||This article needs additional citations for verification. (May 2010)|
|Created by||Alan Spencer|
|Theme music composer||Danny Elfman|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||41 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||William P. D'Angelo
|Producer(s)||Thomas John Kane|
Peter V. White
|Running time||22–24 minutes|
|Production company(s)||D'Angelo Productions
New World Television
|Original run||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 1986 to 1988. The series was created by Alan Spencer and stars David Rasche as Inspector Sledge Hammer, a preposterous caricature of the standard "cop on the edge" character, whose name is apparently mutated from Mike Hammer. Indeed, Sledge Hammer is most strongly influenced by Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan character. Al Jean and Mike Reiss, best known for their work on The Simpsons, wrote for the show and worked as story editors.
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 comical absurdity. At the age of sixteen, Spencer wrote a screenplay based on this idea. The script and the main character were both named "Sledge Hammer".
Spencer, who at his young age had already written for various standup comedians such as Rodney Dangerfield and television shows such as The Facts of Life and One Day at a Time, was unable to sell the script until the mid-1980s, when the release of the fourth Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact and the popularity of NBC's Dirty Harry-inspired action series Hunter 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. Surprisingly, 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.
Fortuitously, 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 Gabriel's popular tune in television, radio and film advertisements for the show.
Premise and characters
Inspector Sledge Hammer
Inspector Sledge Hammer of the San Francisco Police Department is a violent, sadistic, insensitive, yet oddly likable detective. His prized possession is a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver with a customized grip, featuring an engraving of a sledgehammer. Hammer sleeps and showers with his gun, 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 bazooka, 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". And 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 a wheelbarrow to transport.
Hammer drives a beat-up, bullet-riddled, lime green Dodge St. Regis with an "I ♥ VIOLENCE" bumper sticker. He prefers to wear cheap sports jackets, loud neckties, and dark sunglasses. 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.
In episode 2, "Hammer Gets Nailed", Hammer addresses the stereotype of policemen and donuts, stating that the fat in donuts gums up the arteries and goes into the brain, making the person liberal; hence, he prefers granola bars. (The irony is that granola is frequently associated with liberal intellectual types.) However, in subsequent episodes, Hammer eats donuts regularly, including a couple that had a suspect's fingerprints and were to be kept as evidence. Hammer is also an advocate of non-smoking, having people chew gum instead. In one episode, he shoots a cigar off a person inside the precinct. A noted exception to this is his acceptance of Humphrey Bogart's smoking habit in the episode Play it Again, Sledge, although Bogart was only a ghost.
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 some times a flash of brilliance. Hammer's unintentionally ironic motto is "Trust me, I know what I'm doing." (Disaster usually follows.) Another expression he often utters is "Don't confuse me," typically in response to any remark that challenges his ridiculously one-dimensional worldview.
Detective Dori Doreau
Hammer's partner is the beautiful Detective Dori Doreau (played by Anne-Marie Martin), who is competent, kind, sensitive, intelligent, and sophisticated — everything Hammer is not. 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. (Indeed, 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:
- Doreau: What, you think all women should be barefoot and pregnant?
- Hammer: No, I encourage women to wear shoes.
Doreau's cautious and compassionate approach to law enforcement is a crucial counterpoint to Hammer's reckless and nihilistic quest for justice. Yet Doreau is a tough, agile cop who can handle a gun and deliver a well-timed karate kick when necessary. She frequently saves Hammer from the extraordinary predicaments he invariably gets himself into.
Hammer and Doreau are supervised by the chronically uptight, Pepto-Bismol-guzzling, apoplectic Captain Trunk, played by Harrison Page. Trunk spends most of his time yelling at Hammer for his incompetence or complaining about his migraine headaches brought on by Hammer's antics. If Trunk has any respect or fondness for Hammer, he hides it extremely well. In one episode ("Miss of the Spider Woman") Hammer is about to die from snake venom poisoning but is saved at the last minute when Trunk shows up with the antidote:
- Hammer: How can I ever thank you?
