Blast From The Past: Joe Friday Defends Police Brutality to the Hippies and Blacks
As I said in the blog description, I have a soft spot for culture from the 60s to early 80s, be it a “good ol’ boy” country music song from the 60s about hippies and the war, to this gem from the 1969 edition (the season premier) of the iconic TV series Dragnet. It focuses on Detectives Friday and Gannon being asked to defend police brutality and profiling on a controversial, confrontational TV show, and it is a classic (the Hulu link should play, but you might have to sit through a commercial):
For you youngsters out there, Dragnet became one of the early mega-hits on TV in the 50s, lasting for eight seasons and making star Jack Webb a TV mover and shaker. He became, post WWII, the quintessential defender of the “Greatest Generation” and its values, warning of the risk of Commies taking over our towns in many works, and defending the actions of authoritarian figures such as the military and cops, and the “American Way”. He brought back Dragnet for what I feel is its most interesting era, in early color from 1967 to 1970, probably because it was TV gold monetarily, but also I suspect because he was worried about the emerging “hippie culture” and youth movement that was really impacting his home town of Los Angeles. He starts each show with some iconic words about “carrying a badge” and the virtues of LA – with its recurring elements, such as the “bad guys” being sentenced at the end in some type of police line up, becoming iconic and being parodied on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and elsewhere (Dan Ackroyd also did a spot-on impression of Joe Friday in the 1980s movie Dragnet). His first show of 1967, “The LSD Story”, has some of the most classic engagement scenes between square oldsters of the establishment, and “flower children” and junkies, as caricatured by his older generation as he wrote their parts. It is must-see TV for fans of unintended satire. Jack Webb, and his character of Joe Friday, is THE archetype of that generation and those who ran the Establishment, with views and characteristics for better or for worse.
In the episode I linked above, Friday and his partner Gannon get roped into defending the cops on a confrontational show that must have emulated the 1960s Los Angeles “Joe Pyne Show” (with episodes itself you should watch on Youtube), which became a confrontational forerunner of the “Morton Downey, Jr. Show” and Jerry Springer. They get ambushed in debate by a hippie (played by the great Howard Hesseman, later to achieve fame as “Johnny Fever” in WKRP In Cincinnati), a leftist human rights professor, and blacks, Hispanics and others from the poor neighborhoods who hurl questions to them about police brutality and profiling. Joe Friday makes an eloquent and heart-rending appeal on behalf of the beat cop, but never really addresses tangibly how to solve the problems they cite. Although it is obvious these antagonists are stereotyped by Jack Webb through the lens he saw them through when he wrote their parts, the debate shows that the issues have NOT changed in the last half century, and even this contrived debate is more eloquent than what we see in the public sector today (at least they had a dialogue, and acknowledged the problems then; how would today’s Religious Right and conservatives be accurately portrayed in such as show?).
Hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and I look forward to your comments!
P.S. As a bonus, a Youtube link to “The LSD Story” is here: