Continued from: 15-11, 20-16, 25-21.
Original Air Date: February 27, 1969 (Television)
With the focus on Dragnet’s anti-drug shows, what gets lost in the shuffle is how Dragnet really shined a light on child abuse. DR-19 is one of the more poignant episodes. It begins with Friday meeting with the President of a woman’s club (Cathleen Cordell) as she previewed information that would be used for a presentation at the woman’s club. Dragnet couldn’t show pictures of child abuse but Webb’s narration of the pictures Cordell was looking at combined with her reactions gave the viewers the idea of what horrific things were going on. Then they were called to investigate a missing child. When they find the boy, they find he’s been abused. The show is powerful and portrays Friday’s heart and brings home the dramatic way in which the system often leaves abused children vulnerable. It’s one of Dragnet’s poignant and most moving stories.
9) The Big Fraud
Original Air Date: October 27, 1953 (Radio)
Original Air Date: September 2, 1954 (Television)
Two conmen pretending to be cops are taking traveling businessmen for thousands of dollars by setting up a phony arrest and offering to take a bribe to “clear everything up.” A similar episode would air in the 1960s. I like this one better for a superior ending as well as the fact that it features one of Jack Webb’s earliest speeches, “The Phony Badge.”
8) The Pyramid Swindle
Original Air Date: November 30, 1967 (Television)
Legendary Character Actress Virginia Gregg looms large in this comedic bunco case as she plays an over-the-top pyramid swindle marketer trying to sell people on her get-rich scam with a religious fervor. The episode provides a great performance from Gregg while also serving as a warning to the public making this a great fusion of education and entertainment.
7) The Big Red
Original Air Dates: January 3 and January 10, 1952 (Radio)
Original Air Date: August 23, 1959 (Television)
The radio version of this story was perfect. It came right on the heels of the death of Barton Yarborough who played Friday’s first partner Ben Romero, so a script that centered on Joe Friday working pretty much alone definitely was helpful. This was one of many episodes where Friday went undercover to bust narcotics. This was somewhat notable as in the first episode, he caught part of the drug ring, revealing himself as a cop. In the second episode, he has to have their boss somehow still believing that he’s a drug dealer so he can get to the source. It’s a tough job that Friday has to do. To do it, he has to break out a tough persona that’s reminiscent of many of the hard boiled characters he played over radio prior to Dragnet. The Television version is not in circulation. It was the last 1950s episode of Dragnet, but probably wasn’t as good as 1) it wasn’t two parts and 2) those really late Dragnet episodes suffered in quality. That’s a shame because the radio version’s a pure classic.
6) The Grenade
Original Air Date: September 14, 1967
This is probably the most exciting episode of the 1960s Dragnet, with perhaps one of most tense and exciting moments in Dragnet history. It all begins with Friday and Gannon investigating a case where a troubled teenage boy threw acid on the back of another teenager at the movie theater. The boy is released to the custody of his parents, but he’s not done. In a rage over attempts by his stepfather to impose discipline he storms into a party he wasn’t invited to and holds a a group of teenagers hostage. This leads to an unforgettable showdown with a live grenade. This was a key episode for the 1960s Dragnet. Dragnet had returned to the air after eight years absence with a thirteen episode short season and they needed a strong season opener. This did it and with gusto.
Next week, we countdown the top five greatest Dragnet stories ever.
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