Retrospective: 40 Years Since America first hired ‘The A-Team’ By: Jesse Striewski

THE A-TEAM — Pictured: (clockwise from left) Dirk Benedict as Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck #2, Dwight Schultz as Capt. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, Mr. T as Sgt. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus, George Peppard as Col. John “Hannibal” Smith — Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

I’m far from what one would call much of a “big car guy,” but as a kid in the ’80s, it was all about the vehicles portrayed in pop culture on the small screen. On Saturday mornings, you had shows like Transformers and M.A.S.K. that each had a heavy focus on their automobiles, while the evenings were dominated by the likes of The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and of course, The A-Team.

Originally premiering on NBC on January 23, 1983 and created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo, The A-Team followed a “crack commando unit” of highly trained “special forces” Vietnam-era soldiers wanted by the military for crimes they did not commit. After they relocate to the urban jungles of Los Angeles, CA, they become “soldiers of fortune,” available for hire to help those ho need them.

The show starred George Peppard as the leader of the group, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (whose line “I love it when a plan comes together” quickly became a catch phrase), Dirk Benedict as ladies/con man Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck, and Dwight Schultz as the unhinged (yet lovable) comic relief, Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock. And of course, the show was best known for spawning the career of Mr. T as the lean, mean Sergeant “B.A.” Baracus (B.A. standing for “Bad Attitude,” naturally). Mr. T had of course already made waves the previous year as Rocky Balboa’s latest foe Clubber Lang in Rocky III, but the series helped launch him into superstardom.

Although it was often criticized for its cartoon-ish violence and lack of bloodshed despite the use of numerous explosives and/or heavy artillery/machine guns, The A-Team was an instant commercial and pop culture success, with everything from action figures, to Hot Wheels toys finding their way into the hands of the kids of the era such as myself (to this day I still have an A-Team Hot Wheel, and in my early twenties I even owned a ’94 GMC Vandura personally, a later model of the same van actually used in the show). If basing the series strictly on merchandise alone, The A-Team was no doubt a goldmine.

Band of brothers; the author (far right w/ cat) in 2004 with his Random Tragedies bandmates at the time (from left, Caleb Page and Jason “Kurt” Potter), doing their best A-Team on the back of a 1994 GMC Vandura, similar to the one used in the show.

During its run it also attempted to incorporate two separate female reporters as leads in the first two seasons – first Melinda Culea, followed by Marla Heasley – though neither would last very long. By its fifth and final season, a fifth member of the team named Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez) was also added to the group, as well as Robert Vaughn portraying the new “boss.” Several notable pop culture figures from the ’80s also guested over the course of its five-year run, including Hulk Hogan, Rick James, Boy George, and even Wheel of Fortune hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Former Rewind It Magazine interviewee Monte Markham also once appeared on a 1984 episode of the show.

But of course, all good things must come to an end. I was just six years old when the show aired its last episode on March 8, 1987, yet I can still vaguely remember its importance at the time, if for no other reason thanks to my dad and older brother. Of course Hollywood would eventually try to give it the movie treatment in 2010, but as in most cases, it lacked the same magic as the original. Yet the heart of the show still lives on with each and every rerun and “I pity the fool” Mr. T reference uttered to this day.

A couple of A-Team collectibles from the author’s personal collection.

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