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11 Bulletproof Facts About Sledge Hammer!

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Although its run was short-lived, ABC’s mid-1980s cop spoof Sledge Hammer! made a significant imprint in the minds of primetime viewers. David Rasche starred as the title character, a trigger-happy police detective who “shot first and asked questions never.” In honor of the 30th anniversary of the show’s series finale on February 12, 1988, we’ve got a few facts about the series that should hit the mark. 

1. IT WAS THOUGHT UP BY A TEENAGER.

In 1971, 10-year-old Alan Spencer snuck into a screening of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry by buying a ticket to Fiddler on the Roof and switching theaters once he was inside. Impressed by the movie and its sequels, Spencer decided to write a script lampooning the renegade cop trope. At 16, he began circulating Sledge Hammer! around the business to readers who didn’t understand the kind of satire Spencer was aiming for. One agent called it “the work of someone with serious mental problems.”

Spencer persevered: Nearly a decade later, another Dirty Harry sequel arrived in theaters and reinvigorated interest in a send-up of the genre. Reworked as a half-hour sitcom, Sledge Hammer! suddenly became a hot commodity.

2. IT ALMOST ENDED UP AT HBO.

Leonard Stern, who produced the 1960s spy spoof Get Smart, knew of Spencer’s script and connected him with HBO. The network wasn’t sure what to make of the excessive violence and dark humor and wanted Spencer to revise it to fit the persona of Rodney Dangerfield, who they wanted to have starring in the project. Spencer declined and took the idea to ABC, which was receptive to it—provided all of the profanity was deleted. The writer and network cast Second City’s David Rasche and Anne-Marie Martin as Sledge and partner Dori Doreau, respectively. (Martin went on to marry Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton.)

3. ABC WAS CONCERNED THE SHOW WOULD CAUSE HEART ATTACKS.

Composer Danny Elfman created the track for the Sledge Hammer! opening credits sequence, which was shot in romantic close-up of Sledge’s beloved .44 Magnum firearm. In a James Bond homage, Rasche was supposed to then pick up the weapon and fire it directly at the viewer, “shattering” the television screen. ABC nixed the idea, fearing the abrupt visual might prompt heart attacks in susceptible viewers. (He fired it offscreen instead.)

4. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PETER GABRIEL SONG. (BUT USED IT ANYWAY.)

Oddly, Sledge Hammer! the series and "Sledgehammer" the song had absolutely no connection with one another, but both were released within a few months of each other in 1986. With the song a hit, ABC convinced (and obviously paid) Peter Gabriel to allow them to use it in promotional spots for the series.

5. ABC REFUSED TO HAVE SLEDGE ADMIT HE WAS CRAZY.

A man who talks to and sleeps with his gun probably is in need of some kind of mental evaluation. But Spencer’s original catchphrase idea for Sledge—“I’m crazy, but I know what I’m doing”—was axed by ABC, which refused to allow any admission the character might be mentally ill. The phrase became “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” 

6. IT HAD A RIVALRY WITH MR. BELVEDERE.


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Spencer was not a fan of Mr. Belvedere, the genteel 1980s sitcom about an English butler who charms his American employers. Sledge took several shots at the show—which aired on the same network—prompting Belvedere star Bob Uecker to criticize Sledge while a guest on The Tonight Show. The war of words was never resolved.

7. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE CANCELED SOONER.

As an acquired taste, Sledge Hammer! didn’t resonate with viewers, who preferred it a distant third to time slot competitors Dallas and Miami Vice. Believing the first season would also be the last, the show’s producers aired a finale that featured Hammer accidentally activating a nuclear warhead that reduced his city to rubble. When ratings improved for the apocalyptic finale, ABC decided to renew it—forcing the show to frame subsequent episodes as having taken place years prior to the explosion.

8. IT WAS A MARVEL COMIC. (FOR TWO ISSUES.)

Lasting just two issues, Marvel’s Sledge Hammer! took the detective into the sequential art world, including a guest appearance by Spider-Man. The cover of the first promised a faithful adaptation of the “show that refuses to die.” (Marvel’s onetime Hulk, Bill Bixby, directed several of the show’s episodes.)

9. A CONTRACT OMISSION MADE FOR A HOME VIDEO WINDFALL.

At the time Sledge Hammer! aired, studios and networks were mostly concerned with rights issues relating to videocassette releases. The network therefore didn’t bat an eye when Spencer, who loved laserdiscs, had it written into his contract that he be a profit participant in any “disc format” releases of the show. Sledge was released on DVD in 2004, a "disc format" the network could never have anticipated, and earned Spencer a significant cut of the profits.

10. NEW LINE WANTED TO MAKE A FEATURE.

In 1992, Spencer received word that New Line Cinema was interested in adapting Sledge Hammer! as a feature film. The creator passed when it became clear the studio wanted to move forward with a new cast and new characters.

