"The Christmas Story" was the Christmas episode of the NBC series Dragnet, aired in the show's seond season. It was a remake of an episode from 1950s series called "The Big Little Jesus". The original episode had been produced in both the radio and television versions of the program. It is the only episode 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 and 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 a statue of the infant Jesus is missing from the church's Nativity scene. Though the statue is of little financial value, it would be very disheartening to the congregation if the statue were missing at Christmas Mass. However, as the theft occurred on Christmas Eve, that leaves only a few hours for Friday and Gannon to locate the statue and recover it. In spite of their best efforts, Friday and Gannon cannot locate the statue and come to the church to give Father Rojas the bad news when a young boy, Paco Mendoza (Fernando Vasquez) comes in with the statue on a red wagon. Paco explains to the Father that he'd prayed that he'd receive a wagon on Christmas and if he were given it, he'd give the infant Jesus 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 "The Christmas Story" and "The Big Little Jesus", 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, but 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 cannot 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.