|They never believe me at first when I say that Jack Webb was one of the most distinctive artists ever to work in television. Its hard to get past the innumerable parodies of the original Dragnet and Webbs reputation as the squarest person of the 60s. So I have to turn on Nick at Nite (this usually doesnt come up until I have them trapped anyway) and show them.
We all know the staccato Dragnet speaking rhythm (I guess you forgot one thing. Whats that, officer man? Its against The Law.) but its a surprise to see that its matched in the editing rhythm in an era of park-the-camera two-shots, Webb pingpongs on every line.
And when you look at Webbs images you realize that the world really was black and white to himshot after shot is pepper-haired man in gray suit against taupe wall. When a suspicious swingers red flocked wallpaper suddenly appears, it hits you the way the 60s must have hit Webb.
Webb gave his actors one line at a time, so theyd be so preoccupied with remembering it that they wouldnt attempt to act thus producing the flatly realistic Dragnet dialogue style. His fascination with the seedy side of LA, the bars and cheap apartments where losers wash up and come in contact with the law, is unique in TV and matched only by Charles Bukowski in literature though Webbs unsympathetic take on it isnt Beat, its beat cop.
In short, Dragnets sublime squareness was the result of a conscious aesthetic. That doesnt make it good, you say. Maybe not, but theres a reason Dragnet gets remade and parodied and Hawaii 5-0, say, doesnt. To a formulaic genre, Webb brought a personal style that expressed his worldview perfectly. We should all aim to bring as much to our beats.