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The A-Team

The A-Team is an American action adventure television series about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces who work as soldiers of fortune while being on the run from the military for a "crime they didn't commit". The A-Team was created by writers and producers Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell (who also collaborated together on Wiseguy and Hunter) at the behest of Brandon Tartikoff, NBC's Entertainment president.

Despite being thought of as mercenaries by the other characters in the show, the A-Team always acted on the side of the good guys and helped the oppressed. The show ran for five seasons on the NBC television network, from January 23, 1983 to December 30, 1986 (with one additional, previously unbroadcast episode shown on March 8, 1987), with a total of 98 episodes.

It remains known in popular culture for its cartoon-like use of over-the-top violence (in which people were seldom seriously hurt), supposedly formulaic episodes, featuring the ability to form weaponry and vehicles out of old parts, and its distinctive theme tune. The show also served as the springboard for the career of Mr. T, who portrayed the character of B. A. Baracus, around whom the show was initially conceived. Some of the show's catchphrases such as "I love it when a plan comes together", and "I ain't gettin' on no plane!" have also made their way onto T-shirts and other merchandise.

Although not directly referenced in the series, the name of the show comes from "A-teams", the nickname for Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA). The US Army Special Forces uses the term ODA for their 12-man direct operations teams.

Development

Tartikoff pitched the series to Cannell as a cross between The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, Seven Samurai (and its western remake The Magnificent Seven), Mad Max and Hill Street Blues, with "Mr. T driving the car."

Initially, The A-Team was not expected to become a hit, although Stephen J. Cannell purports that "[George Peppard] said it would be a huge hit before we ever turned on a camera. In fact, the show became a huge hit and the first regular episode, which aired after the 1983 Super Bowl (XVII) on January 30, 1983, reached 26.4% of the television watching audience, placing fourth in the top 10 rated shows, according to the Nielsen Ratings.

Characters

The A-Team revolves around the four members of a former commando outfit and current group of mercenaries. Their leader is Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard), whose plans tend to be unorthodox but effective. Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Dirk Benedict; played by Tim Dunigan in the pilot) is a smooth-talking con-man who serves as the team's appropriator of vehicles and other useful items. The team's pilot is Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock, (Dwight Schultz), who has been declared insane and resides in a mental institution for the show's first four seasons. Finally, there is the team's strong man and mechanic, Sgt. Bosco B.A. ("Bad Attitude") Baracus (Mr. T).

For its first season and the first half of the second season, the team was assisted by reporter Amy Amanda "Triple A" Allen (Melinda Culea). She was ultimately replaced by fellow reporter Tawnia Baker (Marla Heasley) for the rest of the second season. The character of Tia (Tia Carrere), a Vietnam war orphan now living in the United States, was meant to join the Team in the fifth season, but she was replaced by Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez), who served as the team's special effects expert. Eddie Velez was added to the opening credits of the fifth season after that season's second episode.

During their adventures, the A-Team was constantly met by opposition from the military police. In the show's first season they were led by Colonel Lynch (William Lucking), but he was replaced for the second, third and earlier fourth season by Colonel Roderick Decker (Lance LeGault) and his aide Captain Crane (Carl Franklin). Lynch returned for one episode in the show's third season ("Showdown!") but was not seen afterwards again. Decker was also shortly replaced by a Colonel Briggs (Charles Napier) in the third season for one episode ("Fire!") due to Lance LeGault being unavailable for the episode, but returned shortly after. For the latter of the show's fourth season, the team was hunted by General Harlan "Bull" Fullbright (Jack Ging), who would later hire the A-Team to find Tia in the season four finale, during which Fullbright was killed.

The fifth season introduced General Hunt Stockwell (Robert Vaughn) who, while serving as the team's primary antagonist, was also the team's boss and joined them on several missions. He was often assisted by Carla (Judith Ledford, sometimes credited as Judy Ledford).

Casting

In the pilot, the role of Face was portrayed by Tim Dunigan, but he was later replaced by Dirk Benedict, because he was "too tall and too young". According to Dunigan's own account: "I look even younger on camera than I am. So it was difficult to accept me as a veteran of the Vietnam War, which ended when I was a sophomore in high school.

Tia Carrere was intended to join the principal cast of the show in its fifth season after appearing in the season four finale, providing a continuing tie to the team's inception during the war. However, Carrere was under a prior contract to General Hospital at the time, and was unable to join the cast of The A-Team. Her character was abruptly dropped as a result.

According to Mr. T's own account in Bring Back... The A-Team in 2006, the role was written for him from the beginning. This is corroborated by Stephen J. Cannell's own account of the initial concept proposed by NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff.

James Coburn, who co-starred in The Magnificent Seven, was considered for the role of Hannibal in The A-Team, while George Peppard (Hannibal) was the original consideration for the role of Vin (played by Steve McQueen instead) in The Magnificent Seven.

