In 1983, Stephen J. Cannell submitted a pilot to NBC. The pilot did well in the ratings, to NBC's surprise. The pilot became a TV series, set against Tuesday night's ratings champion*. Against the odds, the new show did well. If you wanted a change of pace, and if you could find it, you could watch The A-Team.
The A-Team was an oddity in the early 80s. Light action shows were starting to become popular, being a change from the sitcom friendly 70s. However, NBC placed the new series up against Happy Days, the reigning king of Tuesday nights. However, between viewers wanting a change of pace and Happy Days getting long in the tooth and a shadow of its former self, The A-Team won the time slot. The show had a formula – someone, usually a young woman or someone with an older daughter, ran into corruption that threatened their livelihood or their lives tracked down Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard), who had disguised himself to get a feel for the someone. Usually, the fees were waved if the would-be employer was in dire straits. The rest of the team would be told about the job and HM "Howling Mad" Murdoch (Dwight Schultz) would be broken out of the VA mental hospital. If flying was involved, BA "Bad Attitude" Baracas (Mr. T) Along the way, Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Dirk Benedict) would start a relationship with the damsel in distress. Plus, explosions, car chases, the junkyard remodeling montage, and lots of gunfire.
In 2010, the TV show was remade as a feature film starring Liam Neeson as Hannibal. The movie took into account the passage of time, changing the Vietnam vets to Gulf War I** vets. Also changed was the focus; the movie was an origins story, how the A-Team came to be, including promtply escaping from a maximum security prison and why BA hates to fly. Once the origin is dealt with, the action ramps up, including flying a tank.
Was the movie successful? As mentioned in previous weeks, one element that leads to success is respect for the original work. In /The A-Team/, the characters were recognizable as their original counterparts, just brought forward by thirty years. The actors were convincing, with Liam Neeson channelling George Peppard in many scenes. The format was the right one; the original series was essentially an hour-long action movie. Shout-outs to the original abounded, including a clip being played at Murdoch's hospital when the rest of the team broke him out. A cameo at the end by Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz helped. The movie worked as a pilot; which may have been its main problem. As a pilot, time was spent establishing details that were never covered in the series. The original A-Team used the opening theme to explain who the team was and what they did. The movie, instead, showed, what happened. Evem with the story tying back into what happened in the Middle East at the beginning, the background took time away from what The A-Team did best – entertaining mayhem.
As a movie, The A-Team could have been more. It did its best to recapture the heart of the original series, but acted more as a pilot towards a longer running series than as a standalone movie. These days, though, green-lighting sequels requires a strong receipts from the original movie, which didn't quite happen.
Next time, a functional family.
* Happy Days
** The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the repelling thereof.