The A-Team is an American action-adventure television series that ran on NBC from 1983 to 1987 about former members of a fictitious United States Army Special Forces unit.
The members, after being court-martialed “for a crime they didn’t commit”, escaped from military prison and, while still on the run, worked as soldiers of fortune.
The series was created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo.
A feature film based on the series was released by 20th Century Fox in 2010.
The A-Team is a naturally episodic show, with few overarching stories, except the characters’ continuing motivation to clear their names, with few references to events in past episodes and a recognisable 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”. 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 Fulbright) are never killed and rarely seriously injured.
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 1986–87 in a bid to win back viewers.
After years on the run from the authorities, the A-Team is finally apprehended by the military. General Hunt Stockwell, a mysterious CIA operative played by Robert Vaughn, 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, the A-Team must first escape from their captivity. With the help of a new character, Frankie “Dishpan Man” Santana, Stockwell fakes their deaths before a military firing squad.
The new status of the A-Team, no longer working for themselves, remained for the duration of the fifth season while Eddie Velez and Robert Vaughn received star billing along with the principal cast. The missions that the team had to perform in season five were somewhat reminiscent of Mission: Impossible, and based more around political espionage than beating local thugs, also usually taking place in foreign countries, including successfully overthrowing an island dictator, the rescue of a scientist from East Germany, and recovering top secret Star Wars defence information from Soviet hands.
These changes proved unsuccessful with viewers, however, 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 “Without Reservations” was broadcast on NBC as the last first-run episode in March 1987), Hannibal, after being misled by Stockwell one time too many, tells him that the team will no longer work for him.
At the end, the team discusses what they were going to do if they get their pardon, and it is implied that they would continue doing what they were doing as the A-Team.
The character of Howling Mad Murdock can be seen in the final scene wearing a T-shirt that says, “Fini”.
Connections to the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, the A-Team were members of the 5th Special Forces Group (see the episode “West Coast Turnaround”). In the episode “Bad Time on the Border”, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, portrayed by George Peppard, indicated that the A-Team were “ex-Green Berets”. 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 their return to base four days after the end of the war, they discovered that Morrison had been killed by the Viet Cong, and that his headquarters had been burned to the ground. This meant that the proof that the A-Team members were acting under orders had been destroyed. They were arrested, and imprisoned at Fort Bragg, from which they quickly escaped before standing trial.
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 or 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 final episode “A Nice Place To Visit” revolved around the team travelling to a small town to honour a fallen comrade and end up avenging his death, and in season two’s “Recipe For Heavy Bread”, a chance encounter leads the team to meet both the POW cook who helped them during the war, and the American officer who sold his unit out.
The A-Team was created by writers and producers Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo at the behest of Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s Entertainment president. Cannell was fired from ABC in the early 1980’s, after failing to produce a hit show for the network, and was hired by NBC; his first project was The A-Team. Brandon Tartikoff pitched the series to Cannell as a combination of The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, The Magnificent Seven, Mad Max and Hill Street Blues, with “Mr. T driving the car”.
The A-Team was not generally expected to become a hit, although Stephen J. Cannell has said that George Peppard suggested it would be a huge hit “before we ever turned on a camera”. The show became very popular; the first regular episode, which aired after Super Bowl XVII on 30 January 1983, reached 26.4% of the television audience, placing fourth in the top 10 Nielsen-rated shows.
The show remains prominent in popular culture for its cartoonish violence (in which people were seldom seriously hurt, despite the frequent use of automatic weapons), formulaic episodes, its characters’ ability to form weaponry and vehicles out of old parts, and its distinctive theme tune. The show boosted 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”, “Hannibal’s on the jazz”, and “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!” have also made their way onto T-shirts and other merchandise.
The term “A-Team” is a nickname coined for US Special Forces’ Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA) during the Vietnam War.
In a 2003 Yahoo! survey of 1,000 television viewers, The A-Team was voted the “oldie” television show viewers would most like to see revived, beating out such popular television series from the 1980’s as The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.
The GMC Van
The 1983 GMC Vandura van used by the A-Team, with its characteristic red stripe, black and red turbine mag wheels, and rooftop spoiler, has become an enduring pop culture icon. The customised 1994 Chevrolet G20 used on the A-Team movie was also on display at the 2010 New York International Auto Show.
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”), Hannibal’s disguise kits in various episodes, and a gun storage locker.
Early examples of the van had a red GMC logo on the front grille, and an additional GMC logo on the rear left door. 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.
The van was almost all-black, as the section above the red stripe was metallic gray. 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 do not. This led to continuity errors in some episodes, such as in the third season’s “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, in a scene where Face jumps from a building onto the roof of the van with no sunroof but moments later, in an interior studio shot, climbs in through the sunroof.
- The series was co produced by former actor John Ashley who also provided the opening narration to the movie.
- According to Mr. T’s account in Bring Back… The A-Team in 2006, the role of B. A. Baracus was written specifically for him. This is corroborated by Stephen J. Cannell’s own account of the initial concept proposed by Tartikoff.