- Trunk: Don't drink it.
Like Hammer, Trunk is divorced, and has made an attempt to reconcile with his ex-wife Renee in the episode "Over My Dead Bodyguard". His short temper and high blood pressure even made him immune to a biological weapon that contaminated the whole precinct in the episode "They Call Me Mr. Trunk".
Desk Sergent at the precinct he is depicted as rather lazy and slobbish, rarely making any effort to help the other officers. Portrayed by Leslie Morris
Another officer at the precinct. Portrayed by Patti Tippo
Coroner Norman Blates
The precinct's medical examiner who specializes with the sudden deceased at crime scenes. According to executive producer Alan Spencer, the character is play-on to Norman Bates, the character from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Coincidentally, the actor who acted him out, Kurt Paul, actually acted out the role of Norman Bates in Bates Motel and even worked as a stunt double for Anthony Perkins himself as Norman Bates in Psycho II and Psycho III.
Newscaster Lisa Ellerblub
Local news anchorwoman. Portrayed by Diane Sainte-Marie. Possibly a reference to a popular TV news personality from the same time period, Linda Ellerbee.
Some notable figures who made guest appearances on Sledge Hammer!:
Spencer himself made a Hitchcockian cameo appearance on the episode "Witless".
Actor Jackie Cooper had directed a few Sledge Hammer! episodes himself.
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. 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.
Most of the humor in the series is based on Hammer's callous, simplistic, narrow-minded worldview and its unfortunate consequences for those around him. Hammer is like a human tornado, devastating everyone and everything in his path. A camera view of his apartment shows that one of his favorite wall hangings is an "enemy" target on his closet door. He blames gun control, feminism, and rock music for many of the world's ills. One example of such humor (taken from the first episode):
- Sledge Hammer: Well, Miss, I was in this store when two thugs entered and threatened the owner with shotguns. At that time I drew my magnum and killed them both. Then I bought some eggs, milk, and some of those little cocktail weenies.
- News reporter: Inspector Hammer, was what you did in the store absolutely necessary?
- Sledge Hammer: Yes, I had no groceries at all.
Hammer's over-the-top but deadpan antics have ranged from pulling a rocket launcher from his trunk and firing it at the building where a sniper is stationed, to forcing a purse-snatcher to beat himself up in order to avoid brutality charges.
Physical comedy is another important element of the show. Through his Jack Tripper-like clumsiness, Hammer is constantly unintentionally injuring Captain Trunk with, for example, a stray billiard ball to the head, a coffin lid dropped on the fingers, or a misguided attempt at fixing Trunk's sore neck with a little amateur chiropractic adjustment:
- Trunk: (yelling in pain) You sadistic, depraved, bloodthirsty, barbaric...
- Hammer: Is that why you called me in here? To shower me with compliments?
Another running gag is Hammer's reckless driving; he is continually rear-ending and backing into things with his beat-up green Dodge St. Regis.
The series also features a good deal of self-referential and topical, popular culture-based humor. For example, in the final episode of the first season, Captain Trunk tells a busted criminal "Your show's been canceled!"; Hammer replies, "You talking to me?" (a reference to the show's shaky prospects for a second season). In another episode, Hammer tells a suspect "Every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you. That's police talk!", alluding to the 1983 hit song by The Police.
There are numerous references – nearly all of them disparaging – to other popular television shows of the time, such as ALF, The Cosby Show, Miami Vice, Matlock, The Equalizer, Webster, Moonlighting, Max Headroom, Designing Women, Dallas, T. J. Hooker (referred to as J.T. Hooker) and Murder, She Wrote. (Particular scorn is reserved for Mr. Belvedere.) One episode even ridiculed the existence of the Fox Network, which was still in its infancy at the time.
The show lampoons popular films of the 1980s such as RoboCop, Witness, Flashdance and "Crocodile" Dundee, but also alludes to classics such as Casablanca, Cool Hand Luke, Dog Day Afternoon, The Andromeda Strain and A Clockwork Orange.