Notable guest appearances

Notable guest stars included:

  • Wendy Fulton — as Kelly Stevens in "Bounty". Fulton and Dwight Schultz had married a few years before the episode, and the episode plays on the theme of Kelly and Murdock falling in love.
  • Boy George — as himself in "Cowboy George"
  • Isaac Hayes — as C.J. Mack in "The Heart Of Rock N' Roll"
  • Hulk Hogan — as himself in "The Trouble With Harry" and "Body Slam"
  • Rick James — as himself in "The Heart of Rock N' Roll"
  • David McCallum — as Ivan Trigorin in "The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair". McCallum guest stars as a former associate of Robert Vaughn's character General Stockwell. Vaughn and McCallum had co-starred together as friendly American and Russian in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. The A-Team episode spoofed many aspects of the classic series.
  • William Perry — as himself in "The Trouble With Harry"
  • Pat Sajak — as himself in "Wheel of Fortune"
  • Vanna White — as herself in "Wheel of Fortune"

Plot synopsis

The "crime they didn't commit"

During the Vietnam War, the A-Team's commanding officer, Colonel Morrison, gave them orders to rob the Bank of Hanoi to help bring the war to an end. They succeeded in their mission, but on returning to their base four days after the end of the war, they found their C.O. murdered by the Viet Cong and his headquarters burned to the ground. Therefore no proof existed that the A-Team were acting under orders, and they were sent to prison by a military court. They were sent to Fort Bragg, from which they escaped before they could actually stand trial.

The first four seasons

The show's early seasons did not have overarching plots, although occasionally there would be two-part episodes. The episodes are linked to a specific season by their primary antagonist, a recurring assistant character and its particular use of guest stars (the first season was relatively low on guest stars while the show's fourth season often featured well-known stars such as Boy George and Hulk Hogan).

As such, only a few significant developments are made during this time, which include the blood transfer between Murdock and B.A. in the first season episode "Bad Day at Black Rock", the replacement of recurring character Amy Allen with Tawnia Baker and the replacements of the recurring antagonists of the Military Police. The final episode of the fourth season does present two unique occurrences; the antagonist (Gen. Fullbright in this case) works with the Team and also features the second on-screen death (also Gen. Fullbright). This episode, together with the first three of the fifth season deal extensively with the team's Vietnam history.

The fifth season

As the television ratings of The A-Team fell dramatically during the fourth season the format was changed for the show's final season in 1986-1987 in a bid to win back viewers. After years on the run from the authorities, the A-Team are finally apprehended by the military. General Hunt Stockwell propositions them to work for him, whereupon he will arrange for their pardons upon successful completion of several suicide missions. In order to do so, however, the A-Team must first escape from their captivity. With the help of new character, Frankie "Dishpan Man" Santana, the team fake their deaths before the firing squad.

The new status quo of the A-Team no longer working for themselves remained for the duration of the fifth season, and both Frankie Santana and Hunt Stockwell were added to the credits. The missions the team had to perform in season five were somewhat reminiscent of Mission: Impossible, and based more around political espionage than besting local thugs, also usually take place in foreign countries. However, these changes proved unsuccessful with viewers and ratings continued to decline. Only 13 episodes aired in the fifth season.

In what was supposed to be the final episode, "The Grey Team" (although a skipped episode was first broadcast during reruns), Hannibal, after being misled by Stockwell one time too many, tells him that the team will not work for him any more. At the end, the team discusses what they were going to do if they got their pardon, and it is implied that they would continue doing what they were doing as the A-Team.

Themes and other characteristics

Opening sequence

Each episode of the first four seasons began with this voiceover introduction:
Ten years ago / 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.

By the time the series began airing in January 1983, it was already out of date, as The A-Team escaped from prison in 1972 (the series began production in Fall 1982, and the first three stories carry a 1982 copyright). For the second to fourth season the dialogue was updated to "In 1972...", confirming the correct date. Due to the first season opening dialogue, some early coverage for the series mistakenly cite the team as escaping from prison in 1973.

The intro was narrated by John Ashley, who was also one of the show's producers. The intro was dropped for the final season, in which the A-Team's circumstances changed to instead be working for General Stockwell. The theme tune was changed to match. In the first four seasons, George Peppard and Mr. T are credited in the opening sequence with their respective characters ("Starring George Peppard as John 'Hannibal' Smith" and "And Mr. T as B.A. Baracus"). For the show's fifth season, however, this was changed to apply to all cast members (including new arrivals Eddie Velez and Robert Vaughn) except Dirk Benedict. The reasoning behind this change, and the exclusion of Benedict, is unknown.

The opening credits for the second season episode "The White Ballot" have the second season opening credits visually, but due to an error have the first season audio (identified by the "Ten years ago..." opening dialogue, and the sound of the bi-plane from the Pilot over the shot of the helicopter chase from "Till Death Do Us Part").

