Dragnet is the granddaddy of all police procedurals. Built around the experiences of intrepid police Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and his partners, it started on radio, using the then-novel dramatic device of reenacting real police cases, giving listeners (and later viewers) a realistic sense of life on a big city police force (in this case the Los Angeles Police Department).
Webb prized unadorned realism in his acting and storytelling for Dragnet. After more than fifty years, elements of the show have become cultural touchstones. The martial four-note brass and tympani intro music for example, is instantly recognizable (it predates the Dragnet series; the score was written by Miklós Rózsa for the 1946 film The Killers). Another Dragnet trademark — the show's opening narration: "Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."
The 1966 Dragnet TV series was Webb's most popular and well-remembered incarnation of the show. It featured Webb and his longtime friend Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon. Morgan had previously portrayed rooming house proprietor "Luther Gage" in the 1949 radio series episode "James Vickers".
When real-life LAPD Sergeant Dan Cooke, who was Webb's contact during the production of the show, was promoted to Lieutenant, he was able to arrange to carry the same lieutenant's badge, number 714, as that worn by Joe Friday. Cooke was the technical advisor to "Police Unit 2A-26", a documentary directed by John Orland. Cooke brought this to the attention of Webb, who hired Orland to direct and film "This is the City", a series of mini-documentaries about L.A. that preceded most Dragnet episodes in the 1969 and 1970 seasons and was a success in its own right.
After four seasons on the air, Webb walked away from Dragnet and turned his attentions to producing and directing other projects through Mark VII Limited, his production company. The first of these was a spinoff of Dragnet, another notable and successful police procedural: Adam-12, a half-hour show that focused on patrol officers instead of detectives. It premiered in 1968 and ended up running for seven seasons. Adam-12, in turn, birthed its own weekly series spinoff in 1972, Emergency!, which ran until 1977 and as a series of made-for-television movies for two years subsequent to that. Emergency! revolved around a fictional L.A. County Fire Department firefighting and paramedic unit.
“Dragnet 1966” was a made-for-TV movie originally intended as the TV pilot of the Dragnet series, but it was not actually aired until 1969. It also starred Webb as Friday and Morgan as Officer Gannon, who are assigned to track down a voyeuristic serial killer modeled after Harvey Glatman (played by Vic Perrin). John Roseboro, a catcher for the L.A. Dodgers who occasionally acted in the offseason, also appeared, playing a plainclothes detective.