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What Was 21 Jump Street?

21 Jump Street was a groundbreaking TV series in the late '80s that blended gritty police drama with the complexities of undercover work in high schools. It launched Johnny Depp's career and tackled social issues with a fresh perspective. How did this show redefine the cop genre, and what is its legacy today? Join us as we dive deeper.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

21 Jump Street was a television crime drama series that originally aired on the Fox Television Network from 1987 to 1991. The show was created by Stephen J. Cannell and Patrick Hasburgh. 21 Jump Street centered around police officers that looked younger than they were to work undercover in high schools as part of a youth crimes unit.

The hour-long 21 Jump Street was filmed near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It featured Johnny Depp, who said he signed on for six years because he thought the show would only last one year. At first, Depp refused the part and Jeff Yagher was cast as Officer Tom Hanson instead. But, 21 Jump Street co-creator, Patrick Hasburgh, really wanted Depp, and asked him again to take the role and that time Depp accepted. The scenes with Yagher had to be re-shot.

Johnny Depp said he signed on to 21 Jump Street for six years because he thought the show would only last one year.
Johnny Depp said he signed on to 21 Jump Street for six years because he thought the show would only last one year.

The pilot episode of 21 Jump Street aired on 12 April, 1987 in two parts, but on the same night. The show was a hit and continued for five seasons. The plots revolved around issues such as child abuse, drug abuse, drinking, racism and homophobia. The idea behind the special youth crimes unit was to catch would-be criminals while they were still in high school to try to stop them from becoming career criminals. Public service announcements, with members of the 21 Jump Street cast speaking about the main issue of a particular episode, often followed the show.

21 Jump Street plots revolved around serious issues, such s child abuse.
21 Jump Street plots revolved around serious issues, such s child abuse.

Holly Robinson, Peter De Luise, Frederic Forrest and Richard Grieco were some of the other notable names in 21 Jump Street besides Depp. Holly Robinson sang the lead in show's theme song with Peter De Luise and Johnny Depp on background vocals. Richard Grieco's character, Officer Dennis Booker, became a part of the show in the third season. Grieco was originally only supposed to be a guest star, but his character was so popular that a spin-off show was created. The show was called simply Booker and it was produced for only one year, 1989-1990, before Fox canceled it.

The title, 21 Jump Street, refers to the address of the old church which headquartered the youth crime unit on the show. Peter De Luise played Doug Penhall and Holly Robinson's role was Judy Hoffs. Johnny Depp wanted out of the role of Tom Hanson by the third year when he was receiving film offers. Depp's lawyers managed to help him escape his 21 Jump Street contract after the fourth year.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the premise of the original "21 Jump Street" TV series?

The original "21 Jump Street" TV series, which aired from 1987 to 1991, followed a group of young-looking police officers who worked undercover in high schools and colleges to tackle youth crime. The show blended drama and comedy, focusing on issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and social inequality. It was a launching pad for Johnny Depp's career, who played Officer Tom Hanson.

How did "21 Jump Street" impact television in its era?

"21 Jump Street" was one of the first network series to address real issues faced by teens and young adults of the 1980s and early 1990s. Its approach to sensitive topics, combined with action and humor, helped pave the way for future youth-oriented shows that didn't shy away from difficult subjects. The series also helped Fox, then a new network, establish itself as a competitor in the television landscape.

Were there any spin-offs or reboots of "21 Jump Street"?

Yes, "21 Jump Street" inspired a spin-off series called "Booker," which featured Richard Grieco's character, Dennis Booker. Additionally, the franchise was rebooted as a film series starting in 2012, with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum playing the lead roles. The movies took a more comedic approach and were successful at the box office, leading to a sequel, "22 Jump Street," in 2014.

What themes did "21 Jump Street" explore through its episodes?

"21 Jump Street" delved into various themes, including peer pressure, the consequences of drug use, the struggles of maintaining cover identities, and the personal lives of the officers. It often highlighted the moral dilemmas and emotional challenges the young officers faced while trying to enforce the law among their peers.

How can I watch the original "21 Jump Street" series today?

The original "21 Jump Street" series is available for streaming on various platforms. You can check subscription services like Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, or purchase episodes through digital storefronts such as iTunes or Google Play. Availability may vary based on your location, so it's best to search the specific services accessible to you for the most current options.

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Discussion Comments


@titans62 - Are you serious? There is a 21 Jump Street movie coming out? If anyone knows anything about it please tell me.

I have to wonder though if Johnny Depp will be in it considering the amount of success that he has had with big budget blockbuster types of movies lately. I cannot imagine the 21 Jump Street movie will have a gigantic budget and may be too small a movie for Johnny.

I will say though I hope he is in it even if it is only a cameo, because he was such an important figure in the series it would be nice for a little bit of a tribute from him to occur for the fans that watched the show.

I know that he did have a cameo, once he became very famous, in one of the sequels to Nightmare on Elm Street, which was his first film, so maybe he may do the same for the 21 Jump Street movie.


I only saw a few episodes of 21 Jump Street and I have to say I did like what I saw, but I cannot see this show being popular nowadays.

The world of television today is very cynical when it comes to the audience and people do not like to be preached to. That is why I do not see this show being able to be re-booted and becoming a television show again.

It was a period piece type of television show that greatly identified with its audience and fit perfectly in the era it came out in. What was popular back then will not be popular nowadays so unfortunately the cult like following that this show has will not expand with a new television show.

However, I do know that there is a movie in the works and that it is set for release sometime next year.


@matthewc23 - I completely agree with you. I remember the influx of public service announcements and their messages all followed the same formula. It is amazing to see how similar they all were in their format when comparing one another and 21 Jump Street definitely fit into the same category as these public service announcements, with the only difference being that it was a full length television series.

I always thought that 21 Jump Street was a show with an agenda and it was not afraid to show it and let it be known. However, it did it in a way that was not horribly preachy and also sought to make a difference in the community by helping out the younger viewers who watched the show.

It can be said that 21 Jump Street was somewhat of an hour long public service announcement that was critically acclaimed and extremely popular. I cannot imagine a show like this existing long nowadays, but back then it fit perfectly with the era and was a very decent show that identified with the audience.


I watched 21 Jump Street a few times as a kid and I still have the same opinion of it to this day, which is that it was consistent with the times and basically served as a moralistic sitcom that was aimed at putting children on the right path and they were not afraid to continually push their messages on the kids.

This is not at all a bad thing, simply the way they did shows like this at the time as well as public service announcements. The show meant well and sought to serve as a role model for television in regards to the younger demographic.


Loved 21 jump street in the 80s and I still love it now.

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    • Johnny Depp said he signed on to 21 Jump Street for six years because he thought the show would only last one year.
      Johnny Depp said he signed on to 21 Jump Street for six years because he thought the show would only last one year.
    • 21 Jump Street plots revolved around serious issues, such s child abuse.
      By: Rafael Ben-Ari
      21 Jump Street plots revolved around serious issues, such s child abuse.