In the later second, third and fourth season opening credits, in a clip taken from the second season episode "Steel", Face (Dirk Benedict) reacts to an actor dressed in a metallic Cylon centurion costume. Benedict had starred years earlier in the science fiction television series, Battlestar Galactica. His character, Starbuck, fought against Cylons.

In the fifth season opening credits, there is a brief shot of what may appear to be Airwolf, but was actually an unmodified black Bell 222 with a red nose, most likely the helicopter featured in the Airwolf Episode Airwolf 2. The footage is taken from the feature-length fourth season opener "Judgement Day". It is followed by a shot of Murdock piloting what is actually a different helicopter, from a fantasy sequence taken from the fifth season episode "Trial By Fire".

Episode structure

The A-Team is a naturally episodic show, with few overarching stories - except the character's continuing motivation to clear their names - with few references to events in past episodes and a recognizable and steady episode structure. In describing the ratings drop that occurred during the show's fourth season, reviewer Gold Burt points to this structure as being a leading cause for the decreased popularity "because the same basic plot had been used over and over again for the past four seasons with the same predictable outcome. Similarly, reporter Adrian Lee called the plots "stunningly simple" in a 2006 article for The Express (UK newspaper), citing such recurring elements "as BA's fear of flying, and outlandish finales when the team fashioned weapons from household items.

Unlike modern shows, The A-Team episodes do not begin with a cold open and start with the main introduction and title of the episode. Generally, the first few scenes will focus on the plight of the episode's victim, who is hoping to hire the A-Team, thereby introducing the story for that episode. These prospective clients are usually led through a series of off-beat and comedic tests, after which a member of the team, mostly Hannibal, will reveal himself and tell the clients they've "just hired the A-Team."

Frequently, one of the clients will be a young woman who Face is immediately attracted to and who will serve as the object of his advances. Occasionally, the A-Team are on the road and simply stumble across someone who needs their help. The A-Team often return their fee to the most needy clients or find another way to pay their expenses.

By this time, Murdock will escape from the psychiatric hospital, where he is interned, with the help of Face. After scamming items necessary for the mission - often directly angering the episode's antagonist - the A-Team will confront that antagonist, insulting him/her, which will lead to a counter-attack later on.

Generally, the A-Team then assist their clients in their daily routine, while furthering Face's romance with the female guest star and initiating a conflict between B.A. and Murdock. These scenes will usually also feature clients and the team alike questioning Hannibal's sanity, leading to the proclamation that Hannibal is "on the jazz", a term to denote the adrenaline rush that accompanies their adventures.

Traditionally, the antagonist's counter-attack then follows, which succeeds and leads to the team's capture. In order to escape, the A-Team will usually construct a weapon - often in the form of a vehicle - of sorts from their available resources. This is detailed in a musical montage focussing on the team's hands and the tools used. The escape will be successful and the antagonist will be defeated with use of the new weapon. The team's opponents are rarely hurt, as bullets miss their targets and the enemies manage to evade or survive, unscathed, numerous explosions.

The show became emblematic of this kind of "fit-for-TV warfare" due to its depiction of high-octane combat scenes, with lethal weapons, wherein the participants (with the notable exception of General Fullbright) are never killed and rarely seriously injured (see also on-screen violence) and (Principle of Evil Marksmanship).

After the defeat of the antagonist, the episode's other storylines will be wrapped up as the team make their escape. Every few episodes, the Military Police catches up with the team, giving them an extra obstacle to overcome in that particular episode, sometimes also appearing in the final few minutes of the episode, forcing the team to make a quick exit. A recurring element that can usually be fit anywhere into the episode is B.A.'s fear of flying, which leads to the team having to knock him out (either by drugs or, less often, hypnosis) to get him onto a helicopter or plane.

Connections to the Vietnam War

The origin of the A-Team is directly linked to the Vietnam War, during which the team formed. The show's introduction in the first four seasons mentions this, accompanied by images of soldiers coming out of a helicopter in an area resembling a forest/jungle. Besides this, The A-Team would occasionally feature an episode in which the team came across an old ally or enemy from those war days. For example, the first season's ending episode "A Nice Place to Visit" revolved around the team travelling to a small town to honor and avenge a fallen comrade.

An article in the New Statesman (UK) published shortly after the premiere of The A-Team in the United Kingdom, also pointed out the The A-Team's connection to the Vietnam War, characterizing it as the representation of the idealization of the Vietnam War, and an example of the War slowly becoming accepted and assimilated into American culture.

One of the team's primary antagonists, Col. Decker, had his past linked back to the Vietnam War, in which he and Hannibal had come to fisticuffs in "the DOOM Club" (Da Nang Open Officers' Mess). At other times, members of the team would refer back to a certain tactic used during the War, which would be relevant to the present predicament the team was in. Often, Hannibal would refer to such a tactic, after which the other members of the team would complain about its failure during the War. This was also used to refer to some of Face's past accomplishments in scamming items for the team, such as in the first season episode "Holiday in the Hills", in which Murdock fondly remembers Face being able to secure a '53 Cadillac while in the Vietnam jungle.

