July 26, 1957 | Dragnet and Police Procedurals

 Jack Webb. 2008.10.215b. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.

“There are over 5000 men in this city who know that being a policeman is an endless, glamourless, thankless job that’s got to be done. I know it, too, and I’m damn glad to be one of them.”

—Sgt. Joe Friday, Dragnet

They were called police procedurals. They had no car chases, no shoot-outs, and definitely no love stories. They emphasized the real—sometimes mundane—work of average law enforcement officers. The officers were not heroes, they were professionals.

The most famous police procedural was Dragnet. It made its debut on radio in 1949 and moved to TV in 1951. The show’s creator, Jack Webb, played the unflappable Sergeant Joe Friday whose methodical approach to crime solving was profoundly reassuring. Webb’s goal was to make the show “as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.”

In July of 1957, the eight-year run of the Dragnet radio show ended and less than two years later the TV show came to a close. But there was still a strong public desire for shows that focused on the technical aspects of police work and left out the personal. The Dragnet franchise was reprised in the 1960s, the 1980s, and again in the early 2000s. There are many popular franchises (Law & Order to name one) that successfully draw on the police procedural format.