Question: Please help me settle an argument. I could swear the two main actors from Adam-12 were on Dragnet before that, but my buddy says no way. Who's right? Thanks. — Bill W., Whitemarsh, Pa.
Televisionary: You are, and if you actually recall Adam-12 stars Martin Milner and Kent McCord's guest work on Dragnet, I'm impressed with your eye for detail. Both played only minor roles in the series, McCord on the TV version and Milner on both that and the earlier Dragnet radio show.
Milner played veteran Officer Pete Malloy to McCord's rookie Officer Jim Reed on Adam-12, which ran on NBC from September 1968 to August 1975. And both men owed their breaks to the late Jack Webb, the producer of both shows, who was a loyal employer once he decided he liked an actor. In Milner's case, he acted alongside Webb in 1951's The Halls of Montezuma and won $150 from him playing gin rummy. Milner's father told him Webb would never pay up, but months later Webb asked him to come by his NBC radio studio, paid up, and began casting him in various voice roles on Dragnet. He also helped him get roles in such movies as The Sweet Smell of Success and Marjorie Morningstar, work which got him noticed enough to land a co-starring role in Route 66. After that series folded, Webb called and put him in a patrol car.
McCord, who got into acting and bit parts on Ozzie and Harriet after befriending Rick Nelson at USC, was a Universal contract player whose biggest part before Adam-12 was in the Dragnet episode "The Big Interrogation." Not exactly a huge break, but whatever he did, it stuck in Webb's memory because McCord's was the first name that popped up when it came time to cast the role of Reed. McCord jumped at the chance for a lead on a network show, but there was just one problem to work out.
"I just don't like cops," the actor told TV Guide in 1969. "I never had much trouble with them — just the usual kid-cop experiences, like being stopped and being asked where I was going — but they always seemed to be rousting people for no good reason. They never seemed to be there when you wanted them, and always around when you didn't want them."
An attitude like that might have caused problems on a show headed up by a steadfast police booster like Webb, but McCord found his outlook shifting while riding around in a police car with Officer Mike Watters of the L.A.P.D.'s Hollywood division. "Well, the first time we met we struck it off pretty good, but I did feel he was a little anti-police," Watters said. "But on the second night we went out on a drunk call, and the drunk tried to kick Kent in the face. I think that's when his attitude started to change — when he began to really see what we're up against."
McCord took to police work so much, in fact, that when his house was broken into, he staked out his neighborhood, spotted a guy wearing his stolen jeans, followed the guy home and sicced the cops on him — a move that resulted in some difficulty when he had to take time off from his show in order to testify in court. "I wouldn't mind if he got shot — that would be good publicity, at least," producer Bob Cinader joked after the incident. "But cracking his own cases just wastes our time. I won't even let Kent or Marty ride around in prowl cars anymore; with my luck, they'd wind up as witnesses in a case and I'd have to close down the set for a week."
That kind of brush with reality may have made Cinader nervous, but Webb was famous for insisting on as much accuracy as possible on his shows, to the point where Milner actually drove the car while acting and became quite proficient at hitting his marks with the vehicle. And when it came to the dispatcher behind the "one-Adam-Twelve" calls heard each week, Webb wouldn't settle for an actress. Police radio operator Shaaron Claridge showed up at Universal Studios once a week before working her 4-to-midnight shift in the Van Nuys police station, and was paid $112 a week to record all the radio calls in each script and make sure all her scripting was true-to-life (changing a line from "grand auto theft report" to "stolen-vehicle report," for example). "You must have a certain monotone," she said of her delivery. "You can't show emotion — you must keep calm."
And calm, after all, was a trademark of Webb's shows, since his Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency! all lived in the world of everyday calls rather than the barrage of explosions and shoot-outs found in so many other shows. The only thing the producer objected to was his shows being called flat. "[T]his business of a monotonous style of acting has been going around for years," he told TV Guide in 1972. "We play old radio and television shows and compare them with more recent programs, and there is a hell of a difference. The so-called monotone disappeared after the third season, but for some reason it stuck in people's minds. It piques us because we know we've changed over the years."