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One sure sign that NBC's Dragnet was the most popular filmed dramatic series on TV during its third season was the number of satires and parodies of the program popping up on all manner of comedy and variety shows -- not to mention the release of the classic Stan Freberg 45 rpm record spoof, "St. George and the Dragonet." Nobody was laughing at the show's success, however; least of all Jack Webb, who as Dragnet's producer, director, and star was among Hollywood's highest-paid personalities. Even more money came Webb's way during the 1953-1954 season when reruns of Dragnet entered off-network syndication under the title Badge 714. Season three finds the LAPD's Sgt. Joe Friday (Webb, of course) and Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) tackling a wide variety of exciting and intriguing cases, all of them purportedly culled from authentic police files. This season's standout episodes include "The Big Betty," in which the detectives go after a bunco ring preying upon the grieving widows of deceased soldiers; "The Big Fake," featuring Todd Karns as a rookie cop accused of beating and robbing a drunken man; "The Big Trunk," wherein a wiretap is used to break down the alibi of two men accused of brutally murdering a former vaudeville actress; "The Big Boys," featuring a young Leonard Nimoy as one of four dangerous out-of-town thieves; and the self-explanatory "Big Hit and Run Killer." Inarguably the most famous of all the season's episodes (and the only one filmed in color) is "The Big Little Jesus," the classic Yuletide tale of a stolen religious icon and a well-meaning little boy. Dragnet closed out its third season as the second highest-rated TV series in America, beaten out only by the indefatigable I Love Lucy. ~ Hal Erickson
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