Television

Learning To Love The Reboot: Dragnet

While this may be a new Golden Era of television, with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon creating groundbreaking, thrilling television such as The Handmaid’s tale, Sense8, and The Man in the High Castle, it could also be called the Era of the Reboot.

Some writers and studios are taking risks on great adaptations or original content, but more and more often, a glance at our TV options feels like looking at a collection of random TV Guide covers from the past 30 years. With Charmed, Dynasty, Twin Peaks, and Will and Grace barely scratching the surface of older shows being renewed for modern audiences (be it for good or ill), we at TGON decided that rather than fight the wave of “reimaginings”, we should lean into it by looking at some classic television shows and determining whether or not they could be rebooted for a modern audience, as well as whether they should.

Each week, we’ll look at a classic show, and decide if the premise can be adapted for today’s viewers (and still be recognizable as the same show), and whether it should be revamped, or left intact.

You know what they say: “If at first you don’t succeed… wait a few years and try again…” Dragnet is a show with a lot of history and a major legacy to live up to, and while it’s been remade before, both as a show and as movies, we think the most recent revamp didn’t do it justice.

Originally a radio program, Dragnet came to the small screen in the 1950s, produce by and starring Jack Webb as Joe Friday, a no-nonsense LAPD sergeant who was only interest in “the facts” and bringing criminals to justice. The show was so influential that if you watch a procedural today, chances are it’s been heavily inspired by its by-the-book sergeant and his partner. Now, it’s been revived about a million times, with the original series airing in 1951 and the last reboot attempt made in 2003, but more recent iterations haven’t seemed to hit the same notes with audiences as their predecessors.

Let’s take a look at a couple of the more recent revamps before digging into whether Hollywood could or should try this series again:

Dragnet (1967)

Image Courtesy of NBC

The original TV show ended in 1959, but in 1967 Jack Webb and NBC decided to go ahead and revive the series, with Webb returning as Joe Friday, but rather than Frank Smith, Friday had a new partner in Bill Gannon (played by longtime friend Harry Morgan). This is the version most 90s kids probably remember watching on Nick at Night, and with much of the same cast a crew, the revival felt like a natural continuation of the previous run. It centered around good cops looking to bring bad guys to justice using facts and following procedure.

Dragnet (1987)

Image Courtesy Universal Pictures

While the show was a very straight-laced and more dramatic procedural, the 1987 movie starring Dan Aykroyd as Joe Friday (the original’s nephew) and Tom Hanks as his partner, Pep Streebeck, the film has a much different feel. Friday is as terse and to the point as his uncle was, but the world around him is much less straightforward. The movie is hilarious and pays homage to the series without taking itself too seriously (or seriously at all). I gotta say: I watched this movie constantly as a kid and it’s the reason I watched the original series as much as I did.

L.A. Dragnet (2003)

Image Courtesy ABC

I won’t lie, I pretty much forgot this remake existed until I started looking into classic shows for this series. It was that bad. Produced by the Law and Order and Chicago franchise mastermind Dick Wolf, the fact that L.A. Dragnet didn’t take off is frankly surprising. It may be the fact that Ed O’Neill was cast as Joe Friday which, after seeing him as Al Bundy, honestly I’ve never been able to see him as anything else. Or it may be that the series strayed too far from its roots in the second season, having Friday be more a background character than the main focus, and writing Frank Smith out entirely. For whatever reason the show that inspired the whole procedural drama era we’re still in couldn’t find an audience and was cancelled after two seasons.

Could it be revamped?

I think the answer to that is clearly yes. It’s already been revamped about 10,000 times to varying degrees of success, but one thing in American television that seems to be a constant is a desire to see the good guys bring bad guys to justice. I think the strength in the show lies with Friday and Frank Smith. The mistake the most recent revamp made was straying from that and becoming more like literally every other procedural drama on television. While the revamp had a more diverse cast, people who were tuning into Dragnet were doing so to see Joe Friday and Frank Smith solve crimes using “Just the facts, ma’am.” and not an ensemble cast that can be found anywhere else.

Should it be revamped?

Yes, but in a new/same way. I do believe the story can use a modern update and more diversity, but not in the way it was done in 2003. I think blending the 1987 movie feel would make it a fun series that modern audiences would get excited to watch (Just look at the dramedies of Bones and Castle), and by turning “Joe Friday” into “Jo Friday” the show could very easily gender switch while retaining the integrity of the original series. Other series have played with female-led procedurals successfully (Rizzoli & Isles, Cold Case) and there is really nothing about Joe Friday that is hinged on him being a man. In fact, considering that the whole point of the original series was to show LAPD officers in a more favorable, approachable light, going the opposite direction of a white guy by having Jo be a badass woman of color might help do the same thing fifty years later. Serously. Give me Gina Torres as Jo Friday any fucking day I.AM.THERE.

So what do you think? Is 15th time the charm for this iconic series? Do you think making “Joe Friday” “Jo Friday” would breathe new life into this show? Would you be down to watch a woman who is fulfilled in her life with no spouse and no children? 

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