“Public Affairs DR-12” is arguably the most clinical episode title in TV history, and the show that follows isn’t a whole lot more exciting than the title. And yet I kind of love it; if nothing else, it’s a break from the police procedural formula of crime happens-cops investigate-cops nab perp. And anytime Friday and Gannon are working with the community or with the press, things can get strange in a hurry, like the legendary episode where they debate hippies on TV. This one is a lot more straightforward but also a Big Deal: the president is coming to LA and the department has to support the Secret Service while the boss is in town.
Shouldn’t those gold ashtrays be considered a security risk? These guys are putting the president at risk of secondhand smoke!
The good news, at least to the security team, is that he’s only coming for 24 hours. But 24 hours is a lot more time than the Secret Service and LAPD have to lock down their security plans. So we head right to… a conference room, where lead agent Roger Franke (Lew Brown in his second of six Dragnet guest shots) gets everyone on the same page. Gannon notes that planning out even a short trip isn’t as simple as people might think. “It sounded simple a few years ago,” Franke says. “Then we went to Dallas.” There’s your gut punch of the episode.
If any of you so much as flinches around POTUS I will gouge your face with this thing
POTUS is going to give a press conference at the airport and a speech at a hotel, then sleep over and head back to DC. So Franke walks through every issue they might encounter getting their charge around, everything from finding the safest way from the plane to the press conference, to which hotel elevators will be available to the public while the president is in the building. Anyone who’s cleared to work near the president will get a special lapel pin. One agent has compiled a list of “disgruntles”; nobody has threatened the prez directly, but they’re going to watch for these potential troublemakers anyway. The president’s movements are confidential, of course, though Friday convinces the Secret Service to give him a few broad details he can share with the newshounds for their planning.
This is a long meeting – it takes up almost half the entire episode – but it ends with two big moments. One is that Franke gets a phone call explaining that his plan to move the president by helicopter is out because the weather forecast calls for rain. “I thought it never rained out here!” he says. (Not to worry; the lead transportation officer already has three possible secure motorcade routes; Friday and Gannon will ride in the lead black-and-white.) And before adjourning, Franke reminds everyone in the room of the stakes, by quoting an article the Secret Service agents read when they sign in each day: “Last night a man approached the presidential box and confronted the guard outside,” he said. “The visitor was well-dressed and his demeanor appeared normal. Said he had a message for the president. For one brief moment that guard relaxed his vigil and permitted the man to enter the box without proper clearance. Thirty seconds later, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, lay dying of a pistol ball shot in the head.” So we’ve gotten a Dallas reference and a mention of Lincoln’s violent shooting death. Maybe later Franke will be like “we’ll have a medical team on standby at all times, and they’re better than the ones who treated Garfield and McKinley.”
Find me a route to the closest Fatburger. That just might come in handy.
The day isn’t over yet; Friday and Franke head to the hotel, where one-man CSI Ray Murray is leading the sweep of the president’s suite. Friday’s been here before; he helped plan a trip when the Soviet premier was in town. (Noting the swanky accommodations, he says of the premier, “He doesn’t dislike everything about capitalism.” Zing.) They don’t find any weapons or electronic bugs, but Murray’s Geiger counter goes wild when scanning a piece of wall art, so they have to run it back to the lab, where Murray gives a very long explanation of how the piece was made and why there was some residual radiation but nothing to worry about, and also, the art was painted 12 times over the years including its current covering which is gold leaf. Ask Ray Murray the time and he’ll teach you how to build a watch, is what I’m saying.
Call me old fashioned, but being interrupted by the president like this leaves me feeling sour.
The real problem, other than losing about half of their prep time in the deep dive into wall art casting techniques, is that a guy down the hall has paid for his room for a week and by golly he’s not moving to another floor, not even for the President of the United States. The Secret Service guys plus Friday talk with the guy, who’s in a smoking jacket and carrying a cocktail around. You don’t want to move, they say? Ok, but you’ll be confined to your room at all times until the president leaves. No trips to the ice machine, no dinner in the hotel restaurant, no room service. “No room service,” the guy says. He agrees to move. Another piece of the puzzle in place.
36 hours on, ten minutes off, 36 hours on.
