The “Dragnet” section is the highlight. Producer-star Jack Webb built a distinct aesthetic during the show’s early run on radio--uninflected lines delivered in rat-a-tat tempo. When the program migrated to TV, Webb kept the “Dragnet” sound and developed a visual style that complemented it. He figured out that while puny early TV sets were bad at capturing scenery and action, you could push in for close-ups and trade intimacy for scope--a lesson that had an enormous impact on other shows. Webb also insisted that his actors read dialogue off TelePrompTers to cut down on production time and stop them from acting too much. (Veronica Cartwright--who guest-starred on a late incarnation of the series, “Dragnet: 1967”--says she holds the dubious honor of being the first “Dragnet” actor to be allowed to memorize lines.) The “Dragnet” section is a great illustration of the phrase “form follows function.” If “Pioneers” had done a whole hour just on Webb and his baby, I wouldn’t have minded.You can read all of Seitz’s piece here.
Pioneers of Television begins on PBS stations at 8 p.m. ET/PT. In Reference to Murder notes that it will be followed tonight by an episode of Frontline titled “Post Mortem,” “which looks into the dysfunctional system of forensic death investigation in the U.S. where ‘there are few standards, little oversight and the mistakes are literally buried.’” Sounds like great entertainment for crime-fiction fans.
READ MORE: “Don’t Do the Crime If You Can’t Do the Time,” by Ivan G. Shreve Jr. (Thrilling Days of Yesteryear).