Midway through the series' run, a theatrical spin-off was produced (Dragnet (1954)). This event marked two firsts in American TV history: the first time a TV series spawned a movie, and the first time a movie spin-off was released while the original series was still running.
Barton Yarborough, who portrayed Friday's first partner, was ill during production of the third episode and was expected to return (thus, in the opening of the show, Friday states, "My partner's Ben Romero"). But on the day the third episode was complete, Yarborough died of a heart attack.
All but two episodes of this series had titles that began with the words "The Big" (i.e., "The Big Actor", "The Big Shakedown", "The Big False Make"). The two exceptions were the first episode of season one ("The Human Bomb") and the seventh episode of season two (".22 Rifle For Christmas").
This successful TV series, spawned 2 million selling hit singles. In the Summer of 1953. Ray Anthony and His Orchestra recorded the theme music, titled "Dragnet" (#2 US Pop). In addition, reaching #1 on the charts, was a 3 minute speaking satire, recorded by comedian 'Stan Frebeg', his co writer Daws Butler and June Fora, titled "St. George And The Dragonet".
Friday's partners changed early on for various reasons: Barton Yarborough died five days after shooting the second episode; Barney Phillips had a habit of wetting his lips (making reaction shots difficult); and 'Herbert Ellis (I)', who was never intended to be permanent, was hurried out for looking too much like Friday. Ironically, Ben Alexander, who became Friday's permanent partner, originally wanted to do only one episode of the show (as a character actor).
Gang Busters (1952) ran on alternate weeks with "Dragnet" on NBC on Thursday nights for a little more than a season (1952-53). "Gang Busters" was the highest-rated show at the time NBC decided to cancel it, in favor of airing "Dragnet" weekly.
The main reason that "Dragnet" was seen on alternate weeks in its second season was that Barton Yarborough, Friday's original Partner Ben Romero, had died during the initial season. This put a great strain on the filming schedule. There were several cast changes until Ben Alexander took over the role of Fridays Partner, Frank Smith (1952-1957).
Joe Friday and his partners in this series and the sequel used the radio call sign 1-K-80. One for Police Headquarters (or Central Division). K or "King" for Investigative Services (Detectives). And 80 as their unit number.
The police cars were owned by the production company. The first series (pre-1967) used early 1950s Ford Mainline sedans, very similar to most police cars then used nationwide. One of these cars survived the series and was obtained by the city of Fontana, California for use as a marked police vehicle. It was equipped with an L-head 289 CID V8 engine and three-speed manual transmission. The 1967-1970 series used Ford Fairlane sedans accurately equipped as detective units, although the Los Angeles Police Department did not use Fairlanes for either police or detective work.
'Jack Webb' gained some initial production time when Chesterfield cigarettes agreed to finance an anthology series titled Chesterfield Presents (1952) (aka "Dramatic Mystery") that alternated with "Dragnet" in early 1952. This provided the time needed to work through the sudden death of Barton Yarborough shortly after its initial broadcast.
The show's semi-documentary format was inspired by the Film-Noir He Walked by Night (1948) in which 'Jack Webb' played a forensic chemist. Technical Advisor Sgt. Marty Wynn, of The LAPD, suggested to Webb that he do a radio series based on the work of the LAPD. Hence "Dragnet", the radio series debuted in 1949.