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Jack Webb on the Tonight Show

November 11, 2009

Jack Webb was the creator, producer and star of the radio and television series Dragnet. Webb is acknowledged as the man who first brought realism to television portrayals of police procedural drama. Webb also wrote The Badge (1958), a spin-off to Dragnet which featured ‘True and Terrifying Crime Stories That Could Not Be Presented on TV’. James Ellroy was given a copy of The Badge for his eleventh birthday and has named the book as being a major influence on his literary career.

Webb was a complex character who had a reputation for being utterly businesslike in his behaviour on set. Married four times, a chain-smoker and heavy drinker, Webb worked eighteen- hour days. An episode of Dragnet was usually shot and completed in a single day, and most scenes were completed in a single take. Given his reputation for strict, somewhat humourless professionalism, Webb’s appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1968 is now a part of comedy legend. In the ‘Copper Clappers’ sketch, Webb plays Sergeant Joe Friday of the LAPD to whom Carson is reporting a robbery. Many comedians had performed skits of Dragnet, but this was the first time Webb had taken part in one himself. The sketch lampoons the deadpan expressions and monotone verbal rhythms which had become idiosyncratically a part of Dragnet.

Webb’s biographer, Michael Hayde has made a transcript of another Dragnet parody in which Webb appeared on Jack Benny’s Second Farewell Special in 1974. You can read it at Badge714.com.

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