Flash Back: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at The A-Team

What’s the best way to summarize the ‘80s cult-classic, The A-Team? Well, imagine a gang of fashion-forward guys cruising around in a snazzy, black van handing a helping hand to those in need. But who are we kidding?! Everyone in the ‘80s loved the gang of gung-ho, special forces soldiers, so there’s really no need for introductions.

Boy George and Mr T hugging him from behind on the set of The A-Team / The cast of the new film The A-Team / George Peppard and Mr T posing together on the set of the A-Team / Melinda Culea, Dirk Benedict, Mr T, and Dwight Schultz posing next to their van
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While viewers tuned in each week for the goofy catchphrases, bloodless action, and outrageous jeep flipping, the series was plagued with off-screen drama. From accusations of bullying and feuds on-set, to small details you may have forgotten about the show, we’re taking a look at what really happened behind the scenes on everyone’s favorite show, The A-Team.

The Original Faceman

The A-Team provided us with one of the most iconic ensemble casts to grace the small screen. We had Dwight Schultz as “Howling Mad” Murdock, Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, and George Peppard as “Hannibal” Smith. Then, finally, there was Dirk Benedict who played the smooth “Faceman,” who made the show for many fans. But did you know that Benedict wasn’t always part of the equation?

Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, George Peppard, and Mr T posing together
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In fact, when production shot the pilot episode of A-Team, the role of Faceman belong to another actor, Tim Dunigan. You may recognize Dunigan from Captain Power and Soldiers of the Future. Well, it was decided by test audiences that Dunigan looked too young to play a Vietnam veteran (he was under 30 at the time), so Benedict was hired to replace him.

He Never Said That

Ask anyone to do an impression of B.A. Baracus and they’re either going to say “I ain’t getting on no plane” or “I pity the fool!” While B.A. said the former line many, many times, he never actually said “I pity the fool!” Crazy, right? But hear us out. The catchphrase belonged to Mr. T, but just like “Beam me up, Scotty!” and “Play it again, Sam,” this exact quote never made its way into the series.

Sylvester Stallone and Mr T with their fists up in the boxing ring wearing suits
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

In fact, B.A. usually called people “suckers,” not fools. So, how did this common misconception come to be? Well, Mr. T said this line in his breakthrough movie, Rocky III, in 1982. In the film, Mr. T’s character, Clubber Lang, says, “I don’t hate Balboa, but I pity the fool!”

Bullied Her Out

One of the most frequently overlooked cast members of The A-Team is actress Melinda Culea, who was a series regular in the first season. She played Amy Amanda Allen (“Triple-A”), who worked was a reporter investigating the team’s exploits, and eventually became their ally. So, why was she written out of the series in the second season?

Dwight Schultz and Melinda Culea posing next to a helicopter
Dwight Schultz and Melinda Culea. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

Well, apparently there was some bad blood between her and actor George Peppard from the show’s first episode. The actress claims that Peppard’s animosity spread to the other actors. By the second season, the entire cast had ganged up on her, convincing producers to fire her. It also didn’t help that Culea was frustrated with her role and pushed producers to give Amy some more action.

Hannibal’s Catchphrase

Mr. T may not have said “I pity the fool!” on The A-Team, but there are plenty of other lines that are associated with the show. This includes, of course, Hannibal’s catchphrase, “I love it when a plan comes together.” In fact, this line goes way back to the series’ first episode.

Mr T driving a tractor
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So, exactly how many times did actor George Peppard say the line? We’re not one hundred percent sure, but we do know that it’s upwards of 20. But it wasn’t just Peppard who uttered the line. Actors Dirk Benedict and Mr. T were known to say the catchphrase from time to time, as well as some of the series’ guest stars.

Our Little Secret

Okay, so as we’ve said before, the members of the A-Team included Lieutenant Templeton Arthur “Faceman” Peck, Lieutenant Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, Sergeant Bosco Albert “Bad Attitude” Baracus, and last but not least Captain H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock.

Dwight Schultz as Captain HM Murdock
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Like his nickname suggests, Murdock was wild and unpredictable and provided The A-Team with comic relief. However, Murdock remained one of the more mysterious members of the team. We never learned his first name! All we know is that his first initials are H.M. (hence his nickname, Howling Mad).

Drama on Set

It seems that actress Melinda Culea wasn’t the only person that George Peppard had a problem with. With a lengthy film career dating back to the ‘50s, Peppard was by far the biggest star out of The A-Team cast members. But, unfortunately, the actor let his success get to his head.

George Peppard as John Smith standing in front of a woodsy area
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Peppard was reportedly angry (and a tad jealous) that Mr. T was a huge hit with the fans. In fact, as the series went on, Mr. T’s role became the most prominent on the series. More fame meant a higher salary, which further angered Peppard.

And It Continued

Now the seasoned actor was already mad, which may have had something to do with his stalling career (and multiple divorces) before he was cast as Hannibal. However, Peppard said that he had his reasons for disliking Mr. T.

