It was only a matter of time before the television remake trend found its way back to Hannibal, Murdock, Face, and B.A. Baracus, the four mercenaries better known as The A-Team. On Thursday, 20th Century Fox Television announced that a reboot of the mid-1980s action series is in the works, and that this "team" will be made up of both men and women. So let's take a look back at the show that started it all.
In 1972, the A-Team was sent on a covert mission to rob the Bank of Hanoi of gold bullion, with the intent of helping to end the Vietnam War. They succeeded, only to find that their commanding officer had been murdered in a traitorous double-cross and his headquarters burned to the ground. Unable to prove that they were acting under orders, they were sent to a maximum security stockade.
This was a catchphrase belonging to Mr. T, but just like “Play it again Sam” and “Beam me up, Scotty!” the exact quote never appeared in the series. Usually B.A. preferred to call people “suckers.”
Well, not the van. But a replica of the highest standard, built and painstakingly refurbished by two brothers, Liam and Jerome Brett. They built it up from an original 1982 G Series Cargo Van, which they imported to the U.K. from Vermont, and scoured the world for authentic parts. Their amazing work can be appreciated here.
Fans will remember that almost every episode climaxed with explosions and gunfire and bad guys flying every which way, but no one ever actually got hurt. Crooks were shown scrambling out of cars before they blew up, or running away after being thrown from a window. The only on-screen death was the death-by-explosion one implied of General Fulbright in “The Sound of Thunder.”
Military actions, such as a forward attack, are often done by an assembled Alpha Team. The “A-team” advances first, and then is often supported by a Bravo Team, or B-Team. Alpha Team can also refer to a small special forces unit, which was more likely the designation on the show.
Before Dirk Benedict became Faceman, he was Lieutenant Starbuck of the Colonial Service on the original Battlestar Galactica. The credits scene is lifted from an episode that partially takes place on a Universal Studios lot, where a Cylon (one of the Battlestar Galactica bad guys) strolls past a perplexed looking Faceman.
The members of The A-Team included: Lieutenant Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith; Lieutenant Templeton Arthur “Faceman” Peck; Sergeant Bosco Albert “Bad Attitude” Baracus; and Captain H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock. Murdock’s first name was never revealed.
Lieutenant Colonel Gordon “Bo” Gritz was a controversial Army Special Forces soldier who was popular because of the efforts he made to recover lost soldiers after the Vietnam War. His popularity coincided with the conception of The A-Team, so Hannibal—the leader of a ragtag band of crazy special forces heroes—was modeled after him.
Another actor, Tim Dunigan, was originally cast and shot the pilot episode of the show. However, on camera, Dunigan admitted he looked “like a high school sophomore"—too young to play a Vietnam veteran. He was replaced with Benedict.
The original B.A. had this to say about the 2010 big-screen adaptation of the series, starring Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper:
"People die in the film and there’s plenty of sex but when we did it no one got hurt and it was all played for fun and family entertainment. These seem to be elements nobody is interested in anymore. It was too graphic for me. I’ve no doubt it will do big business at the box office but it’s nothing like the show we turned out every week. We ran on TV for five years without having to sex-up the show. You can’t get away with that these days."
We’ll never know the particulars of why Melinda Culea, who played the Team’s first feisty journalist sidekick, was written out in the second season. But consensus seems to be that there was bad blood between her and Peppard from the beginning. Culea claimed the animosity spread, and by the second season the entire cast “ganged up on her” to get the producers to dump her.
While filming the fourth season premiere on a cruise ship, T had just suffered a loss in his family. Also, the air conditioner was annoying him. He had himself helicoptered off the set and phoned the producer with a list of demands, at which point he was “fired.” But the two were able to work out their grievances and filming resumed.
The producers of the show tried to attach female sidekicks to the team in the first two seasons to stem criticism of sexism, but it just didn’t work. According to Marla Heasley, the second short-lived sidekick Tawnia, Peppard took her aside to tell her no one wanted her there. Or, as better put years later by Dirk Benedict:
"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."
With titles like Bullets, Bikinis and Bells and Operation Desert Sun: The Untold Story, the books are mostly novelizations of popular episodes. There were 10 published in all, although half were only printed in the UK. Most can be found on Amazon.
Hannibal was always at his best when chomping on a cigar, but in real life Peppard stuck mainly to cigarettes. He gave up smoking in 1992 after the removal of a tumor from his lung. Unfortunately, it may have been too little, too late; Peppard died of pneumonia while still being treated for lung cancer in 1994, at the age of 65.
You have lived way too long without a Mr. T-shirt.
In 1989, German broadcasters were interested in purchasing the rights to The A-Team to run on German television. However, they found the show had a tendency to be excessively violent, and chose only 26 of the 98 episodes to run.
Even today, more than 30 years after the series premiered, the Internet is still littered with fan fiction that furthers the adventures of the A-Team. For those looking for something a bit steamier, there's also a bit of slash fiction.
“The Grey Team” was intended to be the series finale, but for some reason it aired as the second-to-last episode. NBC forgot about the “Without Reservations” episode and didn’t air it until March of 1987, amongst reruns. In “Reservations,” Murdock wears a shirt that reads “almost fini.” In “Grey Team,” his shirt reads “fini” (the French word for “end”).
This article originally appeared in 2014.