‘Hammer’ nails DVD

Fans put '86 ABC cop comedy back on beat

HOLLYWOOD — More than 15 years after a brief onscreen life, ABC’s critically loved laffer “Sledge Hammer!” is being resurrected on DVD — and a feature revival of the franchise may be on the horizon as well.

Anchor Bay will release a four-disc set featuring the entire 22-episode first season of the skein — along with a never-aired version of its pilot — on July 27. Second (and final) season of the skein is set to be issued at a later date, with series creator-exec producer Alan Spencer actively involved in shaping the content of the release.

“Sledge Hammer!,” airing 1986-88, starred David Rasche as a “gung-ho police detective who shot first and asked questions six months later,” according to the show’s official Web site.

“This show was unusual because it featured actual shootings, as opposed to other sitcoms, where only the jokes die,” Spencer told Daily Variety.

While studios are releasing DVD sets of classic or long-running laffers at a rapid rate, cult skeins like “Sledge Hammer!” don’t automatically get the DVD treatment. The success Fox has had with the release of short-lived toon laffer “Family Guy” is changing the equation, however.

“We saw the (sell-through) numbers for ‘Family Guy’ and we were blown away,” said Mark Ward, director of acquisitions for Anchor Bay. “It’s one of the reasons we decided to do this.”

Spencer retained the feature rights to “Sledge Hammer!” and said he’s been approached numerous times over the years about reviving the show as a film. Buzz about a pending DVD release has spurred talk of such a revival.

“The interest has been renewed and there are active talks,” Spencer said, noting that the sales tally for the DVD will be key.

“Anytime something is making money, that drives the train,” he said, noting that Fox’s success with another DVD release — Joss Whedon skein “Firefly” — convinced Universal to greenlight a feature based on the series.

In addition to numerous extras — a new featurette, old ABC promos, commentary on four episodes, digitally restored prints — the “Sledge Hammer!” set will be notable for what it doesn’t include: a laughtrack on the show’s first 13 episodes.

When the skein first aired, ABC insisted on canned laughs despite Spencer’s objections. Net ultimately agreed to banish the fake guffaws when the show got its back-nine order, but the DVD release will allow “Sledge” to be seen the way Spencer intended.

Hammerheads, as loyalists of the show call themselves, helped spur the DVD release by flooding the show’s Web site and signing an online petition.

Skein also has built up a large overseas following, with auds in countries like the U.K. and France viewing the skein as “a metaphor for the U.S. cowboy mentality,” Spencer said.

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