The team's ties to the Vietnam War were referenced again in the fourth season finale, "The Sound of Thunder", in which the team's introduced to Tia (Tia Carrere), a war orphan and daughter of fourth season antagonist Gen. Fullbright. Returning to Vietnam, Fullbright is killed (and his murderer, a Vietnam colonel, is killed in retaliation) during the mission and Tia returns with the team to the United States (see also: casting). This episode is notable for having one of the shows relatively few truly serious dramatic moments, with each team member privately reminiscing on their war experiences, intercut with news footage from the war with Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction playing in the background.

The show's ties to the Vietnam War are fully dealt with in the opening arc of the fifth season, dubbed "The Revolution"/"The Court-Martial" in which the team is finally put on trial for the robbing of the bank of Hanoi. The character of Decker makes a return on the witness stand and various newly introduced characters from the A-Team's past also make appearances. The team, after a string of setbacks, decides to plead guilty to the crime and they are sentenced to be executed. They escape this fate and come to work for a Gen. Hunt Stockwell, leading into the remainder of the fifth season.

Cultural and social impact

Popularity

The A-Team was one of a wide variety of successful television shows from prolific television producer Stephen J. Cannell. Cannell is known for having a particular skill at capitalizing on momentary cultural trends, such as the helicopters, machine guns, cartoonish violence, and joyful militarism of this series, which are now recognizable as trademarks of popular entertainment in the 1980s as seen in the TV shows Magnum PI and Airwolf as well as the films Rambo: First Blood Part II and The Final Countdown. Cannell had been producing shows for ABC in the early 1980s, but was fired by the network for not producing a hit for them. His next project would be The A-Team.

The show became so popular that in 1984 the main cast members of The A-Team, George Peppard, Mr. T, Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz were invited to the Netherlands. George Peppard was the first to receive the invitation and thus thought the invite pertained only to him. When the other cast members were also invited, Peppard declined, leading only Mr. T, Benedict and Schultz to visit the Netherlands. Unpredicted, however, was the immense turn-out for the stars, and they were forced to leave early as a security measure. A video was released with the present actors in which Dwight Schultz apologized and thanked everyone that had attended.

In syndication

The show has achieved cult status through heavy U.S. and international syndication. It has also remained popular overseas, such as in the United Kingdom, where the show has been on-air almost continuously in some form (ITV network, ITV regional re-runs, satellite) since it was first shown in July 1983.

In 2003, in research conducted by web-portal Yahoo! amongst 1,000 television viewers, The A-Team was voted as the one "oldie" television programme viewers would most like to see revived, beating out other popular televisions series from the 80s such as The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.

As of February 2008, NBC has begun posting the first season of The A-Team online for free with the option to download (pay for download). Netflix also has most episodes from seasons 1-5 available for instant viewing. The first two seasons are also available for free viewing on Hulu.com

Merchandise

As well as having huge ratings and being especially popular amongst children, there was countless merchandise available, including action figures of the characters, as well as their famous van and car. A cola flavored popsicle in the shape of Mr. T was also on the market at the show's height. Marvel Comics even produced a three issue A-Team comic book series. Mr. T has also appeared in his own comic books, while a Mr. T graphic novel is set for worldwide release in summer 2008, preceded by a Limited Advance Edition launched in February 2008. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, an A-Team comic strip appeared for several years in the 1980s as part of the children's television magazine and comic Look-In, to tie in with the British run of the series. It was preceded, though, by a short run in the final year (1984) of TV Comic, drawn by Jim Eldridge.

Cast reunions

Bring Back... The A-Team (2006)

On 18 May 2006, Channel 4 in the UK attempted to reunite the surviving cast members of The A-Team for the show Bring Back... in an episode titled "Bring Back...The A Team". Justin Lee Collins presented the challenge, securing interviews and appearances from Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, Marla Heasley, Jack Ging, series co-creator Stephen Cannell, and Mr. T (after much apparent searching). Collins often used very unorthodox methods, such as ambushing the actors in their homes, hotel rooms, or even while out shopping, without any prior warning and, for Mr. T, attempting to gatecrash his way into the Latin Grammy Awards.

Collins eventually managed to bring together Benedict, Schultz, Heasley, Ging and Cannell, along with William Lucking, Lance LeGault, and George Peppard's son, Christian. Mr. T was unable to make the meeting, which took place in the Friar's Club in Beverly Hills, but he did manage to appear on the show for a brief talk with Collins.

