Adam-12, the television series, ended production 44 years ago after a seven-year run. It was Jack Webb’s next television series after Dragnet. Sort of spun-off from Dragnet, the show accomplished what Webb started with Dragnet, present a realistic show about rank and film police officers.
All these decades later, I still enjoy Adam-12. I’m a fan. For a half-hour show, Webb and his production team packed a lot of story into each episode. The cases and incidents in each episode were based on real stories. This is not Lethal Weapon, no large scale drug or smuggling cases, or big car chases. Each show was about purse-snatching, bank-robbery, damage to property, missing persons, school truancy – small time issues, but important to somebody.
Officers Reed and Malloy were out to solve every case, didn’t matter the size or scale, they approached each shift with professionalism and compassion for the victims. These two officers knew they weren’t going to make a great living, but that wasn’t their career motivation. Police work was honorable and they believed they could make a difference. In nearly episode they did.
Dragnet, for it’s humbleness, was preachy and stiff with Webb as producer and director. The approach was no nonsense and the scripts were razor-sharp, no excess. If you watch carefully, Friday and Gannon wore the same clothes in every episode. This allowed Friday great latitude in production, which ultimately meant saving time and money. The show was Webb’s vision and made him a wealthy man. Plus, it provided him with a great production deal with Universal for other series. Dragnet was Webb’s mothership, first on radio, then on television, it spawned his production empire. I grew up watching the show, and I still do, and I own the DVDs as well. Dragnet is so iconic, as is the Joe Friday style of talking. Just the facts, ma’am.
Adam-12, born from Dragnet, was a different show. Webb was still the boss, but he was smart enough to loosen the creative reins, hire upcoming writers and put the direction in the hands of veteran directors. The results were impressive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Dragnet fan; technically, it wasn’t a great show, but it was highly influential.
The characters on Dragnet, with the exception of Harry Morgan’s Bill Gannon, were generally bland and humorous. Morgan was allowed to play off of the stiff Friday, but you barely gained much insight into either of them, nor anyone else on the show. Thankfully, the forces behind Adam-12 breathed humanity and life into the characters and the stories. Audiences responded. A seven-year run is very respectable, and like Dragnet, great in syndication and later, cable and home video sales.
Adam-12 was the bridge between the straight-lace 1960s television police shows, and more relaxed shows like CHiPs and the Joseph Wambaugh view of police in Police Story, and later shows, like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blues.
Webb had a great relationship with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department, getting cooperation and access to files for stories. Adam-12, same as Dragnet, focused on procedure and the honor and dedication of police officers. Only a couple of times did Webb direct episodes of Adam-12, one an episode for a spin-off show that didn’t sell.
Officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed were television fixtures, in their black and white cruiser, driving the streets of L.A. during a a typical shift. Malloy drove while Reed worked the radio. During the show’s early episodes, Reed was a probationary officer, fresh out of the academy. Malloy was the veteran training officer and when we first met him, he was disheartened by the loss of a fellow officer, and considering a change in careers. He and Reed were different and that was part of the charm of the show. Malloy, a bachelor, had a roughness that he never lost during the course of the show, although he mellowed a bit through the years. Malloy, was the Joe Friday character, world-weary, by the book, but more personable Friday. Reed was younger and married and soon a young father; he had a softer heart and represented the changing type of police officer. Having said that, these were not cardboard characters, thankfully the writers, like Stephen J. Cannell, gave the characters shading and personality. Malloy was harder to get to know, more reserved and kept the job between them. Malloy and Reed gradually became friends, although that took awhile.
In Dragnet, the supporting characters were shadowy and you never knew anything about them. Friday and Gannon moved around so they have constantly changing bosses. A few would reappear but they were stock characters. No so in Adam-12. Reed and Malloy worked for Sgt “Mac” MacDonald, and you saw him a lot. Mac was also by the book, but he had rounder edges than Malloy, who he was close to. The relationship between them was respectful, but relaxed, and that made for very realistic interaction. Occasionally, other officers showed like Ed Wells (Gary Crosby and Jerry Miller (Jack Hogan). Wells was more a comic foil.
On a typical shift, either Reed or Malloy had a personal issue that served as banter through the show. Each show had a main crime story line, and around that story, Reed and Malloy answered calls for service and encountered some unusual characters. Webb had a great sense of what great character actors could bring to a few minutes of screen time. Many of Hollywood’s older actors showed up. Marie Windsor, Burt Mustin, J. Pat O’Mally, Lauren Tuttle, Ellen Corby, Jimmy Lydon, Buddy Lester, Bing Russell, Ned Glass, Scott Brady, Arthur Hunnicutt, Bill Quinn, Frank Campanella, Stubby Kaye, Jackie Coogan, George O’Hanlon, Vito Scotti, Billie Bird and Pat Buttram. Recognizable guest-stars also didn’t mind a small role, literally a walk-on.
Frequently, you saw Malloy and Reed participating in stakeouts, working cases and doing what later was called “community policing.” Adam-12 logged a lot of street miles but Malloy and Reed were out of the car as often as they were behind the wheel. The community policing concept became popular more than a decade later. Getting uniformed officers out of the car and working with the public would change policing all over the country. I know that for a fact. One of my prior jobs involved working with a police department to initiate this style of policing. Unfortunately, Los Angeles would need a lot more than this strategy in coming decades as gangs, riots and police corruption would create a city often viewed as under siege.
Martin Milner was Malloy and Kent McCord was Reed. They both went on to other acting jobs after the series, but Adam-12 sort of typecast them. When Milner died at age 83, the LAPD held a special ceremony to member him. Hundreds showed up to pay their respects.
Adam-12 made the real LAPD better both during those years and after, said LAPD Chief Ed Beck. Real officers emulated the TV officers, he added.
“As you watch any of the ‘Adam-12‘ episodes, you see professional, compassionate, internally driven, hardworking, clean-cut, impeccably tailored, fit Los Angeles police officers — those police officers that have no dark side, that do the right things for the right reasons every time, Beck said. “And that is the image that drew us all to this place.”
“Jack Webb warned us when we started the show that we were reflecting on real situations and real professional men and women out there doing the job every day. We would be the public face of that profession. We were becoming part of a small fraternity and to never embarrass it,” said McCord.
McCord and Milner even appeared together on an episode of Diagnosis Murder.
McCord went on to serve as a reserve Los Angeles School Police reserve officer for many years. Milner, in his later years turned to fishing and even hosted a radio show about the sport.
How could one little TV show make such a big difference? Fans, including police officers, tuned in, and remembered, well after the end of watch.