Dragnet Classics, Vol. 2 [DVD]

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The surprise hit of the 1951-1952 TV season, the semi-documentary cop series Dragnet was renewed by NBC for a second season, this time on a weekly rather than bi-weekly basis. Returning to the fold was, of course, the series' producer/director/star, Jack Webb, as Sgt. Joe Friday of the LAPD. After the death of actor Barton Yarborough three weeks into season one, two other actors were tested out for the part of Friday's partner. At the outset of season two, Herb Ellis had been cast as Officer Frank Smith, but the chemistry between the two partners wasn't quite there. Things improved greatly when, beginning with the December 4, 1952, episode "The Big Imposter," Ben Alexander took over as Officer Frank Smith, a role he would essay throughout the remainder of Dragnet's original NBC run. Standout episodes this season include "The Big Seventeen," the precursor to all those "drug trip" episodes indigenous to the Dragnet revival of the 1960s; "The Big Shakedown," in which Friday and Smith track down an extortionist posing as a cop; "The Big Frank," an emotion-charged installment wherein Friday anguishes over a seriously wounded Smith; "The Big Grandma," which introduced Dorothy Abbott in the recurring role of model Ann Baker, who was briefly tested out as a love interest for bachelor Joe Friday; and the controversial ".22 Rifle for Christmas," a cautionary tragedy about the folly of giving youngsters firearms as Christmas presents. By the end of its second season on the air, Dragnet was the fourth highest-rated series on network television -- not to mention the most-watched series on its parent network, NBC. ~ Hal Erickson

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