Produced by Stephen J. Cannell, the weekly, hour-long 21 Jump Street debuted April 12, 1987, as the Fox network's very first action-adventure series. The show's original title was Jump Street Chapel, indicating that the locale, a district police station in a major metropolis, was a reconverted church. Something of a Mod Squad for the 1980s, the series dealt with a group of youthful undercover police officers who posed as high school students in order to crack down on drug dealers, pimps, pornographers, and similar adult miscreants who traditionally preyed on impressionable teens.
In the pilot episode, Jeff Yagher was cast as the "lead" detective in the Jump Street squad, Tom Hanson. By the next episode, however, Yagher had been replaced by Johnny Depp, who of course would ride the series to superstardom. Tom Hanson's fellow officers included Holly Robinson as Judy Hoffs, Dustin Nguyen as Harry Truman Ioki, and Peter DeLuise as Doug Penhall (originally cast as the roly-poly comedy relief, DeLuise would lose weight and buff up sufficiently to become an action hero in his own right). Designed as counterprogramming to CBS' 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings, 21 Jump Street aggressively pursued the 18-to-24-year-old audience demographic, with Fox establishing a telephone hotline so that the series' youthful viewers could share their own experiences vis-à-vis peer pressure, drug use, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse, and other hot-button issues. The viewers also began offering opinions as to how the series could be improved, with the first suggestion being that the "kids" of 21 Jump Street needed a strong adversarial authority figure with which to butt heads each week for full dramatic impact. In the earliest episodes, Frederic Forrest was seen as the squad's skipper, Captain Richard Jenko, a former hippie and lifelong iconoclast who tended to be simpatico with the young cops. As a result of audience input, Jenko was killed off halfway through season one and replaced by Captain Fuller (Steven Williams), a more traditionalist, "by the book" authority figure.
As the series progressed, as much time was spent on the characters' personal problems as on their professional perils. Penhall was given a live-in girlfriend named Dorothy (Gina Nemo), who ultimately left him because she couldn't deal with the pressures of his job. Similarly, Hanson underwent a brief, rocky romantic relationship with up-and-coming public prosecutor Jackie Garrett (Yvette Nipar). During season three, two new members were added to the Jump Street team: the somewhat gauche but likeable Sal "Blowfish" Banducci (Sal Jenco), and the blunt, rebellious Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco), who proved popular enough to warrant his own spin-off series, Booker, which ran on Fox during the 1989-1990 season.
After its cancellation by Fox on September 17, 1990, 21 Jump Street continued for an additional season in off-network syndication, minus longtime leads Johnny Depp and Dustin Nguyen. In their places were Anthony "Mac" McCann, played by Michael Bendetti, and Doug Penhall's younger brother Joey, appropriately played by Peter DeLuise's younger brother Michael DeLuise. Judy Hoffs had been promoted to detective, while Doug Penhall, who'd nearly lost his life in a shoot-out, quit the force midway through the final season, the better to devote all his time to looking after his orphaned nephew, Clavo (Tony Dakota). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi