8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter

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In 1987, 25 years before being remade as a feature film, 21 Jump Street had a small part in starting the Fox TV network -- and a huge role in launching Johnny Depp's career.

Rupert Murdoch had acquired Metromedia's six stations in 1985 to use as the foundation for his new Fox Broadcasting Co. 21 Jump Street entered the fledgling network's Sunday-night lineup and became its first hit. The title referred to the headquarters address of a special unit of police chosen for their youthful appearance. They'd go undercover in high schools, investigate crime and in the process deliver a moral message.

Depp, then 23, who had appeared in a few TV movies and had a small part in Oliver Stone's Platoon, was God's gift to Tiger Beat. With his floppy gelled hair, soulful eyes, stud earring and cool demeanor, he was an immediate -- though reluctant -- teen sensation. He'd replaced Jeff Yeager, who shot the pilot but looked too old. The choice had come down to Depp and Josh Brolin -- and Fox wanted Brolin.

"I threw my first of many tantrums," Jump creator Patrick Hasburgh tells THR from his home in Sayulita, Mexico. "I said, 'We're going with this kid.' Johnny is someone who, if you're lucky, walks into your office once in your career. I was astonished by his presence, his natural gifts -- and that he was 23 and divorced but looked 15. He looked like a runaway. He had a kind of infantile danger about him but also a remarkable sensitivity and vulnerability."

A year after the show bowed, Depp told Rolling Stone he'd taken the Jump job because "I only thought it would last a year," but he defended the series by saying that "the scripts help people." However, he added, "The minute they make a Jump Street lunchbox, I'm gone."

Depp did four seasons on the show, shot Cry-Baby during the final year and immediately went on to star in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. He has a cameo in the 21 Jump Street film that opened March 16. As of press time, it has grossed a heady $71.1 million at the domestic box office.