan Aykroyd played Joe Friday
- Bernie Brillstein was the executive producer.
- Dabney Coleman played Jerry Caesar
- Juliana Donald played the zookeeper
- Tom Hanks played Pep Streebeck
- Eva Longoria played Det. Gloria Duran