Mr T and George Peppard posing around a drivers seat door
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In an interview with Terry Wogan, Peppard claimed that Mr. T once demanded that several of the series’ crew members be fired. This did not sit well with Peppard. Well, whatever the truth was, it was clear to everyone that the two actors hated each other. At one point, the drama was so bad that the two refused to even acknowledge one another on set.

That Unforgettable Theme Song

A huge component of The A-Team’s lasting mass appeal (besides its cheesy catchphrases and cool action scenes), is its unforgettable opening theme music. In a decade with no shortage of memorable theme songs, it is nearly impossible to get The A-Team’s opening tune out of your head.

The cast of The A-Team posing together / Mike Post posing for a portrait
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The theme song was the work of composer Mike Post, who just so happened to be the most sought-after composer in the ‘80s. Post’s resume includes the tunes for Magnum, Quantum Leap, L.A. Law, The Greatest American Hero, and Hill Street Blues.

Calling All Veterans!

The feud between George Peppard and Mr. T seems a bit silly now, especially since they were the only cast members to actually have military experience. Peppard served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Corporal from ’46 to ’48.

Mr T and George Peppard standing outdoors
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Meanwhile, Mr. T joined the Army—under his real name Lawrence Tureaud—after being expelled from college. After drafting into the Army, Mr. T served in the Military Police. So, you would think that the two actors would have found at least something in common with one another? Guess not.

Only One On-Screen Death

A-Team fans remember that nearly every episode was filled with explosions, gunfire, and bad guys flying left and right. But even with all that on-screen action, none of the characters were actually hurt. The bad guys always managed to scramble out of their cars before they blew up or run away after being thrown from a window.

Jack Ging posing by a white fence on a farm
Jack Ging. Photo by 20th Century Fox / Getty Images

The show was often a target of controversy, especially since not only because of its strong emphasis on violence, but because it was so unrealistic. In fact, throughout the show’s 98 episodes and countless shootouts, only one person died on-screen: General Fulbright from Season 4.

Oops, Wrong One

As hard as this might be to imagine, The A-Team was not a huge priority for NBC towards the end of its run. The series had been massively popular when it first premiered and even ranked in the top 10 Most-Watched Shows in the U.S. for its first three seasons.

Mr T talking to two guys with another guy attached to the truck behind them
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For some reason or another, by Season 4, there was a significant drop in viewers. And by Season 5, hardly anyone tuned in. By the series finale, it seemed as though everyone had lost interest in The A-Team. There was such apathy surrounding the series that the final episode was accidentally shown second-to-last.

Maybe Robert Vaughn Can Help

Do you remember that Robert Vaughn, the actor famous for playing Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was a regular on The A-Team? Because we sure forgot about him. Well, producers were well aware that the less and less viewers were tuning in each week.

Robert Vaughn posing in front of a chess board
Robert Vaughn. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

So, in an attempt to save the show, they decided to cast Vaughn as Hunt Stockwell in the fifth season. It was also no coincidence that the producer cast Vaughn, who was a good friend of Peppard (the actors previously starred together in Battle Beyond the Stars). Sadly, the new addition didn’t save the series and the series was axed.

What Color Was the Van?

Just as vital as the cast members, there was another main character that viewers couldn’t wait to see every week: the legendary GMC van. In a decade that wasn’t lacking in cool cars on TV, the van from The A-Team was probably the most beloved of them all.

The A-team’s van with the bottom half black, top half grey, and red throughout the center and on the tire rims
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But even though everyone loved the GMC van, most fans can’t remember the correct color scheme. In fact, the van is commonly remembered as being all black with a red stripe. However, the van was actually black, red, and GREY. This common misconception most likely stemmed from the popular GMC van toys that were only black and red.

Mr. T’s Gold Drip

Besides his muscular physique and distinctive haircut, B.A. Baracus was well-known for another thing: the number of his gold chains. But it wasn’t just a Baracus thing. Mr. T created a reputation for wearing large amounts of gold, which usually weighed anywhere from 33 to 40 pounds!

Mr T with his arm flexed wearing multiple necklaces, bracelets, and rings
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

But, in 2005, he decided to hang up his chains for good after volunteering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “I felt that it would be a sin before God for me to continue wearing my gold,” the actor explained. “I felt it would be insensitive and disrespectful to the people who lost everything.”

Special Guest Stars

Towards the end of the series, producers were accused of doing anything they could to grab ratings. Well, that certainly explains why the fourth season features special guest appearances from ‘80s superstars such as WWF superstar Hulk Hogan, who was featured in not one, but two episodes.

Mr T, William Perry, and Hulk Hogan pointing towards the camera for a promotional shot / Boy George and Mr T hugging him from behind on the set of The A-Team
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There were rumors of him becoming a series regular, but his wrestling schedule made no room for filming. English pop sensation Bob George and Superfreak singer Rick James also made appearances on The A-Team. But it seemed that no matter what producers did, they couldn’t save the series.

