The original 21 Jump Street TV series: Going undercover with Johnny Depp & Holly Robinson Peete

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The original 21 Jump Street TV series
21 Jump Street was a cop show that debuted in 1987, and immediately found an audience: teenagers, especially girls. That was fair, since the show was about police officers who pretended to be teens. Johnny Depp was the series’ breakout star.

Cast/characters

Johnny Depp: Officer Thomas “Tom” Hanson
Holly Robinson: Sergeant Judith “Judy” Hoffs
Peter DeLuise: Officer Douglas “Doug” Penhall
Dustin Nguyen: Sergeant Harry Truman “H.T” Ioki
Steven Williams: Captain Adam Fuller
Michael DeLuise: Officer Joseph “Joey” Penhall
Michael BendettivOfficer Anthony “Mac” McCann
1987-1991
# of seasons: 5
# episodes: 103
21 Jump Street was a police show that debuted on April 12, 1987, and immediately found an audience: teenagers, especially girls.

That was fair, given that the show was about four young-looking adult cops who pretended to be teens in order to fight crime. Their headquarters: 21 Jump Street, in the city of Metropolis, Evergreen State.

For the first six episodes, the officers were led by actor Frederic Forrest as Captain Richard Jenko — but his post-hippie vibe wasn’t working for the kids, so he was replaced with Steven Williams, as Captain Adam Fuller.

By season two, the show was a certified hit — and Johnny Depp was a breakout start and (much to his irritation) a teen idol whose photo decorated the walls and lockers of a million high-schoolers, who, fortunately, didn’t blow his cover.

Johnny Depp as a teen pinup idol in the 1980s

Lots of stars made appearances on the series, such as Brad Pitt, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vince Vaughn, Christina Applegate, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kelly Hu, Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Blair Underwood, Robyn Lively, Ray Walston, and dozens of others.

The show’s 103rd — and final — episode aired on April 27, 1991, after which point it was available for years in syndication.

original 21 Jump Street TV series

About the 21 Jump Street TV series (1987)

Excerpted from a review by Don Davies in the Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin) April 11, 1987

The third of four new Sunday night shows that the relatively new Fox Broadcasting Co. is introducing with premieres this month is “21 Jump Street” and will be seen at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Regularly, the show will be a one-hour action-adventure program, but this opening gun is a well-made, two-hour pilot movie.

The longer format allows the producers the needed time to fill out characterizations in a special police undercover unit of four “baby-faced” rookies, led by a captain from the Woodstock generation who infiltrate groups of high school criminals.

First cast of 21 Jump Street TV series (1987)

You immediately feel that this is a “Mod Squad” reincarnation, with a bit of “Hill Street” undercover, or even “A-Team” thrown in for seasoning. And because the producer is Stephen Carmen of “A-Team,” it is expected to maintain a high level of action.

It also goes right after the teen demographics for Sunday night viewing, which Fox would like very much to acquire.

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When you take four youthful-looking cops, load them with all the savvy and training techniques of police officers and then send them back to high school as students to battle the bad guys, it can’t help but attract teen interest…

The music is good throughout, and the undercover team of four — portrayed by Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson, Dustin Nguyen and Peter DeLuise — make a formidable ensemble group. It’s obvious that this structure will allow each of them to be featured in future segments.

21 Jump Street TV series Going undercover with Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson-Peete


21 Jump Street TV series: Cast briefs (1987)

Excerpted from a review in The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey) August 30, 1987

Johnny Depp of the dark good looks, who plays officer Tommy Hanson, and is fast becoming a teen idol.

Dustin Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who plays Ioki in the unperturbable style of Don Johnson.

Sal Jenco, formerly of Garfield, a garrulous stand-up comic and rock-band roadie who came on board “Jump Street” as Blowfish a few months ago after cracking up the producers while visiting friend Depp on the set.

Steven Williams, the only 30-plus member of the cast, chosen recently to replace Frederic Forrest as the captain of the bunch.

Peter DeLuise, at 21, the strapping eldest in the next generation of DeLuise jokesters. He plays Penhall.

