From the distinctive four-note opening of its theme music to the raft of catch phrases it produced, no other television cop show has left such an indelible mark on American culture as Dragnet. It was the first successful television crime drama to be shot on film and one of the few prime time series to have returned to production after its initial run.
In Dragnet, Jack Webb, who produced, directed, and starred in the program, created the benchmark by which subsequent police shows would be judged. The origins of Dragnet can be traced to a semi-documentary film noir, He Walked by Night (1948), in which Webb had a small role. Webb created a radio series for NBC that had many similarities with the film. Not only did both employ the same L.A.P.D. technical advisor, they also made use of actual police cases, narration that provided information about the workings of the police department, and a generally low-key, documentary style.
In the radio drama Webb starred as Sgt. Joe Friday and Barton Yarborough played his partner. The success of the radio show led to a Dragnet television pilot, aired as an episode of Chesterfield Sound Off Time in 1951, and resulted in a permanent slot for the series on NBC Television's Thursday night schedule in early 1952. Yarborough died suddenly after the pilot aired and was eventually replaced by Ben Alexander, who played Jack Webb's partner.