During every interview, Collins would inquire about the rumored tension between Peppard and Mr. T. Even though Peppard was an established star of Hollywood movies and Mr. T was relatively new to on-screen acting, in a short time Mr. T was generally regarded as the main star of the show. It was suggested that tension did indeed exist between the two and was most probably due to Peppard's bitterness of Mr. T's status in the show. During the interview with Mr. T, the trademark gold chains worn by his character were discussed. Mr. T stated that they were symbolic of the steel chains that his African slave-ancestors had worn when they were brought to the United States, which he had turned into gold to symbolize that he is still a 'slave', only his price tag is higher. As a lighthearted joke for the show, a medium attempted to contact the deceased George Peppard via seance.

The program never touched upon the fifth season of the series in any way, with no mention of Eddie Velez' and Robert Vaughn's characters, and neither actor appearing at the reunion itself. Additionally, the episode in which Jack Ging's character General Fullbright is shot and killed is specifically described as the series' final episode (it was in fact, the final episode of season four). However, this is most likely due to a genuine misunderstanding, as several other facts (such as those surrounding Melinda Culea and her time on the show) were also slightly off.

Feature film

A feature film based on The A-Team is planned for release on June 12, 2009 in the United States. It will be produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by John Singleton, whose past credits include the films Boyz n the Hood, Shaft and 2 Fast 2 Furious.

The film has been in development since the mid 1990s, going through a number of writers and story ideas, and being put on hold a number of times. Producer Stephen J. Cannell hopes to update the setting, perhaps using the first Gulf War as part of the backstory. The cast has not been revealed, though Singleton hoped Woody Harrelson will take on the role of Murdock, while Ice Cube has expressed interest in the role of B.A. Baracus. It also has been rumored that Bruce Willis is being considered for the role of John "Hannibal" Smith.

Reception

Television ratings

During the show's first season, The A-Team managed to pull in 17% to 20% of the American households on average. The first regular episode ("Children of Jamestown"), reached 26.4% of the television watching audience, placing fourth in the top 10 rated shows, according to the Nielsen Ratings. By March, The A-Team, now on its regular Tuesday timeslot, dropped to the eight spot, but rated a 20.5%. Although the start of April 1983 saw a small drop for the show to 18.0%, it quickly recovered the following week, to 21.6%, which accounts for approximately 18 million homes. During the sweeps week in May of that year, The A-Team dropped again but remained steady at 18.5%, and rose to 18.8% during the second week of May sweeps. It was the highest ratings NBC had pulled in in five years. The A-Team continued to rank in the top 10 highest rated shows for the remainder of its first season and reruns.

The premiere of The A-Team's second season reached 20.9% on the Nielsen Rating scale. It continued to soar that season, reaching third place in the twenty highest rated programs, behind Dallas and Simon & Simon, in January (mid-season). The season finale, titled "Curtain Call", put The A-Team in fourth place with a rating of 19.5%, whereas the episode preceding it, "Semi-Friendly Persuasion", rated 21.6%. In June, the series took the top spot with a rating of 19.3%.

The third season premiere of the series rated fifth in the top 10 with a rating of 19.0% (16.1 million homes), beaten out by four other NBC shows, including The Cosby Show, which placed first and featured the return of Bill Cosby to television after eight years. The A-Team remained in the top 10 for the remainder of the season, and for the first time since 1969, NBC won both sweeps weeks in the May of 1985.

However, the fourth season saw The A-Team experience a dramatic fall, as it started to lose its position while television viewership increased. As such, the ratings, while stable, were relatively less. The season premiere ranked a 17.4% (a 26% audience share on that timeslot) on the Nielsen Rating scale, but after ratings quickly declined. In October, The A-Team had fallen to the 19th spot to 15.3%, whereas it had held the 6th spot for most of its third season. In contrast, The Cosby Show had more than double the amount of viewers. In the second week of January 1986, The Cosby Show reached a 38.5% rating in its timeslot. In that same month, The A-Team fell to the 29th spot, on Super Bowl Night, the night on which the show had originally scored its first hit three years before. For the remainder of its fourth season The A-Team managed to hang around the 20th spot, far from original top 10 position it had enjoyed during its first three seasons.

After four years on Tuesday, NBC decided to move the The A-Team to a new timeslot on Friday for what would be its final season. Ratings continued to drop, and after seven episodes, The A-Team fell out of the top 50 altogether with a 13.3 Nielsen Rating. In November 1986, NBC cancelled the series, declining to order the last nine episodes of what would've been a 22-episode season.

International reception

International response to The A-Team has been varied. Although ratings soared durings its early seasons, many television critics described the show largely as cartoonish and thereby wrote the series off. Most reviews focussed on acting and the formulaic nature of the episodes, most prominently the absence of actual killing in a show about Vietnam War veterans.

