Harlan Ellison’s Hang-Up

Burt Pretlusky’s theory, offered in his post on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood blog, is that producers didn’t realize how politically conservative he was when he wrote for McMillan & Wife, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Family Ties, Rhoda, The Governor & J.J. and Bob Newhart, otherwise they’d never have hired him.

But when he wrote for Jack Webb’s strident cop show Dragnet, Harlan Ellison noticed:

I now recall that a few minutes after my first “Dragnet” episode aired, an acquaintance, writer Harlan Ellison, phoned me.  In lieu of “Hello,” he snarled, “I never knew you were a fascist!”  Then, in typical left-wing fashion, he hung up.  It’s very possible that was when my politics began evolving.  It is, after all, a prime example of the sort of fair and open-minded discourse I’ve come to expect from liberals.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

2 thoughts on “Harlan Ellison’s Hang-Up

  1. I was a big fan of Dragnet in the ’60s, and now that I’m all growed up I’m a fan of the Dragnet of the ’50s too. It may be a lawn-order TV program, but you can’t blame it for glamorizing the cops. Most episodes involve breaking up marital disputes, con-men selling fake insurance, phone repair guys who steal the silverware when homeowners aren’t looking, and stuff like that. The show tended to spotlight the utillity of the police force, not its martial ardor! No cocaine busts with assualt rifles blazing, no elaborate torture scenes, *above all* no slow-moton explosions.

    Still, I remember the very first episode of the new 1967 series of Dragnet. It was called “The Big LSD” and was one of the funniest treatments of hippie drug use I’d ever seen. Evidently Bret Preslusky wasn’t very conversant with the differences between pot, acid and the Big H at the time. Oh well… who was? The people using the stuff often didn’t have any clear idea either…

  2. @Taral: The first episode of Dragnet 1967 — the famous “Blue Boy” episode — was written by Jack Webb himself. It was a bizarre landmark in the popular culture of the Sixties. Another unexpected thing about the episode, which I watched in first run, was how likeable I found the representative rock and roll music used in one scene. You’d expect that sort of thing to be as heavy handed as the dialogue. No idea who wrote the instrumental arrangement — dramatic keyboard and drums cycling over and over. I’m sure it was supposed to be oppressive and menacing, but it was actually rather catchy.

    Pretlusky did write a couple of episodes set in the Narco squad that aired in later seasons, just not the one you’re remembering.

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