How ‘The A Team’ was a surprising hit TV series in the ’80s

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Cast of original A-Team TV show

‘The A Team’ a huge success, despite critics (1983)

by Bob Wisehart – The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) October 9, 1983

Bandwagons are what I usually miss. Just when I notice one is there, it’s already pulling out and somebody else has my seat.

I am, for example, the guy who dismissed Robin Williams when “Mork & Mindy” went on the air. I saw an elfin character dressed in red pajamas with a piece of Tupperware on his head and scoffed, “Nah, he’ll never catch on.”

When Joan Collins joined “Dynasty,” neither the actress nor the show was doing very well. I pegged it as the last gasp for both.

And when I saw the pilot for “The A Team”… well, let’s just forget what I said, OK?

But with the new television season upon us, it’s an appropriate time to take a look at that surprise hit from last season.

The real star of “The A Team” is a gentleman named Mr. T, the one in the cast who is built like a rhino. He has become bigger than the show itself. He is bigger than anything.

For those who have not seen it, “The A Team” is a straightforward piledriver of a show, a blue-collar “Mission Impossible” without the finesse.

“The A Team” is a group of Vietnam veterans who escaped from prison after being falsely accused of a crime.

If you want, say, a corrupt politician exposed, or perhaps a small town pulverized, “The A-Team” is the gang for you. They cannot call on the police for help, which is no problem because they never need any.

TV Guide - A Team TV show - cover from 1984

George Peppard plays the leader, John “Hannibal” Smith, the brains of the outfit. Peppard is a comfortable old shoe who has been around for a while.

If he’s not exactly dashing anymore — he left his dash somewhere back around “Banacek,” his first TV series — he still possesses a jaunty flair as he grins and chews on a cigar so big that a half-dozen or so would make a fair-sized raft.

The others each have a unique skill and a cute name. Dwight Schultz is “Howling Mad” Murdoch, a pilot who’s brain permanently soars at 30,000 feet. Every so often, his cohorts have to spring him out of the booby hatch.

MORE: How Peter Falk made detective TV show ‘Columbo’ work

A Team TV Show - Dwight

Dirk Benedict plays Templeton “The Face” Peck, master of disguise and full-time cool guy.

Tagging along is Melinda Culea as Amy A. Allen, a newspaper reporter who joined the team because the New York Times didn’t have an opening that week.

And then there’s Mr. T, as B.A. Baracus, a master mechanic who provides the muscle, and whose face is permanently frozen in the shape of a thundercloud. B.A. stands for “bad attitude,” because this is TV, and it’s kind of prissy about language.

As you probably know, Mr. T (I know it’s a silly name, but who’s going to tell him?) played Clubber Lang, Rocky Balboa’s bone-crushing nemesis in “Rocky III.”

Vintage TV show - The A Team (3)

The former Lawrence Tero of Chicago is by all accounts a religious man, though I guess he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that the meek shall inherit the earth.

I am told he is an active member of the wonderfully-named Reverend Hardy’s Cosmopolitan Community Church in Chicago.

Mr. T’s first appearance in prime-time TV was several years ago in a program called “Games People Play.” Then a bouncer in a Chicago nightclub, he was involved in a best-bouncer contest on the show, which he won.

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In it, he successfully ran through a doorway without bothering to open the door, which he turned into toothpicks. Later, he threw another human being for impressive distance and accuracy. The guy he threw may still be bouncing.

I knew then that Mr. T was a man with a future, though I didn’t say it aloud.

A-Team 80s TV show

“The A Team” is a demolition derby where nobody really gets hurt. Someone might have their car blown to smithereens, but then they’ll crawl out from beneath the wreckage, flick a bit of dust off their collar and mosey on down the road.

This group is nothing if not resourceful, too.

Once, trapped in a house by an army of slobbering goons, they converted a washing machine and a hot-water heater into a flame thrower and a rocket launcher. Another time, they used several rolls of toilet paper to confound a gang of marauding motorcycle thugs, who are not renowned for quick thinking.

Vintage TV show - The A Team (1)

The temptation is to say “The A Team” is a show for kids, and leave it at that. Kids do seem to like it, but according to people who keep track of such things, so must an awful lot of adults. It must be the kind of show nobody admits they watch.

There are a lot of those, aren’t there? We all have our guilty pleasures, and some of us are more guilty than others.

ALSO REMEMBER: About Magnum PI, the classic TV show that shot Tom Selleck to stardom (1980-1988)

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