DRAGNET 1968 Season 2 DVD SET
Studio: Shout! Factory
Film Length: 13 ½ hours
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Release Date: July 6, 2010
Dragnet remains one of the first and still one of the best police procedural dramas to air on television. Every TV series in this genre, whether it be CSI or Law and Order, borrows in some manner from this seminal series. Each episode of Dragnet follows Officer Joe Friday and his partners as they investigate a crime and bring the perpetrators to justice. Most episodes end with a summary describing the convictions and sentences of the wrongdoers. Dragnet also has one of the most unique and recognizable theme songs of any TV show. Entitled "Danger Ahead", the theme song was composed by Walter Schumann and is so pervasive in our culture that it is recognizable today to many people who have never seen an episode of Dragnet.
Dragnet actually began as a dramatic radio series created by Jack Webb in 1949, in which he originated his role as Sgt. Joe Friday. Dragnet premiered on the airwaves on June 3, 1949, and was extremely popular during its run, until its final sign-off on February 26, 1957. The radio series was sufficiently popular that it inspired a television series that aired during most of the same years as the radio series. The first Dragnet TV series premiered on December 16, 1951, and produced 276 episodes before leaving the air on August 23, 1959. A technicolor theatrical feature of Dragnet was also produced and directed by Webb in 1954.
The second Dragnet movie was produced for television in 1966. Dragnet 1966 starred Jack Webb again as Sgt. Joe Friday (although Friday had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant by the end of the 50s TV series). Although Friday had several regular partners over the years, his longtime police partner was officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander). Webb originally wanted Alexander to reprise his role on Dragnet 1966, but Alexander was already starring in another TV series (Felony Squad), so Harry Morgan was cast to play Friday’s new partner Bill Gannon. NBC executives were enthusiastic after seeing Dragnet 1966 but wanted a 30 minute series, and Dragnet 1966 remained on the shelf until it finally aired in 1969.
Each season of this Dragnet series carries its year of production in its title. Dragnet 1967 premiered on January 12, 1967, and aired for 4 seasons. Universal released the first season (Dragnet 1967) on DVD in 2005, so fans have had a long wait for this second season release. Fortunately, Dragnet 1968 on DVD has been worth the wait. Shout! Factory has continued the release of this classic series with the second season consisting of all 28 episodes contained on 6 single-sided discs. The Universal release of seasons 1 was on dual sided discs which have difficulty playing back in certain name brand players. All of the discs in this set are on single-sided illustrated discs. In addition to all of the second season episodes, this release also includes the Dragnet 1966 movie for the first time on DVD.
The screen aspect ratio is in the original 1.33:1 format. There is occasional minor dirt or debris perceptible on the transfers but it is very minimal and probably only perceptible on a 32 inch screen or larger. All of the episodes show good contrast and detail. Colors are more muted than I remember seeing in reruns of this series in syndication. Television series produced in color in the late 1960s tended towards overly bright and garish colors to demonstrate the new color technology. Perhaps my memory is at fault but I remember this series having very vibrant colors. It is possible that the broadcasters of the reruns were boosting the color. Video presentations today tend towards more muted and natural colors, with certain exceptions, and the presentation of color in these episodes seems consistent with contemporary expectations.
Shout! Factory made great efforts to ensure that the episodes included here are all complete and uncut. No shortened, syndicated versions are included on this set. All of the episodes have a running time of approximately 25 minutes which is consistent with the full running times of half hour episodes from the late 1960s. One episode, "The Christmas Story", has a running time approximately 30 seconds shorter than the other episodes in this set. This episode is actually a remake of "The Big Little Jesus" episode that aired on the original radio series and on the 50s TV series. In addition to Jack Webb, actors Herb Vigran and Harry Bartell played the same roles in all 3 versions of this episode. (A pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams has a small role in this version.) In watching this episode, there do not appear to be any edits that would make it run shorter. Without going unnecessarily into spoiler territory, this episode has a resolution unique to most episodes of Dragnet in that there are no arrests and convictions that call for a summary at the end of the episode. The usual summary typically takes up approximately 30 seconds, which may explain the shorter running time of this episode. I observed that the closing credits on this episode appear to be from its network rerun at Christmas 1969 ("Dragnet 1969") but I cannot tell if anything is amiss with this episode. Shout! Factory has a history of disclosing to consumers when a syndicated version of an episode is the only version that can be located. (See for example their recent release of Simon & Simon season 4 in which they make this disclosure on the DVD menu.) Since there is no such disclosure on this set, I have to assume that all of the episodes are complete and uncut.