"They are all Vietnam veterans. The gradual assimilation of Vietnam into acceptable popular mythology, which began solemnly with The Deer Hunter, has reached its culmination with The A-Team: No longer a memory to be hurriedly brushed aside, but heroes of a network adventure show. Their enemy is a comic army officer, Col. Lynch -- see Sgt. Bilko, see Beetle Bailey, see M.A.S.H. -- whose pursuit of our heroes is doomed to slapstick failure. This is classic right-wing American populism -- patriotic, macho, anti-authority -- and is unlikely to be understood in Britain, where to be right-wing implies an obsequiousness towards officers and the status quo. But right-wing this series certainly is. The bandits, it turns out, are in league with a group of sinister guerrillas who are trying to destabilise the country. However, thanks to the A-Team's hearts and minds policy, the villagers rise up and put them to rout -- in a 20-minute series of comic-book battle scenes, over-turning cars and airplane stunt-tricks, in which not a single person is hurt."
—Mary Harron, New Statesman (UK), July 29, 1983, volume 106, p. 133

"Despite realising what a load of codswallop it all is, I find I can watch A-Team without feeling any pain. Perhaps it is because of the bizarre Mr T, a baubled, bangled and beaded non-actor who plays a mechanical genius, omnipotent muscleman and rigidly moralistic puritan. Not even Olivier could make him believable, but without Mr T this show would be considerably weakened even with all the superb stunting, meticulously planned explosions and Schultz as the chronically eccentric Murdock. This is a performance to relish. If this show is remembered in the future for anything, it will be for giving Schultz a chance to show his skilful comedy style."
—Dean P., The Courier-Mail/The Sunday Mail (AUS), January 8, 1985

"Proving there is truly no justice on this earth, Mr T gets $40,000 an episode for merely standing around looking nasty, occasionally beating up a couple of crooks or letting off a machinegun. He also does a fair bit of growling at the supposedly insane member of the team, Murdock, who is portrayed by Dwight Schultz. Murdock is a convincing nutcase and adds some bright spots to the plot, which holds no surprises, in tonight's episode called ""In Plane Sight". Perhaps Schultz really has gone insane from doing what amounts to be the same plot with only minor variations in each A-team episode. The show is made for the average 10-year-old intellect which presumably has a desire for lots of car chases, flying bullets and punch-ups."
—Coomber J., The Courier-Mail/The Sunday Mail (AUS), October, 1985

"Many people complain about the TV wasteland and probably point to The A-Team as an example of mindless, violent, primitive, exploitive sausage factory fodder. Who's arguing? It's all those (and more) except mindless. Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo have created an action farce, but sometimes the scripts are more subtle than most suspect."
—Dean P., The Courier-Mail/The Sunday Mail (AUS), May 27, 1986

"And the penny has finally dropped. It is a farcical comedy, aimed at kids who would know no better and ones whose parents allow them to read escapist comic books. [...] Pow, blam, zap, kerpow! You expect the words to flash across the screen as about 1000 rounds of ammunition are fired across the village. No one ducks for cover, no one hides and amazingly, no one is injured, let alone killed. Just for amusement, Mr T goes into mufti to nail the revolutionaries while the rest of his alleged intelligence team is in jail. Some intelligence, that lot. In the slammer while their getaway boat is captured. Then when the hoedown really gets down to tin-tacks, the Beatles' song Revolution is played in its entirety while the stuntmen - and there must have been dozens of them - do their stuff. That's The A-Team for you folks. A merry jape."
—Gibson R., The Courier-Mail/The Sunday Mail (AUS), June 30, 1987

Criticisms

On-screen violence

In fact, the show has been described as cartoonish and likened to Tom & Jerry. Dean P. of the Courier-Mail described the violence in the show as "hypocritical" and that "the morality of giving the impression that a hail of bullets does no-one any harm is ignored. After all, Tom and Jerry survived all sorts of mayhem for years with no ill-effects.

When the A-Team aired in 1983, there were numerous watchdog organizations who sought to get the A-Team off the air. According to certain estimates, an episode of the A-Team held up to 46 violent acts. Stephen J. Cannell, co-creator of the show responds: "They were determined to make a point, and we were too big a target to resist. Cartoon violence is a scapegoat issue." Originally the A-Team's status as a hit show remained strong, but ultimately lost out to more family-oriented shows such as The Cosby Show, Who's the Boss? and Growing Pains.

According to an article in The New York Times, titled "TV View: It's Fun And It's Not Violent" there was a clear reason for this:

"But television, a notorious devourer of talent, is never that simple. There are other factors. One is that a substantial number of viewers, if the ratings in recent months are to be believed, are clearly fed up with mindless violence of the car-chasing, fist-slugging variety. Another, more subtle, is that younger audiences are tuning out of commercial television to watch MTV or their VCR's. Significantly, the only hit series routinely featuring violence in the past year or two has been Miami Vice, which, in addition to being a fashion show, looks like an extended music video.

