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The movie series 21 Jump Street 1987 and its 2014 sequel succeeded due to a witty script and considerable onscreen chemistry between leads Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. But it was also made of some brilliant source material.
In 1987, the televised take on the concept helped build the lineup on fledgling fourth broadcast network Fox – 21 Jump Street . Based on a real squad of babyfaced undercover cops who infiltrated high schools and colleges, the show’s cast of relative unknowns (Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson Peete, Dustin Nguyen, Steven Williams) dove almost immediately into successful social issue-of-the-week status.
After years of producing 21 Jump Street series for ABC, CBS, and NBC, 20th Century Fox launched its own broadcast home in 1986—the first legitimate challenge to the dominance of the Big Three since the Dumont Television Network folded in 1956. That challenge began in April 1987, with comedies such as The Tracey Ullman Show, Married… With Children, and Duet, and one action-packed chain of movies: 21 Jump Street 1987 . For its featuring baby-faced detectives, Fox brings the ultimate weapon: brilliant TV masterminds Stephen J. Cannell and Patrick Hasburgh, who had provided us previous famous action series, namely The Greatest American Hero, Hardcastle And McCormick, and last but not least The A-Team. Cannell had also created iconic detectives like Baretta and Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. The perfect duo knew what exactly to do with a police station, which for Jump Street purposes, they are made into a refurbished chapel, added with unexplainable fire pole. To contrast the green talent playing its undercover officers, the show cast Apocalypse Now vet Frederic Forrest as their captain, a former hippie named Richard Jenko.
But for a bunch of nobodies at the time, the young, diverse cast had incredibly perfect chemistry. This group happened to feature an immediate star right out of the gate, and the writers quickly started crafting episodes that played to the chameleon-like talents of Johnny Depp. During the earlier time of his career, way before Jack Sparrow and any domestic violence allegations, Johnny Depp’s character, Officer Tom Hanson could easily be a street hooligan one week and a preppy college student the following, giving episodes about the hottest issues nowadays—AIDS, child abortion, fraternity hazing, homelessness— unexpected depth of field. Moreover, Depp and the other the cast members played off one another wonderfully. Holly Robinson Peete’s role, Hoffs was an ingenious, strong lead who could confidently hold her position as the only woman in the group. Dustin Nguyen’s Ioki was always good for a stakeout, or to have Hanson’s back at a hazing party. But the grizzly-bear appeal of Peter DeLuise’s scruffy Penhall, juxtaposed against Depp’s squeaky-clean Hanson, seemed to work best of all.
The guest roster was also stacked with the stars of tomorrow: Where else could you find homeless Bridget Fonda, Brad Pitt in the high school cafeteria, Josh Brolin as a coke-snorting murderer, or Jason Priestley in a mohawk? The show even had a decent theme song, sung by Robinson Peete and backed by Depp and DeLuise. Pulling in some cool music for the younger, alternative set—like having R.E.M. score the army-themed episode “A.W.O.L.” with “Orange Crush”—didn’t hurt either. By August 1987, 21 Jump Street was winning its time slot, the first Fox show to do so. Eventually, it moved to Mondays to kick off a whole new night of programming for the network.