"The Christmas Story" is the Christmas episode of the NBC series Dragnet, aired in the show's second season. It was a remake of an episode from 1950s series called "The Big Little Jesus". The original one had been produced in both the radio and television versions of the program. It is the only one in the series' run that was not based on an LAPD incident (in actuality, the incident inspiring this tale occurred in San Francisco) and the only episode remade from an earlier episode. Bartell and Webb reprised their roles from Big Little Jesus.
Detectives Friday & Gannon are called to investigate a case of a missing Baby Jesus statue at the San Fernando Mission Church, which has a large Hispanic congregation. Father Xavier Rojas (Bartell) explains that it is missing from their Nativity scene. Though it is of little financial value, it would be very disheartening to the congregation if it was missing at Christmas Mass. However, as the theft occurred on Christmas Eve, that leaves only a few hours for Friday and Gannon to locate and recover it. In spite of their best efforts, Friday and Gannon can't locate it and come to the church to give Father Rojas the bad news when a young boy named Paco Mendoza (Fernando Vasquez) comes in with it on a red wagon. He explains to Father Rojas that he'd prayed that he'd receive a wagon on Christmas and if he were given it, he'd give the statue the first ride. Needless to say, no charges are pressed. After as, as Father Rojas says, "Paco's family are very poor." Friday replies, "Are they?"
Differences in episodes
There are many similarities between both episodes, since the same script (with some revisions) was used. There remain some differences though:
- Friday's partner in the original is Frank Smith. Bill Gannon is his partner in the remake.
- The church was located in downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s version, and in the San Fernando Valley in the remake.
- The main suspect, Claude Stroup, was portrayed by James Griffith in the original, and by Bobby Troup in the remake.
- Sgt. Friday is a bit rougher with the suspect in the original, pre-Miranda episode.
- When Friday realizes he can't locate the statue in time for Christmas Mass, he says to his partner morosely "Merry Christmas" in both episodes. In the original he tosses Smith's hat to him as they leave. In the remake he hands Gannon a miniature Christmas tree.
The episode was made available on the Dragnet 1968 DVD set, released by Shout! Factory (under license from Universal Studios) on July 6, 2010.