11. IT EARNED ITS CREATOR AN HONORARY NRA MEMBERSHIP.


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Not everyone took the satire of a gun-loving fascist as a joke. Spencer told Splitsider in 2012 that when Sledge Hammer! premiered, the National Rifle Association (NRA) bestowed him with an honorary membership for contributing to pro-gun awareness. “A lot of people took [the show] very seriously,” he said.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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Star Wars Premiered 41 Years Ago … and the Reviews Weren’t Always Kind
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

A long time ago (41 years, to be exact) in a galaxy just like this one, George Lucas was about to make cinematic history—whether he knew it or not. On May 25, 1977, moviegoers got their first glimpse of Star Wars, Lucas’s long-simmering space opera that would help define the concept of the Hollywood “blockbuster.” While we're still talking about the film today, and its many sequels and spinoffs (hello, Solo), not every film critic would have guessed just how ingrained into the pop culture fabric Star Wars would become. While it charmed plenty of critics, some of the movie’s original reviews were less than glowing. Here are a few of our favorites (the good, the bad, and the Wookiee):

"Star Wars is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fictions. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The journey from one end of the galaxy to another is out of countless thousands of space operas. The hardware is from Flash Gordon out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the chivalry is from Robin Hood, the heroes are from Westerns and the villains are a cross between Nazis and sorcerers. Star Wars taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories."

—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Star Wars is not a great movie in that it describes the human condition. It simply is a fun picture that will appeal to those who enjoy Buck Rogers-style adventures. What places it a sizable cut about the routine is its spectacular visual effects, the best since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001Star Wars is a battle between good and evil. The bad guys (led by Peter Cushing and an assistant who looks like a black vinyl-coated frog) control the universe with their dreaded Death Star."

—Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

Star Wars is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. This is the writer-director George Lucas’s own film, subject to no business interference, yet it’s a film that’s totally uninterested in anything that doesn’t connect with the mass audience. There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. An hour into it, children say that they’re ready to see it again; that’s because it’s an assemblage of spare parts—it has no emotional grip. “Star Wars” may be the only movie in which the first time around the surprises are reassuring…. It’s an epic without a dream. But it’s probably the absence of wonder that accounts for the film’s special, huge success. The excitement of those who call it the film of the year goes way past nostalgia to the feeling that now is the time to return to childhood."

—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

"The only way that Star Wars could have been interesting was through its visual imagination and special effects. Both are unexceptional ... I kept looking for an 'edge,' to peer around the corny, solemn comic-book strophes; he was facing them frontally and full. This picture was made for those (particularly males) who carry a portable shrine within them of their adolescence, a chalice of a Self that was Better Then, before the world's affairs or—in any complex way—sex intruded."

—Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

“There’s something depressing about seeing all these impressive cinematic gifts and all this extraordinary technological skills lavished on such puerile materials. Perhaps more important is what this seems to accomplish: the canonization of comic book culture which in turn becomes the triumph of the standardized, the simplistic, mass-produced commercial artifacts of our time. It’s the triumph of camp—that sentiment which takes delight in the awful simply because it’s awful. We enjoyed such stuff as children, but one would think there would come a time when we might put away childish things.”

—Joy Gould Boyum, The Wall Street Journal

Star Wars … is the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made. It’s both an apotheosis of Flash Gordon serials and a witty critique that makes associations with a variety of literature that is nothing if not eclectic: Quo Vadis?, Buck Rogers, Ivanhoe, Superman, The Wizard of Oz, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table … The way definitely not to approach Star Wars, though, is to expect a film of cosmic implications or to footnote it with so many references that one anticipates it as if it were a literary duty. It’s fun and funny.”

—Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"Viewed dispassionately—and of course that’s desperately difficult at this point in time—Star Wars is not an improvement on Mr Lucas’ previous work, except in box-office terms. It isn’t the best film of the year, it isn’t the best science fiction ever to be translated to the screen, it isn’t a number of other things either that sweating critics have tried to turn it into when faced with finding some plausible explanation for its huge and slightly sinister success considering a contracting market. But it is, on the other hand, enormous and exhilarating fun for those who are prepared to settle down in their seats and let it all wash over them.”

—Derek Malcolm, The Guardian

“Strip Star Wars of its often striking images and its high-falutin scientific jargon, and you get a story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality, without even a ‘future’ cast to them. Human beings, anthropoids, or robots, you could probably find them all, more or less like that, in downtown Los Angeles today. Certainly the mentality and values of the movie can be duplicated in third-rate non-science fiction of any place or period. O dull new world!”

—John Simon, New York Magazine

"Star Wars is somewhat grounded by a malfunctioning script and hopelessly infantile dialogue, but from a technical standpoint, it is an absolutely breathtaking achievement. The special effects experts who put Lucas' far-out fantasies on film—everything from a gigantic galactic war machine to a stunningly spectacular World War II imitation dogfight—are Oscar-worthy wizards of the first order. And, for his own part, Lucas displays an incredibly fertile imagination—an almost Fellini-like fascination with bizarre creatures.”

—Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

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