A classic cult comedy from the ’80s with a global following could be added to the list of TV reboots, as its creator targets cable or streaming as potential landing places.
Sledge Hammer! was a subversive satire chronicling the misadventures of a deranged, violent lawman (David Rasche) who created chaos and destruction in his pursuit of justice. Many still remember it for an early scene in the pilot episode (watch it above), or the infamous season finale cliffhanger wherein the title character accidentally nuked the world. Created by Alan Spencer, the series remains one of the more unconventional half-hour comedies to ever air on network TV. It also was ahead of its time in that its pilot was directed by a woman, Martha Coolidge.
Despite only lasting two seasons on ABC from 1986-88, Sledge Hammer! always had a fervent fan base of “Hammerheads,” who followed the show into syndication and DVD. The series co-starring Anne-Marie Martin and Harrison Page spawned a short-lived Marvel comic book and recently was rerun on MeTV. While Police Squad! spawned the successful The Naked Gun movie series, Spencer has been trying years to revive Sledge Hammer!, to no avail. Finally, a lawman best described as Dirty Harry’s less brainy and more trigger-happy brother, might be ready for mayhem again, Spencer said.
“I’ve received inquiries about movie versions and TV remakes over the years, but it was mostly people explaining to me what my own series was about,” he said. “The only thing we agreed upon was that it was about half an hour.”
New World Television, the studio that produced the series, was acquired by 21st Century Fox during the late ’90s, giving Fox rights to a TV sequel. Spencer holds the separated rights, but there has been wrangling over the definition of streaming. The WGA maintains those rights belong to Spencer. Fox doesn’t agree.
“I’d only want to do an update for new media or cable with the freedom that allows, so I reached out to co-chairman of Fox TV, Gary Newman, who’s been very helpful and put me in touch with some smart executives over there. We’re currently having productive conversations.”
Spencer said a character created in satire was somehow prescient, one of the reasons he felt it was ripe for a reboot. He noted, for instance, that Donald Trump’s statements about arming school teachers was something Sledge Hammer advocated in an episode 30 years ago.
Spencer now envisions the title character being called back to active duty after many years away, a trigger-happy lawman thrust into the changed world of forensic crime-solving and increased scrutiny of police. Spencer describes the new incarnation of Hammer as being “a fish out of water who isn’t out of bullets. Sledge operates on a worst-case scenario of the NRA mantra, where the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to arm everyone else with a gun.”
In this moment of globalization, Spencer said Sledge Hammer! long has held strong overseas appeal, where the joke of a satire on American gung-ho jingoism always hit its mark. “The series is very big in Germany,” Spencer said, “where they love blond, blue-eyed fascists.”
The Sledge Hammer character was notable for being in a committed relationship with his gun that he slept alongside, showered with and lovingly spoke to. This devotion reportedly got Spencer an offer of honorary NRA membership.
“Fans of the show still send me bullet casings,” Spencer said. “There are actual police training videos that include clips from the show as examples of what not to do.”
The series has been in the news lately, with reviewers citing its influence on the TBS cop-spoof series Angie Tribeca as well as editorials mentioning the show’s relevance within the current political scene.
“I was watching a political round-table after Trump advocated arming teachers in schools,” Spencer said, “and one of the pundits mentioned how the president sounded like Sledge Hammer.”