Cover of season 1 DVD collection
|Created by||Alan Spencer|
|Theme music composer||Danny Elfman|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||41|
|Thomas John Kane|
|Running time||22-24 minutes|
|Distributor||New World Television|
|Original release||September 23, 1986 -|
February 12, 1988
Sledge Hammer! is an American satirical police sitcom produced by New World Television that ran for two seasons on ABC from September 23, 1986 to February 12, 1988. The series was created by Alan Spencer and stars David Rasche as Inspector Sledge Hammer, a caricature of the standard "cop on the edge" character.
The series takes place in San Francisco, California, with parts of Los Angeles used as a stand-in for filming. However, no mention of San Francisco was made past the pilot episode and none of the city's landmarks are seen throughout the series, though the city name can be read on the police department building sign. The San Francisco newspaper used at the beginning of the pilot episode was censored during the show's initial broadcast, as the city wanted nothing to do with the series. Subsequent episodes showed newspapers that had no city name.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||22||September 23, 1986||April 28, 1987|
|2||19||September 17, 1987||February 12, 1988|
Inspector Sledge Hammer (David Rasche) is a stubborn, narrow-minded, opinionated, sexist and reactionary (all of this by his own admission) detective from the San Francisco Police Department. His most prized possession is his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver (a stainless steel version of the Smith & Wesson Model 29) with a customized grip, featuring an engraving of a sledgehammer. Hammer sleeps and showers with his gun, (it has its own satin pillow) and even talks to it, referring to it as "her." He believes in shooting first and asking questions never. Despite this, Hammer is never seen killing anybody on-screen during the whole 41 episodes of the show. In the pilot episode, he deals with a sniper on a skyscraper roof by blowing up the entire building with a M72 LAW, after which he utters "I think I got him" to onlooking cops, and in "Witless," he kicks a mob boss out of an open window to his death. He also mentions that his favorite charity is "Toy Guns for Tots". Hammer's father was Jack Hammer, a legendary carnival trick shooter whose repertoire of shooting tricks included catching a bullet in his teeth, which saved his son's life in one episode (another episode reveals that Jack gave Sledge his Magnum). His mother's name was Armin Hammer. In the episode "Brother, Can You Spare A Crime?", while Doreau and Trunk were researching Hammer's family tree, his roots go back to Ivan the Terrible; coincidentally, he had an uncle named "Ivan". He is also a distant relative to Genghis Khan, through an aunt named "Joan Khan". He is a direct descendant of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he refers to as a "black sheep" in his otherwise violent family.
While purportedly a stickler for law and order, Hammer is rather lax when it actually comes to following police procedure and adhering to regulations. He enjoys roughing up suspected criminals, whom he frequently refers to as "brain-dead mutants", "yogurt-sucking creeps", and the like. He is often suspended from duty, and his police file requires three wheelbarrows to transport.
Hammer drives a beat-up, bullet-riddled, lime green Dodge St. Regis with an "I ? VIOLENCE" bumper sticker. He prefers to wear sports jackets, loud neckties, and dark sunglasses. One episode had him visiting a friend of his who worked in the coroner's office, with the friend saying that no bodies with clothing Hammers size had come in recently. His favorite music consists of classical, "Taps" and "Ballad of the Green Berets". He is divorced, and frequently makes jokes at the expense of his ex-wife, who makes an appearance in the final episode, played by Rasche's real-life wife, Heather Lupton.
Despite his irresponsibility and highly destructive urges, Hammer always ends up getting his man (or woman), often through sheer luck, brute force, the initiative of his partner, or the rare flash of brilliance. Hammer's unintentionally ironic motto is: "Trust me, I know what I'm doing", and disaster usually follows. Another expression he favors is: "Don't confuse me", typically in response to any remark that challenges his markedly one-dimensional worldview.
Hammer's partner is Detective Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin), who is sensitive, intelligent, and sophisticated, though also a tough, agile cop who can handle a gun and deliver a well-timed karate kick when necessary, and who frequently saves Hammer from the extraordinary predicaments into which he invariably gets himself. Doreau is often shocked and offended by Hammer's crass behavior and obnoxious attitude, but she appears to see "some" redeeming qualities beneath his gruff exterior. It becomes apparent with time that she has some romantic feelings for Sledge. Hammer's blatant male chauvinism is a running gag in his dialogues with Doreau (from episode "Under the Gun"):
Captain Trunk (Harrison Page) supervises Hammer and Doreau. He is a chronically uptight, Pepto-Bismol-guzzling, apoplectic parody of police precinct captains from popular 1970s and 1980s TV cops shows. Trunk spends most of his time yelling at Hammer for his incompetence or complaining about his migraine headaches and hypertension brought on by Hammer's antics.
Some notable figures who made guest appearances on Sledge Hammer!:
Sledge Hammer! executive producer Spencer made a Hitchcockian cameo appearance on the episode "Witless".
Inspired by Clint Eastwood's no-nonsense approach to law enforcement in the Dirty Harry films, teenager Alan Spencer dreamed up the idea of a police officer whose approach was even more over-the-top, to the point of absurdity. At the age of 16, Spencer wrote a screenplay based on this idea. The script and the main character were both named Sledge Hammer.
Despite his youth, Spencer had already written for Rodney Dangerfield and such television as The Facts of Life and One Day at a Time. He sold his script upon the release of the fourth Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact and the popularity of NBC's Dirty Harry-inspired action series Hunter; the latter property created demand for a satirical police television show. When HBO approached Leonard B. Stern, former producer of Get Smart, about developing such a show, Stern recommended Spencer's "Sledge Hammer!" idea.