"In any event, former celebrations of violence like The A-Team, in the Top 10 not too long ago, can now be found sinking to the bottom of the ratings lists. The younger audiences who made the show are, in their familiar fickleness, deserting it. Meanwhile, the networks are rediscovering that older audiences are still big consumers who remain attractive to advertisers."
—John J. O'Connor, The New York Times, February 16, 1986.
The violence presented in The A-Team is highly sanitized. People do not bleed or bruise when hit (though they might develop a limp or require a sling), nor do the members of the A-Team kill people. The results of violence were only ever presented when it was required for the script. In almost every car crash there is a short take showing the occupants of the vehicle climbing out of the mangled/burning wreck (even in helicopter crashes), although by late in the fourth season, some of these takes were dropped. According to Stephen J. Cannell this part of the show did become a running joke for the writing staff and they would at times test the limits of realism on purpose.

Sexism

During the show's tenure, the show was occasionally criticized for being sexist. These critiques were based on the notion that most female roles on the show were either a lead-in to the episode's plot, the recipient of Face's affections, or both. The only two regular female members of the cast, Melinda Culea (season 1 and the first half of season 2) and Marla Heasley (the latter half of season 2) did not have a very long tenure with the show. Both Culea and Heasley had been brought in by the network and producers to stem these critiques, hoping that a female would properly balance the otherwise all-male cast. Culea was fired during the second season because of creative differences between her and the show's writers; she wanted more lines and more action scenes. Heasley was brought in to replace Culea as a similar assisting reporter character, but with a more fragile and seductive quality to her.

Ultimately, she was written out of the show at the start of the third season when the network determined that a female cast member was not necessary. While the character of Amy Allen suddenly disappeared between two episodes, Tawnia left the team on-screen, choosing to marry and move out of Los Angeles. The character of Amy Allen was only briefly referred to once in the episode "In Plain Sight", and a couple of times in "The Battle of Bel Air", the same episode that introduced Tawnia Baker, in which she was cited to have taken a correspondence job overseas (in Jakarta, Indonesia).

Marla Heasley's experiences on-set

As Marla Heasley recounts in Bring Back... The A-Team (May 18, 2006), although sexism was not prevalent on the set per se, there was a sense that a girl was not necessary on the show, and she was even approached by George Peppard about it:

He was really serious. He said: "When you're finished with your make-up, I would like to talk to you. Please come to my trailer." I said: "Okay." So I went to his trailer and he said "have a seat", I said "okay", and then he said: "I just want you to know that we don't want you on the show," he said "We don't want you on the show. None of the guys want you here. The only reason you're here is because the network and the producers want you. For some reason they think they need a girl."

The interview continues with Marla Heasley noting that on her last day of work Peppard took her aside again, saying:

I'm sorry that this is your last day, but remember what I said the very first day, that we didn't want a girl, has nothing to do with you. You were very professional, but no reason to have a girl.

In an interview with the Sunday Mail (AUS), George Peppard, portraying Hannibal Smith on the show, admitted that he thought that "whenever the studio slips an actress on to the team, she becomes a distraction. She always slows down the action. She's someone who's only there for the glamor shots. Everything stops for the sexy smiles - and I can't see why that's necessary on The A-Team.

Response by Dirk Benedict
In Bring Back... the A-Team, Dirk Benedict also remarked that, indeed, the show was very male driven:
It was a guy's show. It was male driven. It was written by guys. It was directed by guys. It was acted by guys. It's about what guys do. We talked the way guys talked. We were the boss. We were the God. We smoked when we wanted. We shot guns when we wanted. We kissed the girls and made them cry... when we wanted. It was the last truly masculine show.

In two similar interviews in 2007, on the Dutch talk shows Jensen! and RTL Boulevard (both broadcast on May 11, 2007), Benedict remarked again that the A-Team was a guy show, and if it were remade today, it'd be a lot more feminine, and a more adequate naming would be "The Gay-Team".

Awards

During its time, The A-Team was nominated for 3 Emmy Awards: In 1983 (Outstanding Film Sound Mixing for a Series) for the pilot episode, in 1984 (Outstanding Film Sound Mixing for a Series) for the episode "When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?" and in 1987 (Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series) for the episode "Firing Line."

Production notes

Connections to other television shows

A late episode of Stephen J. Cannell's previous hit, The Rockford Files, "The Hawaiian Headache", features a character called 'Colonel John "Howling Mad" Smith', names that would evolve into Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith and Captain "Howling Mad" Murdock in The A-Team. Another early Rockford episode, "The Kirkoff Case" (the first regular episode after the Pilot) features a character called Tawnia Baker. Similarly, the villain in the first season episode "West Coast Turnaround" is called Chuck Easterland. Cannell has used this name in a number of penned episodes of various shows, including the first season Hunter episode "A Long Way From L. A.". A villain in the third season A-Team episode "The Bells of St. Mary's", also by Cannell, also has a notably similar name, Zeke Westerland.

In the opening credits of The A-Team beginning with the second season, Dirk Benedict is shown looking (with a sense of deja-vu) at a person dressed as a Cylon from the original 1978 series of Battlestar Galactica, in which Benedict played the role of Lieutenant Starbuck.