Which means it’s time for another visit to the conference room! Franke updates everyone on the schedule and the motorcade route, then they all make plans to meet up at the airport at 5 the next morning. Franke and Friday make one more tour of the airport press room, where Joe has taken care of everything, even hot coffee. Franke is so impressed he offers Friday a job, but the sergeant says “I lose enough sleep on the one I got.” Franke knows what that feels like, telling Friday that he’s “got a wife who calls me the missing person, kids who couldn’t describe me if they had to, bank account flatter than a stove lid. I’m working on an ulcer.” Then he conks out in the chair. “You’re a tired cop,” Joe says, as he puts Franke’s cup of coffee away.
The Friday-Gannon ’68 campaign launch
You know it’s the day of the visit because Agent Franke just brought out the presidential seal and an awed hush breaks out among the security detail. Gannon brings the reporters in as Joe stands behind the podium, and immediately everyone starts calling Friday “Mr. President.” Joe and Bill fend off – er, answer – some questions about the presidential visit. Oof, one of the reporters actually asks whether there are rules about what they can ask. “Just don’t ask him about the Washington Senators ballclub,” Gannon jokes.
Everything is going as planned, except for the weather. “I just hate to have a president rained on,” Franke says. Ah well. Bill and Joe look out the window, and there it is, stock footage of Air Force One. Gannon is impressed that it arrived at “10:30, right on the nose. Now that’s the way to run an airline.” They head off to meet the plane… and that’s our story. I was kind of hoping for Franke to run in and explain that the president was still yelling at his aides in the Air Force One bathroom, but no such luck.
We also don’t get the usual “results of the trial” at the end, because nobody got arrested. Instead, the narrator dedicates the episode to the agents of the real US Secret Service, and hopes that this show has shed a little light on the “tireless and ceaseless round the clock efforts of this superior group of men.” Certainly Agent Franke has a very Clint Hill-ish pensiveness, always pushing to make sure one more time that things are going to be ok. And I’ve seen the Secret Service in action myself a few times during reporting work; when they’re around, they’re around, you’re not going to miss them (and probably vice versa). Now, I’ve also read Carol Leonnig’s book Zero Fail and let’s just say some days have been better than others.
All that said, this is a pretty interesting half hour, especially given that, by the usual standards of TV storytelling, nothing happens. There’s no real conflict here, the city cops and the feds work well together, the president’s visit seems to go off without a hitch. It’s the kind of topic that would probably end up today on the Smithsonian Channel instead of a cop show. But here, the lead Secret Service agent gets a nap and a guy in the smoking jacket gets to keep ordering room service. Pretty sure the Smithsonian documentary teams aren’t gonna show you that!
Yes, Mr. President, I know what hangs in that part of the pant, sir
- Joe’s intro is about the history of missions in southern California. In the 1960s, he says, “people can’t use the protection of mission walls. When they need help, they call me.” Joe Friday is the living mission wall of 1969!
- Joe says he doesn’t expect much in the way of protests because “it’s too late to get a parade permit.” Uh….
- Franke wants a quick transition from the “bubble-top” to the hotel lobby. One of the agents notes that the president likes to shake hands. Nice nod to how the Secret Service has to accommodate the boss instead of the other way around.
- “Our man doesn’t like freight elevators,” Franke says; this episode aired in the same year the real-life president got stuck in an elevator, so an extra point for realism.
- The lead agent in LA tells Franke that the ninth floor of the hotel has “a couple of balkers” who don’t want to move. But we only meet one. Who does Captain Smoking Jacket have in that room and what are they doing in there?
- Friday is so thorough he even does a background check on Agent Franke! He worked Army Intelligence, went with Douglas MacArthur into Korea, and landed at the FBI before becoming a Secret Service agent. No wonder he’s so tired.
- Joe’s reaction when Franke puts the presidential seal on the podium: “Real pretty.”
- Franke offers Friday a job at least three times. Joe puts him off each time, though once he hints he’d consider it if the Service would also take Gannon. Franke says no thanks to Bill’s face! “Big deal,” Bill replies. “You come and see me when I’m chief of police, we’ll be looking for recruits.”