Ratings and second season
Despite rapturous critical acclaim, Sledge Hammer! struggled in the ratings. This was due in large part to its being scheduled in the Friday 9 p.m. timeslot (popularly known as the Friday night death slot), against CBS's Dallas and NBC's Miami Vice, two of the most popular shows on television at the time. (In the first season episode "All Shook Up", Hammer remarks that it's a "terrible place" to be between a man from Dallas and a man from Miami, a reference to both shows. In his commentary on the first season DVDs, Alan Spencer remarks that the only series getting lower ratings than Sledge Hammer! was Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show. That actually applied to the second season.
In truth, 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. Hammer! would invariably improve on any time slot the network placed it into.
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 first episode of the second season perfunctorily explained that it and following episodes were set "five years before" the explosion. Bill Bixby (of The Incredible Hulk fame) was brought in to direct numerous episodes. Doreau is Sledge's partner in the second season, a glaring (and unexplained) inconsistency, as the two are portrayed as meeting for the first time in the pilot episode. Another problem is that throughout the second season the show makes reference to contemporary events and TV series rather than those of 5 years before. This is more than likely a spoof of cop out endings to season-ending cliffhangers (a notorious example is Dallas's ninth season opener, where the previous season was revealed to be a dream).
One explanation that has been suggested is that the nuclear warhead which detonated at the end of the first season was an experimental model that was designed to only destroy buildings and not humans. Hence why Captain Trunk appears to have survived the explosion in the final shot so presumably Sledge and Dori did too. The city was therefore rebuilt after the explosion, season 1 was spread over the 5 year period leading up to it and those season 2 episodes which make contemporary references are set after the explosion. Writer/producer Alan Spencer has given this theory lukewarm endorsement saying it is 'as good as any'.
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). It was not renewed for a third season.
The episode "Wild About Hammer" sparked controversy 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.
Intro and theme music
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 an 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.
- New World's then-subsidiary Marvel Comics released a short-lived comic book based upon the series, only publishing two issues. In the second issue, to boost sales, Sledge is up against a Spider-Man imposter and on the cover issue a disclaimer shows hint that Sledge Hammer is actually a mutant when the X-Men series and its mutant spin-offs were on the height of their popularity. It is unclear supposedly what his super powers were in the entire series.
- David Rasche appeared as the President of the United States in the short-lived 2001 television series DAG. His secret service code-name on the series was Sledge Hammer.
In France, the series was called Mr. Gun, while in Italy, it was known as Troppo Forte!. The series was marketed in Japan as I am Hammer! (俺がハマーだ!). In Iceland, the series was named Barði Hamar. In Germany the series was called Der Hammer in the first time till 1993. Also Sledge Hammer´s gun is named "Susi" in the German version. A joke done during synchronisation (the gun has no particular name in the original version). In Brazil, the series was aired under the title Na mira do tira which means something like Under the cop's sight. In Russia series was called Кувалда (Kuvalda) that is a literal Russian translation of the word sledgehammer. The Finnish title Moukarimies means "The Hammer Man".
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 has 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|
|Season 1||22||July 27, 2004|
|Season 2||19||April 12, 2005|
|Complete Series||41||December 13, 2011|
- O'Connor, John. (September 23, 1986) "2 New Series, 'Matlock' and 'Sledge Hammer'". The New York Times. Page C18
- Shales, Tom. (September 14, 1986) "FALL TV: The Perils and the Programs". The Washington Post. Page G1
- The Official Sledge Hammer! Website – Wild About Hammer
- (Japanese)"俺がハマーだ!" Sledge Hammer! DVD box released in Japan (Date: 21 October 2005) With 俺がハマーだ! transliterated as "I am hammer!"
- TV Shows on DVD - Sledge Hammer!: The Complete Series
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Sledge Hammer!|
- Sledge Hammer! Online – Alan Spencer's official site
- Sledge Hammer! at the Internet Movie Database
- Sledge Hammer! at TV.com