Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Putting the Stamp on Classic TV

By Mitchell Hadley

Terry Teachout has another nice piece on classic television, triggered (pun intended) by the new Dragnet postage stamp. Teachout discusses the significance of Dragnet in the history of television, and it prompts yet another pang of realization that there are entire generations out there who have no idea what we're talking about when we say, "Just the facts, ma'am"; or, if they do, they think of it as a campy punchline to the 60s revival.

Fact is, as Teachout points out, Dragnet was one of the grittiest of cop shows, presenting viewers with a new, entirely different view of police work - and, as Joe Friday called it, "the city." In watching the 50s Dragnet, it helps to remember that this is from pre-Miranda days, when interrogation methods were a bit more - shall we say - liberal.

As was the case with so many early series, Dragnet began life as a radio series before making the transition to television. One item that Teachout doesn't mention is that Dragnet was also the first television show to get the big screen treatment, in 1954, directed by star Jack Webb and featuring the original cast. The question Warner Bros. faced: would people really pay to see something they could see for free in their living rooms? Their answer: give them something they can't get at home. And so the 1954 Dragnet was shot in color, a fact of which the opening scene (two gunmen walking across a field) took full advantage. Suddenly the city looked different once again.

On a related note, for fans of hard-hitting 50s and 60s cop shows, don't forget Lee Marvin's only television series, the gritty, tough-as-nails M Squad, which was the unintentional inspiration for the hilarious, genre-ridiculing Police Squad. Here's a hint of it for those of you who haven't seen it.

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