Spencer quickly reworked his script for a half-hour television format. HBO executives did not like it, however, and suggested changes that Spencer found unacceptable, such as casting Dangerfield or Joe Piscopo in the lead role. Last-place ABC was willing to take a chance on the unorthodox script. ABC insisted that the violence be toned down for network television and that a laugh track be included (although some versions - including the DVD release of the show - do not have this track or had it removed; Spencer found it offensive that the audience be told when to laugh and was furious over the decision), but agreed to cast Spencer's first choice for the lead character, the classically trained actor David Rasche. Sledge Hammer! entered ABC's fall lineup in 1986.
The pilot of Sledge Hammer! was completed just as Peter Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" became a huge hit. ABC took advantage of this coincidence by using the song in television, radio, and film advertisements for the show.
The introduction to the show features long, near-sensual closeup shots of Hammer's .44 Magnum as it rests on a luxurious satin pillow. The show's ominous theme music, composed by Danny Elfman, plays in the background. Hammer then picks up his gun, spins it expertly like a cinematic Old West gunslinger, and utters his catch phrase ("Trust me, I know what I'm doing") just before firing into the screen, making a hole in it. According to the DVD release extras, the original version had Hammer firing directly at the viewer, but ABC executives feared this could be too shocking, possibly even causing heart attacks (and leaving the network liable). Thus, Hammer fires into the screen at a slight angle.
According to the DVD release, Hammer's original catch phrase was "I'm crazy, but I know what I'm doing." ABC executives objected to a lead character being "crazy", so they insisted on a change.
The DVD release uses an updated heavy metal version of the theme music by Baboon Rising on the main menus.
Despite critical acclaim,Sledge Hammer! struggled in the ratings. In the documentary on the second season DVDs, David Rasche remarks that the only series getting lower ratings than Sledge Hammer! was Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show.
Sledge Hammer! attracted weekly viewership of nineteen million viewers who followed the show religiously through its many time slot shifts. The fact that the series appealed to key target demographics also kept it on the schedule.
Because ABC intended to cancel the series, the last episode of the first season ends with Hammer accidentally destroying the city when he attempts to disarm a stolen nuclear warhead; just before the explosion Hammer embarks on his infamous catchphrase "Trust Me.....". The last scene shows the Beneath the Planet of the Apes-style ruins of the city with Trunk's voice screaming "HAMMMMMMMER!", and a graphic flashed:
"To Be Continued... Next Season?"
However, this episode got much better than expected ratings, in large part because the network had moved the show to a better time slot. ABC changed its mind and renewed the show for a second season.
The second-season premiere perfunctorily explained that it and following episodes were set "five years before" the explosion, though Doreau is Sledge's partner in the second season, despite being introduced to him in the pilot, and despite the presence of references to contemporary events, rather than those of five years earlier.[episode needed]
In the final moments of the final episode, Sledge asks Dori to marry him, but then claims he was only kidding. The viewer is left to imagine what happens next.
The second season suffered from another extremely undesirable time slot (this time against The Cosby Show), a reduced budget, and lowered filming standard (down to 16 mm film from the previous season's 35 mm). The cutbacks contributed to the show not being renewed for a third season.
The episode "Wild About Hammer" sparked viewer confusion when the epilogue satirized the trend of coloring black & white films. Following the commercial break, a disclaimer read, "The following tag was shot in black and white, then artificially recolored. We promise you will not be able to see the difference." The scene was intentionally altered not only in color, but also in tint, hue, brightness and contrast - prompting viewers to call their local ABC stations and complain about the broadcast quality. In response, Spencer recorded an apology message for ABC's phone lines.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in Region 1. The first season of Sledge Hammer! was released on DVD on July 27, 2004. The laugh track, which the network had insisted on including on the pilot and first 12 episodes, is removed on the DVD version, for which Spencer hired an experienced sound designer. The DVD features a documentary on the series featuring interviews by Spencer, David Rasche, Anne-Marie Martin and Harrison Page. The DVD also includes an unaired version of the pilot that runs several minutes longer and has a different ending and theme music. An earthquake hit while Spencer was recording commentary for one of the DVDs; the tape kept rolling during the event and was included on the DVD, leaving viewers wondering whether the earthquake was real. The second season was released on DVD on April 12, 2005; the commentary on the final episode ended with Spencer, again, being caught in another earthquake, this time with sound effects and a convenient cliffhanger. As of 2010, these releases have been discontinued and are out of print.
On September 6, 2011, it was announced that Image Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series. It was subsequently announced that they will release Sledge Hammer!- The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1 on December 13, 2011. The set will not feature the documentary, commentaries, the uncut pilot (the broadcast version is used) and other bonus features from the Anchor Bay release.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|Region 1||Region 4|
|Season 1||22||July 27, 2004||June 29, 2011|
|Season 2||19||April 12, 2005||August 31, 2011|
|Complete Series||41||December 13, 2011||N/A|
New World's then-subsidiary Marvel Comics released a short-lived comic book based upon the series as a promotion for the second season. In the second issue, Sledge is up against a Spider-Man imposter and on the cover issue a disclaimer hints that Sledge Hammer is actually a mutant when the X-Men series and its mutant spin-offs were on the height of their popularity.
A podcast series about Sledge Hammer! was created in 2016, examining each episode of the show.