Demystifying The A-Team Formula
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Demystifying The A-Team Formula:
an Examination of Character Personalities
and Old Genres
"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."
Most everyone who has been watching television since the 1980's can recognize this introduction as the beginning of every A-Team episode. A good handful of these people probably can even sing the theme song, which sounds as if it could be piped f rom the halls of West Point. The popularity of the show
when it first aired "almost single-handedly brought NBC out of its third place slump in the ratings andwas one of the network's biggest successes ever."1
Yet, what secret formula did Stephen J. Cannell (Executive Producer and the man who started the show going) tap into to get the audience to bite? Why was everyone so turned on to, and tuned in to The A-Team in its first few seasons? Were the American audience that thrilled hearing B.A. Baracus (Mr. T)
say "Shut up foo!"; were they that interested in seeing if Hannibal's (George Peppard) plan always comes together, or was it truly the violence that sold the show?
Compared to NBC's new experimental shows like Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere, whose innovative use of realism sparked the Third Golden Age of Television and quality TV as we know it; The A-Team (TAT) is just another parody of the action/adventure genre. Or is it? The truth is The A-Team 's
popularity was so brilliant because it provided something for everyone. TAT created a new genre by mixing old ones. I intend to demystify the formula that was exclusive t o TAT created by exploring the character personalities and old genres that the show employed.
At the time of the premiere of The A-Team , television was going through a major transformation. Networks were battling for ratings in a constantly decreasing market. Innovative programs such as CBS's
Cagney & Lacey were targeting the work-force woman audience by creating a woman cop show. This show broke the stereotypical barriers of women on the force set by Aaron Spelling's Charlies Angels.
In a time where the invention of niche marketing for network television was becoming common practice and mass audience appeal programs were becoming a rarity, The A-Team was born. However, as stereotypes go, The A-Team is immersed in them. The show's four main characters provide a personal
profile of almost every class of man in America. To understand each character on the The A-Team, one must understand the two levels of each character's profile. The first level is the basic character itself,
how that character fits into the story. The second level is deeper than the first. This level tells us what the
character stands for, what is the character's deeper identity.
Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard) was the ostensible leader of The A-Team. On the first level Hannibal is the tactician of the group. He formulates the makeshift plans that could send the team
into making an armored truck into a tan k ("Incident At Crystal Lake"). Hannibal is also known for his disguises. "A favorite disguise of Hannibal's is Mr. Lee, proprietor of the Chinese Laundry Shop, an alter
ego that reflects the indefinable nature of the team even on a racial level."2
On the second level Hannibal is the stereotypical Caucasian leader: elderly, white haired, and cunning. In a sense he represents corporate America, puffing on cigars and formulating strategies on how to get rich.Only in Smith's case he puffs on cigar s and formulates strategies on how to get the bad guy. This is Hollywood labeling at its best.
Lieutenant Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Dirk Benedict) is a man of a thousand faces. "He is the team's resident con- and ladies-man who usually ends up gathering information for the team due to his innate charm."3
Face's second level of character identity shows that he is the stereotypical rich fraternity guy. The
episode, "The Only Church in Town", even linked him to the Sigma Chi fraternity. His character was the
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The A-Team, English-language films, Howling Mad Murdock, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Templeton Peck, John Hannibal Smith, Elmer Fudd, B. A. Baracus
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