Episodes

Many of the episode titles (and plots) are plays on those of famous movies. For example, the early episode "Black Day At Bad Rock", is a play on the classic 1955 movie Bad Day at Black Rock. An early Knight Rider episode, 'Good Day at White Rock' is also a similar play on the title. Both episodes also contain notable parallels, with both stories involving a biker gang terrorizing a small town.

In "Pros and Cons", Face pretends to be Dr. Dwight Pepper, the author of a book on prison reform. The photo on the back of the book (supposedly the actual Dr. Dwight Pepper) is a photo of Stephen J. Cannell, the producer of the series. The name is a gag on the soft drink of the same name, although some have noted that Dwight is Dwight Schultz's first name, and Pepper is similar to Peppard.

A 'lost episode', "Without Reservations", aired for the first time during re-runs in March 1987. This episode was meant to air before the final episode "The Grey Team", which is reflected by the fact that in "Without Reservations" Murdock's T-shirt says "Almost Fini" while in "The Grey Team" it says "Fini". Apparently, the axe fell on the series more suddenly than expected, leaving the episode too short to be broadcast. To make it long enough to air, the entire pre-opening credits sequence was made up of footage from the first season episode "Holiday In The Hills", re-edited with a new fifth season-style backing score, and a shot of Frankie added from the fifth season episode "The Crystal Skull". "The Grey Team" is also more likely to be the 'proper' final episode, as Hannibal tells General Stockwell that the team will not work for him (Stockwell) any longer after being mislead one time too many, and at the end of the story, the team ponders their future.

The final episode of the fourth season at one point may have been the last, as Murdock's "All Good Things Must Come To An End" T-shirt hints. But the show returned, re-vamped, for one more season.

Professional wrestlers

The show featured professional wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, Professor Toru Tanaka, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, The Dynamite Kid, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Davey Boy Smith, Big John Studd, and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine.

The GMC van

The black and metallic grey GMC Vandura van used by the A-Team, with its characteristic red stripe, black and red wheels, and rooftop spoiler, has become an enduring pop culture icon. One of the original six vans used for the show is displayed in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick, northern England.

Early examples of the van had a red GMC logo on the front grill, and an additional GMC logo on the rear left door. However, early in the second season, these logos were blacked out (although GMC continued to supply vans and receive a credit on the closing credits of each episode).

It is a common error that the van is said to be all-black, whereas in fact the section above the red stripe is metallic grey (this error even followed through on to most toy models of the van). The angle of the rear spoiler can also be seen to vary on different examples of the van within the series. Additionally, some versions of the van have a sunroof, whereas others, typically those used for stunts (and including the one displayed in the aforementioned Cars of the Stars Motor Museum) do not. This on occasion led to continuity errors in some episodes, such as in the third season's 'The Bells of St. Mary's', in a scene where (the double of) Face jumps from a building onto the roof of the van. There is clearly no sunroof. However, a few moments later, in an interior (studio) shot, Face climbs in through the sunroof!

A number of devices were seen in the back of the van in different episodes, including a mini printing press ('Pros and Cons'), an audio surveillance recording device ('A Small and Deadly War'), and Hannibal's disguise kits in various episodes.

Weapons

In early episodes the team used M16 rifles, while in later episodes they used the Ruger AC-556 rifles, a selective-fire version of the Mini-14. Hannibal is also seen using an M60 machine gun in some episodes as well as a Micro-Uzi. Hannibal's sidearm is a nickel plated Smith and Wesson M59 9mm however in the episode "Black Day at Bad Rock" he is seen carrying a Browning Hi-Power.

DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released all five seasons of The A-Team on DVD in Region 1 and Region 2.

Title Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Season One June 8 2004 September 13 2004 December 1 2004
Season Two April 12 2005 July 4 2005 July 11 2005
Season Three January 31 2006 May 22 2006
(R2 has different cover art)
July 12 2006
Season Four April 4 2006 September 18 2006 September 20 2006
Season Five:
The Final Season
October 10 2006 February 12 2007
(R2 has different cover art)
February 21 2007
Seasons One, Two & Three N/A November 20 2006
(only available in R2)
N/A
Seasons One - Five N/A November 26 2007
(only available in R2)
N/A

Note: The Region 1 releases of season 1 (during the Pilot episode) and season 3 (two instances during the episode "Beverly Hills Assault") replace music tracks with generic music, due to copyright problems. (This only applies to the region one release).

Note: On the Second Season set, there is a very brief break in the feature-length episode "When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?". In the original version, after the fight in the town, Hannibal bends down to Stryker and says "You tell Bus Carter that he's out of the rustling business"; On the DVD it skips to "...rustling business". This minor break is thought to be due to damage to the master prints (although it still appears on copies of the episode shown around the world).

Note: On the Region 1 release of season 4, a number of the opening trailers, previewing the upcoming episode, are missing (Again, confirmation needed if this is the same on the Region 2 versions).

References

Notes

External links

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