“21 Jump Street” goes to the movies

Friday marked the arrival of former 1987-91 Fox series 21 Jump Street’s adaption to the big screen.

But my oh my, how things have changed at Jump Street Chapel.

The film is actually a parody of the series – a standard police procedural with a twist: youthful undercover cops who investigate crimes in those institutions of learning: high schools, colleges, rave parties, and strip clubs.

Instead of recasting characters from the TV show, two misfit police recruits (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, late of Allen Gregory), join the police force and use their youthful appearances to go undercover to bust a drug ring in a premise similar to the series. But the major difference this time around is – these guys are dumb as sh**.

The movie’s trailer and commercials have been nothing short of hilarious – and audiences are loving it. Jump Street topped the box office this past weekend with $35 million. As of this writing, Jump Street has a 86 percent critic approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, anda whopping 91 percent audience approval rating. On Metacritic, the movie has a score of 69 – putting it in the green. The film was written by Hill and Michael Bacall, credited along with the series original producers and creators, Patrick Hasburgh and the late Stephen J. Cannell.

Re-imaging a former TV drama into a comedy for the big screen isn’t new – Dragnet and Starsky & Hutch are prime examples. In fact, it’s happened on the tube, too – current Archer producers Matt Reed and Adam Thompson remade failed dramatic 1972 NBC Saturday morning cartoon Sealab 2020 into Sealab 2021 for Adult Swim, reinventing the Sealab crew becoming as a bunch of goof offs.

Premiering on April 12, 1987, 21 Jump Street was one of Fox’s first early hits as it drew a young audience thanks to its handling of serious topics like gang violence, date rape, drug use, suicide, alcoholism, racial strife, and other issues.  During the 1987-88 season, 21 Jump Street often outdrew NBC’s Our House in its early Sunday evening time slot. Jump Street launched the careers of Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete (who sang the show’s theme song), and Peter DeLuise.

The cast of the original "21 Jump Street" television series.

In 1988, the show’s stars and the show were honored here in Chicago with a special “21 Jump Street Day” proclamation from then-mayor Eugene Sawyer.

The show helped launch Fox’s new Monday night lineup on September 18, 1989, along with Alien Nation. However, Fox canceled 21 Jump Street in May 1990 and in a last-minute move, the show shifted to first-run syndication via Cannell Distribution and LBS Communications for the 1990-91 season, though without Depp or Dustin Nguyen.

Contrary to the belief that Married.. With Children was the first Fox series to be offered into off-network syndication, 21 Jump Street was actually sold first – stations started stripping the series in September 1990, with Cannell selling the series to Tribune’s WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles.

21 Jump Street also made history as the first Fox series to air on a competing network – CBS aired reruns of the show on late Friday nights during the summer of 1990, a few weeks after the network canceled The Pat Sajak Show.

While the original series was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the film adaption of 21 Jump Street was shot on location in New Orleans.

21 Jump Street also spun-off another series (Richard Greico’s Booker), which ran during the 1989-90 season.

The film is the latest of reboots Hollywood in hopes of luring audiences who are hungry for nostalgia. TNT is bringing back 1980’s serial Dallas as a weekly series this summer, while NBC has a pilot in development for a Munsters revival – only this time, its being re-imaged as a drama, a reversal of what 21 Jump Street did (the 1960’s sitcom already had been revived as Munsters Today for first-run syndication from 1988-91.)

Thanks to the buzz and box office success, there’s already talk of a sequel. The unique comedic take on the 21 Jump Street television series has served it well – just like CBS’ recent reboot of classic 1968-80 crime drama Hawaii Five-O.

What’s that you say? Hawaii Five-O’s reboot isn’t a comedy?

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