Project U.F.O.


Funny how unfolding events become clearer in retrospect. More than anyone, it seems to me, police procedural television auteur Jack Webb is father of the “partners” trope, which he employed on his shows Dragnet and Adam-12 almost as a reductio ad absurdum…a pair of all-business police officers who banter in between busts, usually in clipped, world-weary, laconic tones, that is, when they talk at all. Just another day at the office for these white-bread, white-socked, military-brush-cut patrolmen.

In Dragnet, it was plainclothes detectives. In Adam-12, a couple of uniformed officers in a squad car. In 1978, Webb decided to set his sights…a little higher. Project U.F.O. followed a couple of Air Force officers from Project Blue Book, the U.S. military’s real life project to investigate U.F.O. sightings. In retrospect it occurs to me how influential this show (and Webb’s previous programs) have been. The whole “men in black” thing. Fans of the Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones comedy may not know that the origin of the two guys in black suits with black sunglasses is part of actual UFO lore. Sightings of the mysterious “men in black” are almost as rampant as lights in the sky. Many who’ve written about the subject have speculated that they were simply agents of Project Blue Book, who always operated in pairs. At any rate, in the 80s, there were tons of these pairs, usually in comedies, including John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet; Alex Cox’s Repo Man; and two projects by Dan Akroyd, The Blues Brothers and his own version of Dragnet. Their were tons of others (including a student film I made in 1988), but these are just the ones off the top of my head.

Anyway, it’s funny how silly things like TV shows influence kids. Webb’s reference to Ezekiel in the show’s opener wound up in the title of a play of mine years later.

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