THE A-TEAM complete on Blu-ray

Wednesday, 19 October 2016 23:00 Written by 

The A-Team - Out now complete on Blu-ray“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.”

It was one of the biggest ‘cult’ shows of its time, playing out over five seasons, and now it’s come to the UK in restored high definition. Hannibal, BA, Face and Murdock were seen in 97 episodes which are all available in a 22-disc Blu-ray set! And you had the opportunity to win a set, just for nominating your favourites in this year's Cult TV Awards.

The A-Team launched after the Super Bowl in July 1983, and soon became a breakout hit. In their black GMC Vandura van with the red stripes, co-creators Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo were given this first project at NBC by Brandon Tartikoff, the network’s entertainment president. Cannell notes that he went in to pitch Stingray (UK title This Man Is Dangerous – which would eventually get made in 1985), but Tartikoff had his own idea of the type of show he wanted. He didn’t relay the format to the duo, he gave them the title, and an idea of the style required. Some elements of “Mad Max”, “The Dirty Dozen”, and “The Magnificent Seven, with Mission: Impossible mixed in, and ‘Mr T from “Rocky III” driving the car’.

Cannell and Lupo went away, had a think, and went back to Tartikoff with what we all now know as the show where Hannibal notes he “loves it when a plan comes together”. Well, with one exception.

THE CAST

Hannibal was conceived as the star of the show. Although George Peppard (Banacek) got the role, there are reports that James Coburn (“Our Man Flint”) had been considered – both actors were born in the same year, 1928, and certainly those who know Coburn’s work can see how he would have worked in the main role.

Face was played by Tim Dunigan (Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Mr Smith) in the pilot movie. The role was soon recast with Dirk Benedict because Dunigan was deemed “too young and too tall”. According to Dunigan himself, the Vietnam War ended during his sophomore year of high school. Lupo and Cannell are on record as saying they had wanted Dirk Benedict (the original Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) from the start, but were overridden by the network executives. So, when the chance came, the role was recast for the series.

NBC executives also wanted the character of Murdock (Dwight Schultz, who would go on to play Reg Barclay in the Star Trek universe), to be removed from the format, as they felt that he was too “over-the-top”. However, test audiences for the pilot movie loved Murdock and gave him the highest approval ratings. And so, the executives relented.

However, to many, the star of the male quartet was Mr T, who would play the engineer BA ‘Bad Attitude’ Baracus, with skills to make something useful out of whatever was to hand. It’s no secret that Mr T and George Peppard weren’t that amiable. It’s reported that Peppard would only refer to Mr T as “the man with the gold”, and was jealous of Mr T being seen as the star of the show.

Throughout the series, despite Peppard’s very vocal protestations, there were a handful of attempts to install a woman as part of the team. For the first one and half seasons, 25 episodes, Melinda Culea (Paula Vertosick in Knot’s Landing) Played Amy Amanda Allen, a journalist who would assist with background research on targets, as well as smooth through some subterfuge. She never really used her alleged nickname of ‘Triple A’ in the show, and it was obvious that in a lot of episodes writers weren’t exactly sure how to include her.

Marla Heasley (Lt Trent in Galactica 1980) was the next lady to be tried out, playing Tawnia Baker, who was aware of Amy’s association with the A-Team and contacted them to get a piece of the action. She hung around for nine episodes from mid-season two to the beginning of season three.

FORMAT REVISIONS

The final attempt at getting a female regular cast member was seen in the finale episode of season four, “The Sound of Thunder”. This episode is a vision into one possible future for the series, although there is also a hint that when made the production team weren’t sure the series would be renewed (take a look what is written on Murdock’s T-shirt…). We are introduced to Tia, played by Tia Carrere (Sydney Fox in Relic Hunter), a Vietnam war baby who is very skilled in Kung Fu – making her a different sort of asset for the team. However, the actress was committed to playing Jade Soong Chung in General Hospital at the time, so any idea of her joining the team for the final season was possibly a non-starter. However, a new direction there certainly would be.

Back to “The Sound of Thunder”. Throughout the series, there was a little back story of “the crime they didn’t commit”. 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.

And so, the plot of this episode actually sees them go back to the scene of the ‘crime’. General Harlan ‘Bull’ Fulbright (Jack Ging, Ted Quinlan in Riptide), who had been chasing the team in five previous episodes, persuades our heroes for hire to go back with him to find a son he never realised he had fathered. It turns out to be a daughter, as in Tia, and so they rescue her and take her back with them to the USA (and noting that she will be a fugitive in the country due to being there illegally, so she will be on-the-run with them). One loose end in the series is that we never actually found out what happened to her after this episode.

It’s no stretch of logic to see that parts of this episode are an attempt by writer Frank Lupo to address the criticism that the series was not being serious in its handling of the Vietnam war. There is a sequence, set to a soundalike version of the anti-war “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, where the quartet are seen recalling their lives back on the front line, with images of the carnage and suffering making it clear that all four characters carry mental scars due to their time there. It’s a poignant statement, and one which no critics seemed to latch on to.

Being chased by the military ended with Fulbright. In the first season it had been Colonel Lynch (William Lucking – Piney in Sons of Anarchy), who was much talked-of, but only appeared in three actual episodes. The most regular hunter was Colonel Roderick Decker (Lance LeGault – Alamo Joe Rogan in Werewolf), who clocked up 20 episodes, his aide Captain Crane (Carl Franklin –Fred Walters in The Fantastic Journey), who clocked up 17 episodes.

