Jack Webb: Joe Friday didn't ''require great dramatic ability''
Acting the part was the easiest job on set.
There are few who have ever held as many jobs in Hollywood as Jack Webb. The writer/producer/actor/director was at the helm of several hit television series throughout the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Sometimes, the shows even ran concurrently! To say that Webb was stretched thin would be an understatement. Shows like Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency! demanded a full schedule for everyone involved, including the man in charge of it all.
Webb was in a class of his own. No other name in Hollywood at the time had such a Swiss Army Knife of a résumé. Sure, there were other multi-hyphenates in show business, but there wasn't really anybody else with the same kind of one-stop-shop approach to production. He was a one-man team, and even he recognized himself as in a league of his own. Webb gave his thoughts in a 1967 interview in the Greensboro, North Carolina News and Record.
"No, I guess there's only one other whoever did it well—and that was Orson Welles."
While the comparison is apt regarding just how many roles each man had in a given project, Webb quickly clarifies that he couldn't hold a candle to Welles in one particular field. "But you've got to remember," said Webb, "that this part I'm doing doesn't require any great dramatic ability."
Whether Joe Friday was flat out of necessity or because of ability, it seems at least that his real-life counterpart was aware of the shortcoming. So, too, was Webb aware that his true talent was choosing his co-stars. By surrounding himself with more talented actors, Webb was able to focus his efforts on other responsibilities in producing the show.
"When I sit in the projection room, I don't see myself up there," he said. "I see Friday, and I think of him as Friday. I don't really care for all of this 'I' and 'me' business. If I had wanted a starring vehicle, I would have called the show Sgt. Joe Friday."
No amount of false modesty or comparison to more accomplished Hollywood icons, though, could spare Dragnet from unfavorable publicity in the '60s. "Say, you know," said Webb, "We've got a free paper out here called the Free Press that really kicks us around. I knew we had achieved success when The Daily Worker said we were the worst program on television." He hoped to course correct by concentrating on story elements. "We've gotten away from the cut-and-dry, A-to-Z police story. We hope to have many more in-depth stories about the police."