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Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters (Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor). Gradually, Friday's deadpan, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop, tough but not hard, conservative but caring." (Dunning, 210) Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. Raymond Burr was on board to play Chief of Detectives Ed Backstrand. When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but didn’t seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives were mentioned but rarely took center stage. (Friday was a bachelor who lived with his mother; Romero was a Mexican-American from Texas, was an ever fretful husband and father.) "Underplaying is still acting", Webb told Time. "We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” (Dunning, 209) Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton, and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

While "Just the facts, ma'am" has come to be known as Dragnet's catchphrase (it has been copied and parodied many times by other productions), it was never actually uttered by Joe Friday. The closest lines were, "All we want are the facts, ma'am" and "All we know are the facts, ma'am".

Episode Number Episode Title Aired Datesort descending
3 Production 3 aka The Werewolf Friday, June 17, 1949
5 The Helen Corday Murder Thursday, July 7, 1949
6 Red Light Bandit Thursday, July 14, 1949
7 Attempted City Hall Bombing Thursday, July 21, 1949
8 Missing Persons - Juanita Lasky Thursday, July 28, 1949
10 Production 10 aka Homicide aka Maniac Murderer aka Mad Killer At Large Thursday, August 11, 1949
80 Twenty-Two Rifles for Christmas Thursday, December 21, 1950
190 The Big Press Thursday, February 8, 1951
186 The Big Small Sunday, January 11, 1953
187 The Big String Sunday, January 18, 1953
188 The Big Lay-Out Sunday, January 25, 1953
189 The Big Strip Sunday, February 1, 1953
191 The Big Tooth Sunday, February 15, 1953
192 The Big Smoke Sunday, February 22, 1953
193 The Big Want Sunday, March 1, 1953
194 The Big Laugh Sunday, March 8, 1953