Entertainment

The A-Team TV Series: Crack Commando Unit In A Black Van

We Loved the A- Team because it had Action, Adventure and Comedy

There cannot be many people of a certain generation that are not aware of one of the 1980s most iconic narrations from the A-Team intro.

In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.

The A-Team was convicted of a crime they did not commit. They became soldiers of fortune.

Hugely popular in the early 1980s, The A-Team was an action adventure television series that was the brainchild of Stephen Cannell and Frank Lupo. Cannell always envisioned that the show would be a fusion of other productions like Mission Impossible, Hill Street Blues and the Dirty Dozen. Even before filming began, George Peppard was in little doubt that the show would prove to be a popular one. Television executives were not as assured as main star Peppard, but audiences proved otherwise. The very first episode was broadcast on 30 January 1983 after that year’s Super Bowl. Over 26% of viewers tuned in to see the early adventure, helping the A-Team reach 4th place in the top ten rated shows.

Mr. T as B.A. Baracus Becomes a Superstar

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B.A. Baracus (Mr. T) with Boy George on the June 17, 1986 episode of the A-Team “Cowboy George”.

Many aspects of the show have endured in the decades since its initial broadcast and have become staples of general entertainment as a whole. Not counting the numerous catchphrases that the show spawned, perhaps the most striking feature that both fans and non-fans tend to recall is the sight of B.A. Baracus. Previously seen in the blockbuster film Rocky 3, the A-Team made a superstar of Mr. T. Originally, the whole show was going to be orientated around the Team’s talented engineer but minute changes to the premise were made before production began. B.A. was an integral part of the show itself, always being at the forefront of another of the show’s main features – developing makeshift items (usually weapons or vehicles) from tools, objects and parts left lying around or stored in the immediate area.

Comedic Violence without Fatalities

Many of the episodes followed a similar plot. A person or persons would be oppressed by a corrupt or insidious group of some description. This could include racketeers, rogue military personnel or even dirty police officers. Many of the tasks that the team were hired for required careful scrutiny on the team’s part, since the U.S. Military are seldom far behind them. Most of the time, the chasing Military Police were under the command of Colonel Decker. Even though the entire premise of the show surrounded a military team, the violence throughout the show’s run was mild, but often over the top with a cartoon style quality. No matter what measures were taken against the antagonists, seldom were these actions fatal.

Who Were the Members of the A-Team?

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The A-Team (from left to right) Templeton “Face” Peck, John “Hannibal” Smith, H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, and Bosco “B.A.”, or “Bad Attitude”, Baracus. Image: NBC/Universal

Within the team, each member had a particular talent or skill. The leader, John ‘Hannibal’ Smith was not only a tactician of some renown, but was a master of disguise. Hannibal would normally use this when making initial contact with a potential client – usually to screen him/her/them against possible links to the military or law enforcement agencies. Templeton Peck, known as ‘Face’ was a smooth talking conman that would be responsible for procuring equipment or supplies that would be required to complete any task the team were hired for. He was also the second in command to the team’s hierarchy. The Team boasted an expert pilot that was able to control any aircraft. Murdoch was certified to be insane by psychological studies owing a helicopter crash during the latter stages of the Vietnam War. The final member of the regular team is Bosco ‘B.A.’ Baracus. B.A. had a notorious fear of flying and would usually need to be drugged before any flight took place. If tranquilizers were unavailable for any reason, then the team would usually resort to more basic methods to subdue the huge man. Generally, BA didn’t like Murdoch, but at times did show compassion for him. One thing that BA did enjoy was fresh milk. When the show first began, the team had a fifth member; their first client Amy Allen. She was a reporter who had heard rumors about the team’s existence and wanted to know more. Half way through the second season, she was replaced by another reporter called Tawnia Baker. From the beginning of season 3, the team continued with just the quartet of Vietnam Vets traveling the US in their unmistakable black van.

Rising Tensions Between the Actors

Behind the scenes, tensions steadily grew between Peppard and Mr. T. The latter almost took over as the marketable image of the show, being easily the most standout member of the cast. Both actors believed the other to be the cause of the rising tensions. Other cast members also had their own interpretations. In the show’s fifth and final season, actor Robert Vaughn was brought in to play General Stocker. Dirk Benedict, who played Templeton Peck, firmly believes that Vaughn was hired more because he was an old friend of Peppard. Robert Vaughn himself did allude that Mr T., far from being the amiable man that he portrayed, was more than capable of grating other people’s nerves.

Issues with the Critics

The A-Team was a huge part of television during the 80s and, to many, was essential viewing. It was not without its critics though. One main target was the levels of on-screen violence. It has been routinely described as unrealistic and something more akin to the likes of Tom and Jerry cartoons. The sanitized violence would often not be obvious. For instance, blood was rarely seen and injuries were more implied. A character might be seen limping or wearing a sling. During the latter stages of its run, this actually become something of a running joke among the crew and they would regularly test these limits on realism deliberately.

Another target for criticism was sexism. The only two regular actresses that appeared on the show – Melinda Culea (Amy) and Marla Heasley (Tawnia) were not on the show for any great length of time. Both had only been brought into the show by the network and produces in an effort to balance the cast overall. Creative differences between the writing team and Culea meant that half through the second season, she was fired from her role. Culea wanted to have a bigger role within the show and felt that the writers were doing the exact opposite. Her character would often be absent from specific episodes before ultimately disappearing. Her replacement did not fair much better. Beasley always had the impression that a female character was not actually needed at all. On her first day of shooting, Beasley stated that Peppard took her to one side and insisted that none of the cast wanted her on the show. Dirk Benedict would later confirm that in an interview, citing that the A-Team was a “guy’s show” and the last masculine show.

Why the A-Team was Canceled

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The iconic A-Team van. Image: The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA. Long Beach Comic Expo 2012 .

The A-Team reached its viewing peak in its third season. The fourth season’s ratings were stable, but were considerably lower overall, due to the increased television viewership. In response to this, NBC opted to re-work the series for the fifth season. The Team no longer found themselves as soldiers of fortune, coming to the rescue of members of the general public. Instead, they were recruited to a special division within the U.S. Army after having their deaths faked. Viewers didn’t take to these changes and the decision was taken in November 1986 to cancel the show.

A-Team Reboot in the Works

Since ending, the show has actually gone from strength to strength. This is mainly due to international audiences and U.S. syndication. The style and tone of the show may well be more suited to 1980s audiences, but there have been numerous calls to bring it back. In September 2015, it was announced that a reboot was in the works. The cast would consist of characters of both sexes.

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Les Hewitt

Les currently resides in London and contributes to several online magazines on a regular basis. When not writing or working, Les is studying web development.