Sherlock Holmes and Dragnet


The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes aired from October 2, 1939 to July 7, 1947. Most episodes were written by the team of Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher. Originally, the show starred Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. John H. Watson and were on the air weekly on Mondays from 8:30 to 9:00pm.

After 220 episodes. Basil Rathbone was eager to separate himself from the show to avoid being typecast as Sherlock Holmes and even though the show’s sponsor Petri Wine offered him generous pay to continue, he decided to move on. Once he did, the sponsor did as well. Tom Conway took the starring role though Nigel Bruce got top billing. The new sponsor was Kreml Hair Tonic for Men, and the new series lasted 39 episodes. Tom Conway was replaced mid-season by John Stanley. The show was later sponsored by Clipper Craft menswear.

This episode, Murder By Moonlight, originally aired on October 29, 1945.

Dragnet: The Big Little Mother, Originally aired October 6, 1953
Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. This case requires Sgt Joe Friday and his partner Smith to catch a woman who has been using forged checks to buy children’s clothes for the past six years.

Dragnet was created and produced by Jack Webb, who starred as the terse Sergeant Joe Friday. Webb had starred in a few mostly short-lived radio programs, but Dragnet would make him one of the major media personalities of his era.

Dragnet had its origins in Webb’s small role as a police forensic scientist in the 1948 film He Walked by Night, itself inspired by the violent 1946 crime spree of Erwin Walker, a disturbed World War II veteran and former Glendale police department employee. The film was depicted in semidocumentary style, and Marty Wynn (an actual LAPD sergeant from the Robbery Division) was a technical advisor on the film. Inspired by Wynn’s accounts of actual cases and criminal investigative procedure, Webb convinced Wynn that day-to-day activities of police officers could be realistically depicted in a broadcast series, without the forced sense of melodrama in the numerous private-detective serials then common in radio programming.

Webb frequently visited police headquarters, drove on night patrols with Sgt. Wynn and his partner Officer Vance Brasher, and attended Police Academy courses to learn authentic jargon and other details that could be featured in a radio program. When he proposed Dragnet to NBC officials, they were not especially impressed; radio was aswarm with private investigators and crime dramas, such as Webb’s earlier Pat Novak for Hire. That program didn’t last long, but Webb had received high marks for his role as the titular private investigator, and NBC agreed to a limited run for Dragnet.

The first several months of broadcasts were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program’s format and eventually became comfortable with their characters. Friday’s first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. Raymond Burr was on board to play Chief of Detectives Ed Backstrand. When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio’s top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but didn’t seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives were mentioned but rarely took center stage. “Underplaying is still acting”, Webb told Time. “We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton, and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

Play