- Although the part of Face was written by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell with Dirk Benedict in mind, NBC insisted that the part should be played by another actor, instead.
- Therefore, in the pilot, Face was portrayed by Tim Dunigan, who was later replaced by Dirk Benedict, with the comment that Dunigan was “too tall and too young”.
- According to Dunigan: “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 tie to the team’s inception during the war.
- Unfortunately for this plan, Carrere was under contract to General Hospital, which prevented her from joining The A-Team.
- Her character was abruptly dropped as a result.
- 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) in The Magnificent Seven.
- Robert Vaughn, of course, actually appeared in the film.
The A-Team Series
- TV Series:
- Bring Back … The A-Team (2006).
- The A-Team (2010).
Production & Filming Details
- Creator(s): Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell.
- Narrator(s): John Ashley.
- Director(s): Michael O’Herlihy (20 episodes, 1984-1986), Dennis Donnelly (12 episodes, 1983-1985), Craig R. Baxley (9 episodes, 1984-1986), David Hemmings (9 episodes, 1984-1986), Tony Mordente (8 episodes, 1984-1986), Arnold Laven (6 episodes, 1983-1985), Christian I. Nyby II (5 episodes, 1983), Ron Satlof (5 episodes, 1983), Sidney Hayers (4 episodes, 1985-1986), Gilbert M. Shilton (3 episodes, 1983-1984), Bruce Kessler (2 episodes, 1983), Guy Magar (2 episodes, 1983), Bernard McEveety (2 episodes, 1983), Chuck Bowman (1 episode, 1983), Rod Holcomb (1 episode, 1983), Ivan Dixon (1 episode, 1984), James Fargo (1 episode, 1984), Michael Vejar (1 episode, 1984), Nicholas Sgarro (1 episode, 1985), Bob Bralver (1 episode, 1986), James Darren (1 episode, 1986), Les Sheldon (1 episode, 1986), and John Peter Kousakis (1 episode, 1987).
- Producer(s): Frank Lupo, Stephen J. Cannell, John Ashley, Patrick Hasburgh, Tom Blomquist, Jo Swerling Jr., Gary Winter, Alan Cassidy, Rob Bowman, and Steve Beers.
- Writer(s): Stephen J. Cannell (creator) (97 episodes, 1983-1987), Frank Lupo (creator) (97 episodes, 1983-1987), Bill Nuss (28 episodes, 1985-1987), Richard Christian Matheson (25 episodes, 1983-1986), Tom Szollosi (25 episodes, 1983-1986), Mark Jones (25 episodes, 1984-1985), Stephen Katz (10 episodes, 1984-1985), Sidney Ellis (6 episodes, 1983-1986), Babs Greyhosky (6 episodes, 1983-1984), Patrick Hasburgh (5 episodes, 1983), Burt Pearl (5 episodes, 1985-1986), Steven L. Sears (5 episodes, 1985-1986), Danny Lee Cole (3 episodes, 1984-1986), Paul Bernbaum (3 episodes, 1985-1986), Tom Blomquist (3 episodes, 1985-1986), Jeff Ray (2 episodes, 1983-1984), Jo Swerling Jr. (1 episode, 1983), Chris Bunch (1 episode, 1984), Bruce Cervi (1 episode, 1984), Allan Cole (1 episode, 1984), Milt Rosen (1 episode, 1984), Dennis O’Keefe (1 episode, 1985), Steve Beers (1 episode, 1986), Jayne C. Ehrlich (1 episode, 1986), Terry D. Nelson (1 episode, 1986), and Lloyd J. Schwartz (1 episode, 1986).
- Music: Pete Carpenter (97 episodes, 1983-1987), Mike Post (97 episodes, 1983-1987), and Garry Schyman (unknown episodes, uncredited).
- Cinematography: Bradley B. Six (61 episodes, 1983-1985) and Frank E. Johnson (35 episodes, 1985-1987).
- Editor(s): Albert J.J. Zúñiga (31 episodes, 1983-1986), Chris G. Willingham (29 episodes, 1983-1986), Ron Spang (20 episodes, 1984-1987), Howard Terrill (18 episodes, 1983-1985), David Latham (8 episodes, 1985-1986), Michael T. Elias (4 episodes, 1983), David Ramirez (4 episodes, 1986), George R. Rohrs (3 episodes, 1983), Buford F. Hayes (3 episodes, 1984), Gloryette Clark (2 episodes, 1983-1985), John Elias (2 episodes, 1983), Larry Lester (2 episodes, 1984-1985), John J. Dumas (2 episodes, 1986), Jack Harnish (1 episode, 1983), Ronald LaVine (1 episode, 1983), and Gene Ranney (1 episode, 1986).
- Production: Stephen J. Canell Productions and Universal Television.
- Distributor(s): MCA TV and NBC Universal Television Distribution.
- Release Date: 23 January 1983 to 08 March 1987 (TV Series).
- Running Time: 48 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.