FINAL SEASON

And so, a renewal for a final season did come, even though it would be just 13 episodes. After four years on Tuesday, network NBC decided to move The A-Team to a new timeslot on Friday, and revamp proceedings, neither of which helped the gradual drop in viewer ratings. After years on the run, our heroes are finally apprehended. General Hunt Stockwell (played by the iconic Robert Vaughn) is a shady agent who leaves the team with no choice but to work for him, in exchange for their pardons. He has a personal assistant in the shape of Carla (Judith Ledford – a guest star in the likes of Cover Up, Dallas, Simon & Simon and Baywatch).

They first have to escape from their captivity, in a plot which plays out over the initial three episodes of the season. A new character is introduced to enable this, cinematic effects wizard Frankie ‘Dishpan Man’ Santana played by Eddie Velez (Frankie Avila in True Blue).

With their deaths faked before a military firing squad, the team could now take on the required “Missions” with no hassle – all of which were very “Impossible”, playing on what had been one of the big influences on the original set-up of the show.

It was a shame that viewers didn’t tune in, as they missed some terrific episodes, including Murdock playing Logan Ross, a Bond ‘homage’, in “The Spy Who Mugged Me”, and a Man from UNCLE reunion when David McCallum guest-starred in “The Say UNCLE Affair”.

The final episode was “The Grey Team” (although “Without Reservations” was held over, and broadcast later, in March 1987). After being used by Stockwell once more, the team will no longer work for him. They discuss what they were going to do if they get their pardon, and set-up is they will continue doing what they always do. Murdock, in the final scene, is wearing a T-shirt which says “Fini”.

GUEST STARS

There are many familiar faces to look out for on the show. These included:

  • Dean Stockwell (Al in Quantum Leap),
  • Boy George (Culture Club),
  • Mitch Pileggi (Skinner in The X-Files),
  • Claudia Christian (Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5),
  • Lance Henriksen (Frank Black in Millennium),
  • Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer in 24),
  • Dana Elcar (Pete Thornton in MacGyver),
  • David Hedison (Lee Crane in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea),
  • Stepfanie Kramer (Dee Dee McCall in Hunter),
  • Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man),
  • Richard Herd (Admiral Paris in Star Trek: Voyager),
  • Ray Wise (Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks),
  • Kaz Garas (Hamlyn Gynt in Strange Report),
  • Melody Anderson (Brooke in Manimal),
  • Walter Gotell (Cullen in Softly Softly: Task Force),
  • Barry Ingham (Joe in Hine),
  • Michael Ironside (Ham Tyler in V),
  • June Chadwick (Lydia in V),
  • Tim O’Connor (Dr Huer in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century),
  • Daphne Ashbrook (Grace Holloway in Doctor Who),
  • Alan Fudge (CW Crawford in The Man from Atlantis),
  • Kurtwood Smith (Red in That ‘70s Show), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie in Dark Shadows),
  • Judy Landers (Angie Turner in Vega$),
  • Dennis Cole (Johnny Reach in Bearcats!),
  • Isaac Hayes (“Shaft”),
  • Yaphet Kotto (Dr Kananga in “Live and Let Die”),
  • Harold Sakata (Oddjob in “Goldfinger”),
  • Sam J Jones (“Flash Gordon”),
  • Wrestler Hulk Hogan and
  • Rock star Rick James.

THE SOUNDTRACK

Composers Mike Post and Pete Carpenter created the theme tune to The A-Team along with among other TV classics Magnum PI, The Greatest American Hero, CHiPs, Quantum Leap and Hill Street Blues. Post has made it known that the theme to The A-Team is very close in rhythm to “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, from the 1946 Walt Disney film “Song of the South”.

BLU-RAY EXTRAS

There are just a couple of extras on this Blu-ray release. The first is “Rumours of Soldiers of Fortune”, which is a ten minute interview with the late Stephen J Cannell. It packs a lot in during its short running time, and he confirms much of the gossip about the show’s origins.

We also have a half-hour programme called “The Great ‘80s TV Flashback” which is an informative promo for action shows and comedies which Universal had made available on DVD Stateside back in 2005. After watching it, I had the desire to seek out some episodes of Simon & Simon again (which ran for eight seasons and 156 episodes from 1981) – The A-Team only gets a few minutes in the overall run-time, but it’s a neat little memory-jogger.

REVIVALS

20th Century Fox revived the series as a feature starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley. Directed by Joe Carnahan, the movie was released in 2010, and was panned by the critics, despite the fact it was very true to the original series, and even featuring a cameo with Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict, which in the original release was moved to during the end credits.

In 2015, there was talk of a new version of the format. “Fast & Furious” writer-producer Chris Morgan was named as executive producer, alongside Cannell’s daughter, TV director Tawnia McKiernan. Sleepy Hollow executive producer Albert Kim was named as the writer for the pilot. Currently the project seems to be in ‘development hell’.

One thing which annoyed critics was the nature of the violence used. In the entire series, only five people died on-screen. Most of the time, occupants of cars, vans, or other vehicles were shown getting out of crashes unscathed. And that cartoon style of handling the storylines is what makes the series almost unique, and well worth you looking in on once more - it's fun, and there's not enough of that on the gogglebox these days.

The A-Team – The Complete Series is out now on Blu-ray from Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises. It has a ‘12’ certificate, a running time of 4,690 mins approx, and a RRP of £149.99 – or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

You could have won a copy of the entire series on Blu-ray of THE A-TEAM courtesy of Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media Enterprises, as it was one of the prizes available for nominating in this year’s Cult TV Awards.

 

Last modified on Friday, 28 October 2016 16:30

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