Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb

When I was just a wee little lad, my favorite TV show was Emergency! The tale of paramedics and the amazing job they had rescuing people.  I recently finished reading “Just the facts, Ma’am: The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb”, and my favorite chapter was the one on the creation of Emergency!  But I want to talk more about Jack Webb and his life and legacy here, not about Emergency! So I’ll get to it.

First, a disclaimer: the primary author of “Just the Facts” is my friend Dan Moyer, so I am a bit biased I guess, but I’m going to be as honest as possible.  “Just the Facts” is a fascinating look into the life of someone who was one of the early pioneers of television drama.  Jack Webb started in radio and then transferred his talent, and his shows, into Television, while also acting and producing a few movies along the way.  The sheer bulk of his work is amazing, and most of it is very darn good, too!  I found it quite interesting how many shows Jack created that never made it past the pilot, or had very short runs on TV.  The key to his success was working very hard at what you believe in and eventually getting a break or two.

Jack’s life shows why he was such a hard worker.  Her grew up poor and never knew his father, and I think that’s the main reason he did so much once he found a way to make a living.  He didn’t ever want himself or his family to be poor like he was. His work habit resulted in many successes, but they also cost him in his personal life.  Jack had many marriages and was not a steady presence in the lives of his children.  I also think his lifestyle aided his demise.  He worked hard and also made sure he never lacked in food, drink, and tobacco.  Though no one area probably seemed extreme to him, the combination meant he was not to live to an old age.  But he has a huge legacy that lives on to this day, mostly through the success he built out of his trademark series, Dragnet!

Dragnet began as a radio series and then had two successful runs on television with Jack at the helm.  The idea behind the series was to depict police officers realistically, instead of following the extremes of the day which had them as violent vigilantes or comedic buffoons.  Dragnet began the genre of the “ripped from the headlines” realistic cop show that has been succeeded by shows such as Law & Order and CSI. Parodies, many poking fun at Jack’s character Joe Friday, due to his strange last name, copy cats, reboots, and a movie have followed, but none have been successful as the series that Jack made.  Jack was even working on a third Dragnet TV series when he unexpectedly died.

Dan and his collaborators do a much better job telling it that I have, though Dan has told me he wishes more anecdotes had made it past editing. You can get more info from Dan himself if you pick up Dragnet on DVD, and Dan produced and directed the DVD extras on season 2!  In conclusion, let me recommend anyone interested in the early days of television, cop shows, or pop culture to buy this book and give it a read!  It’s full of great information!

Also you can check out lots of Jack Webb pictures and other vintage stuff at the Facebook group, Jack Webb Archives!

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