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What’s a “Dragnet” Anyway?

March 6, 2017

Some TV show titles make perfect sense—Friends is about some friends, and The Sopranos is about a family called the Sopranos, for example. Other titles are a bit harder to crack—like these.


Procedurals are a big part of TV today—formulaic crime shows in which police detectives dutifully go through all the steps they’re supposed to go through to catch a criminal. In other words, they’re “by the book.” The form was created by Jack Webb in the 1950s with his show Dragnet. Webb was devoted to making as realistic a cop show as possible, even soliciting stories from real police around the country. It makes sense then that he’d name his show after a kind of obtuse police term—a dragnet refers to the overall, coordinated system of tools police use to nab a criminal, which can include everything from door-to-door searches to DNA testing.

Halt and Catch Fire

AMC’s period drama is set in Texas in the 1980s in the early, explosive years of the personal computer industry. The title is a computer engineering term, generally used by its abbreviation “HCF.” It refers to what happens to when a computer’s central processor detects a bug—it shuts down. Or, in more dramatic terms, it “halts and catches fire.”

Orphan Black

Tatiana Maslany won an Emmy Award for her performance on this science-fiction series: she plays a half dozen or so clones, all with different personalities. The series began with the main character, Sarah, realizing that she was a clone created by a nefarious corporation—which categorized her as an “orphan” when she escaped. Sarah went into the greater society at large, or “in the black.” Orphan + in the black = Orphan Black.


The classic Western took place in and around Cartwright family’s Ponderosa Ranch just after the Gold Rush in the western U.S. While reruns of the show were titled Ponderosa, the show was originally named Bonanza, which means a major discovery of ore…or gold.

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