Dragnet was the first TV ''reboot'' before they really knew what to call that
There's a good reason the studio wanted Sgt. Friday back. Money. It's always money.
Michael Burns was a child star most American television viewers would have recognized. He played a 13-year-old babysitting mogul on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, his first role. Later, he was an orphan living on a houseboat with other teens in the sitcom It's a Man's World, but his biggest gig came on Wagon Train. On the Western, he portrayed Barnaby West, a 13-year-old who sets off across the country in search of his father. He ended up joining the wagon train for three seasons.
Two years later, Burns was nearly unrecognizable as an altogether different "Boy." Blue and yellow paint covered his face and he experienced an acid trip gone bad in "The LSD Story," the premiere episode of Dragnet 1967. His "Blue Boy" character was the first of many warning tales that decried the moral decay of the Boomer generation, at least in the eyes of series creator Jack Webb. In the image above, you can see Burns going over the script on set with Webb and costar Harry Morgan.
"The LSD Story" was notable historically for more than its public discussion of psychedelic drugs. (Remember, LSD was not officially outlawed by the United States government until October 1968, a year and a half after "The LSD Story" aired.) The series premiere also happened to be the first major reboot in television history.
When the UPI reported on the unexpected success of the Dragnet comeback in early 1967 (the show was a midseason replacement), the writer used quotation marks to explain this bold new concept — the "remake."
"The original was the first of its genre and the 'remake' is faithful to the concept conceived by Webb when television was still in its swaddling closes," journalist Vernon Scott wrote. "This is the first series to gain a reprise on the tube."
"The success of 'Dragnet' may be the most significant development in television this season," he declared. If only he knew how reboots would become the bread and butter of the industry.
"Webb explained how he happened to get back into the 'Dragnet' business," The Indianapolis Star wrote when Dragnet premiered in January 1967. "It seems Universal Studios has little men who constantly scan the old profit and loss sheets. And their narrow eyes happened to notice that back in the late 1950s Webb had made a feature-length film version of Dragnet which cost $500,000 and grossed $7 million." It always comes down to money.
Like most reboots, things were modernized, different. The show was in color, for starters. Sgt. Friday's old partner was gone, too. Ben Alexander, who had played the old sidekick, was tied up in a new crime show of his own, The Felony Squad. Instead, Webb hired Harry Morgan to play his new partner.
Oh, and just a quick note about Michael Burns. The "Blue Boy" actor disappeared from Hollywood in the 1970s. He later became professor emeritus of history at Mount Holyoke College, focusing his historical attention on France, in particular, publishing several books. Now that is making history.