The inclusion of complete and uncut episodes even extends to the original closing credits with the memorable "Mark VII" being engraved on stone with a hammer. I always appreciate when the original credits are as complete as possible and remain un-replaced with modern logos. I hope other companies are taking note of Shout! Factory’s preservation of this TV heritage on its DVD releases. Interestingly, the hands on the hammer engraving the name of the production company are actually those of Jack Webb. TV historians do not exaggerate when they say that Webb had a hands-on approach to every aspect of production. I also enjoyed the inclusion of the original 1960s era Universal logo at the beginning of Dragnet 1966.
The mono audio track has none of the hiss and popping that are typical of other TV shows from the late 1960s. Dialogue and music cues are always properly audible with no perceptible variations in volume. There is no apparent music replacement tarnishing this release. (Can you imagine if the music rights could not be cleared and the classic theme song had to be replaced? Dragnet would not be Dragnet without its unique theme song.)
The special features on this set are included on Disc 1 and 6. The Dragnet 1966 movie is included on Disc 1 with the remaining special features on Disc 6.
Dragnet 1966 (1:35:38): This is the original pilot movie produced in 1966 which convinced NBC to revive Dragnet for a new decade. This movie has rarely been seen and has never before been available on DVD.
Disc 1 also includes promotional trailers (1:53) prior to the main menu for Adam-12 and Marcus Welby, M.D. on DVD.
The following special features are included on Disc 6:
Jack Webb - The Man Behind Badge 714 (26:07): Jack Webb showed unusual loyalty for a Hollywood producer in that he repeatedly employed talent in front of and behind the camera who demonstrated their abilities and work ethic. When Dragnet made the transition from radio to television in the early 1950s, Webb insisted against conventional wisdom that the actors and writers used in the radio series were capable of participating in the TV series as well. In this roundtable discussion, several of Webb’s favorite recurring talents reminisce about their experiences working with Webb on Dragnet. The participants include Peggy Weber, Tom Williams, Jackie Loughery, and Herb Ellis. This feature is very entertaining and would be worth the price of admission just for the impression of Harry Morgan provided by Herb Ellis.
Dragnet 1969 Promos (1:02): This is an original unrestored NBC TV promo for Dragnet 1969.
Also included with this DVD set is a photograph illustrated booklet containing articles about Dragnet and Jack Webb excerpted from Just The Facts, Ma’am, The Authorized Jack Webb Biography written by Daniel Moyer and Eugene Alvarez. The booklet also includes episode summaries with original airdates from each episode included with this set.
Dragnet 1968 is deservedly remembered as a classic series and it is nice to finally see the continuation of its release on DVD. I was especially thrilled to see the Dragnet 1966 movie pilot included on this release since it has never before been released on DVD and it has never been included with the syndication package for this series. The video and audio quality are everything you could hope for from a 40 year old TV series. I remember the color scheme being more vibrant than it appears in this release, but my memory may be at fault and the fact is that the muted and natural colors of this presentation lend themselves better to the verisimilitude of the drama. At the time of this review, star Harry Morgan is still with us. The only thing that could have made this release better is if Mr. Morgan had participated in the special features with an interview or episode commentary. If you are a fan of Dragnet, or of police procedurals, or of entertaining television, then Dragnet 1968 comes recommended.