Holly Robinson, the daughter of “Cosby Show” executive story editor and original “Sesame Street” regular Matt Robinson, also sings the “Jump Street” theme.

21 Jump Street TV series

“This is a cop show with conscience,” said Depp with solemn conviction when the group was asked whether the “Miami Vice” Jr. kind of stories of teen-agers making mayhem is healthy early-hour (7 p.m., Sundays) family fare.

“We have public service announcements at the end asking kids not to use drugs. We show kids getting mixed up and why, and that is important.”

“We are an action show, not a violence show,” said DeLuise, using one of television’s more rarefied distinctions. “We have been shown using guns less than 10 times the first season.”

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21 Jump Street becomes Fox’s most popular show in time for its second season (1988)

Excerpted from a review in The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) January 22, 1988

In its second season, “21 Jump Street,” a Sunday-night series about baby-faced undercover cops, has become Fox Television’s most successful show.

Pictures of the four young actors are pasted inside the school lockers of teen-age girls whose devotion recently pushed “Jump Street” into first place in its Sunday time period among girls 12 to 17.

Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson - 21 Jump Street TV Guide cover - August 20, 1988

The Fox people will tell you, with understandable delight, that “Jump Street” is beating out ABC’s “Disney Sunday Movie,” “NBC’s “Our House” and CBS’ “60 Minutes” with that young audience, despite the fact that Fox Television reaches only 86 percent of the nation’s viewers.

And they are also proud that public-service announcements that follow each episode dramatically increase the number of toll-free calls going to assistance agencies.

It’s possible, of course, that you’ve never heard of the “21 Jump Street” stars, whose job is to infiltrate the world of teenagers to find out what’s gone wrong.

Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson, Peter DeLuise and Dustin Nguyen play the undercover agents; Steven Williams is their supervisor, Capt. Adam Fuller.

“I didn’t want to cast names — I wanted to cast talent,” explained creator-executive producer Patrick Hasburgh. “Johnny Depp, he’s got real talent. He came out here from Florida as a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist.”

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21 Jump Street opening/closing credits & theme song


21 Jump Street’s shooting star goes undercover (1988)

Splice magazine – January 1988

There are two reasons why 21 Jump Street is a hit series on the Fox Network.

One, it’s not your average police show; it’s about undercover cops in a high school, and they candidly discuss controversial subjects — from alcohol and drug abuse to child pornography.

Another reason may be the appearance each week of handsome Johnny Depp, 24, who plays Officer Tommy Hansen on the show.

Johnny Depp - Splice magazine 1988

Johnny says he hopes the public-service messages are reaching viewers each week. “If somebody can get something out of it, can learn something… that’s great,” says the brown-eyed actor who paused between takes of the show to talk to Splice.

“When my character [Tommy] came into the program, he was pretty naive, kind of straight,” he says. “But he’s grown and learned the streets. He’s not as naive as he once was.”

And Johnny himself is a little more streetwise about acting since his motion-picture debut in the thriller, A Nightmare on Elm Street. “I had no idea about [phrases like] ‘hit your mark,’ or ‘give me more level,'” he adds.

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After Nightmare, Johnny landed the role of Learner in Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which he describes as grueling.

“It was highly emotional,” he explains. “We went through two weeks of training in the jungle. When you put 30 guys together, you build a real tightness.”

Johnny Depp - 1980s

Luck, however, was not exactly on Johnny’s side when he auditioned for “21 Jump Street” — he was suffering from a bout with the flu. But Johnny made the best of it: “It helped my concentration,” he says. “After all, I got the part.”

Though the show takes up much of Johnny Depp’s free time, he wants to get together with his former band, the Rock City Angels, to record a song. And in the future, he would like to get a well-rounded view of the film industry.

“I’d like to keep trying to fill myself in on every aspect of the industry,” he says. “Acting, directing, whatever. One day I may even be a dolly grip, you never know.”

But it’s not likely Johnny will stay behind the scenes. The way this shooting star’s career is soaring, he won’t remain undercover for long.

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