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The A-Team Debuted 38 Years Ago Today

  • "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."

    From January 23, 1983, to March 8, 1987, TV viewers didn't really need to know much more than that weekly introduction to get on board with NBC's hit series The A-Team. Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo based off of a Dirty Dozen-inspired pitch from NBC President Brandon Tartikoff, this action-adventure show was hit from the get-go, and it was a big part of Tartikoff's renowned transformation of NBC from a last place network in danger of folding to a hit factory and a ratings juggernaut throughout the 1980s. 

    George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany's, Banacek) starred as team leader Lt. Col. John "Hannibal" Smith, a cigar-chomping tough guy and master of disguise, and you knew the team was about to win when he delivered his catchprhase, "I love it when a plan comes together." Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Galactica) starred as Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck, the pretty boy of the squad, although in this clip from the pilot episode he was played by Tim Dunigan. Dwight Schultz (Star Trek: The Next Generation) sank his teeth into his breakthrough role of Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock, who was stone-cold crazy and had to be broken out of veteran's mental health institution every episode to join the team's adventures. 

    Then, of course, there was one of the most unique celebrities of the '80s, the one and only Mr. T (Rocky III, D.C. Cab) as Sgt. First Class Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus, the keeper of the team's trademark black GMC van, the mechanic who couldn't stand Murdock's "crazy fool" shenanigans, and the strong man with the paralyzing fear of flying. The sheer amount of drugs that had to be sneakly injected into his system to knock him out long enough to drag him onto airplanes for their various missions is likely not FDA approved. 

    The A-Team got into elaborate adventures every week, full of gratuitious, cartoonish violence that involved a lot of fisticuffs, gunfire and explosions but very few actual casualties, inspired by the over-the-top action movies of the decade. They had to complete missions while ducking the active pursuit of the military police, while getting into situations that often involved pro wrestlers like Hulk Hogan (also super-huge at the time) or NFL stars like William "The Refrigerator" Perry somehow.

    At the start of the fifth and final season, they finally get court-martialed for that crime they didn't commit, and spend the last year of the show working their way towards pardons. By this time, the ratings had begun to drop, and rumor had it that Peppard was difficult on set and was so bothered by Mr. T's popularity that he wouldn't even speak to him directly for a while. But at its peak, the zany mayhem of The A-Team consistently rated in the top 10 shows and delighted millions, becoming a cult favorite that inspired an actually underrated feature film adaptation in 2010.

    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: NBC, The A-Team (1983), Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, George Peppard, Mr. T