Mr. T’s Out

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time that producers thought about continuing the series without Mr. T. Just before the fourth season (which, we’ve already established was when the series began to go downhill), the actor suffered a personal loss.

Mr T holding a cardboard cutout of himself
Photo by Malcolm Croft / PA Images / Getty Images

So, when he showed up to shoot the Season 4 premiere, his emotions got the better of him. He was reportedly angry that the air conditioner in his room on the cruise ship didn’t work, so he demanded that a helicopter fly him back home.

A Long List of Demands

This angered producers, especially because they had not yet finished filming the episode. Not long after his temper tantrum, Mr. T called up The A-Team producers to give them a long list of demands (maybe this is what George Peppard was talking about).

Mr T sitting on the edge of a boat with George Peppard, Dwight Schultz, and Dirk Benedict
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Well, they were very angry with the actor, and rightfully so. They came close to firing Mr. T, but luckily for everyone, they were able to iron things out. A compromise was made and the filming of Season 4 continued, with Mr. T very much on board.

The “Crime They Didn’t Commit”

The A-Team’s memorable opening narration told viewers all they needed to know about the show and its characters. Most important, we learn that the team was “a crack commando unit… sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit.”

Melinda Culea, Dirk Benedict, Mr T, and Dwight Schultz posing next to their van
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So, what was the crime they didn’t commit? They were sent on a covert mission to steal gold bars from the Bank of Hanoi in order to end the war in Vietnam. They succeeded, but when their commanding officer was killed, the team was unable to prove they had broken into the bank under orders.

A-Team Is a Real Thing

No, the “A-Team” wasn’t just a made-up term for the show. In fact, it is actual military terminology. Military actions, like a forward attack, are more often than not completed by an assembled alpha team.

Mr T and another man holding a guy up in the air ready to throw him
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The “A-team” makes the first advances and they’re often supported by a Bravo team (aka B-team). A-team can also be used to refer to a small, special forces unit, much like the heroes from the famed series. The term fittingly first came to use during the war in Vietnam—the conflict in which the characters became a unit.

Mr. T Didn’t Like the Movie

The original B.A. Baracus has a lot to say about the 2010 film adaptation of the famed series starring Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson. “People die in the film and there’s plenty of sex, but when we did it no one got hurt and it was all played for fun and family entertainment,” the actor explained.

Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper in an airport in a scene from the film The A-Team
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While Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz agreed to make a cameo in the film, Mr. T refused. Well, it seems that Benedict caught on to Mr. T’s disdain for the film and later regretted making an appearance, calling his “three-second” appearance “insulting.”

That Battlestar Galactica Joke

Before actor Dirk Benedict was cast as Lieutenant Templeton Arthur “Faceman” Peck, he was well-known for his role as Lieutenant Starbuck of the Colonial Service on the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Dirk Benedict posing next to a car
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In fact, the credits scene was taken from an A-Team episode that takes place on a Universal Studios lot, where a Cylon (a sworn enemy in Battlestar Galactica) strolls past a confused Faceman. The funny clip was incorporated into The A-Team series’ opener from Season 3 and beyond. As you all know, Battlestar Galactica was rebooted in the early 2000s; however, it was a known fact that Benedict was not a fan.

Hannibal’s Real-Life Inspiration

Hannibal was a wild and unpredictable character on the show. But did you know that he was based on a real-life colonel? Lieutenant Colonel Gordon “Bo” Gritz was a very controversial special forces soldier, who rose to fame due to his efforts to recover lost soldiers from Vietnam.

George Peppard, the actor who played Hannibal, posing against a wall / Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Gritz in uniform
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His story was so crazy that actor William Shatner paid $15,000 for the rights to Gritz’s story in the early ‘80s. The controversial figure rose to fame right around the time that conception for The A-Team began. So, it only makes sense that writers would find a way to model a character after him.

Rise to International Fame

The A-Team has been broadcasted all over the world; however, international response to the show has varied. It was a huge hit in the Netherlands, as well as in Italy, Australia, and Indonesia. However, not all countries believed that The A-team was a quality series.

Mr T, Dirk Benedict, and George Peppard sitting around a table with a microphone in uniform
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In ’89, German broadcasters became interested in buying the rights to the series so they could run it on German television. However, after watching a few episodes, they found the show to be excessively violent. Believing that the show was inappropriate for family television, they chose to run only 26 of the available 98 episodes.

A Show for Guys, by Guys

The producers of The A-Team tried to attach female sidekicks to the series’ heroes in the first two seasons. However, there was mounting criticism that the series’ producers were sexist. According to actress Marla Heasley, who briefly played Tawnia, George Peppard pulled her aside one day to tell her that no one wanted her there.

A portrait of Marla Heasley
Marla Heasley. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

But he wasn’t the only one who expressed these beliefs. “It was a guy’s show. It was male-driven. It was written by guys. It was directed by guys. It was acted by guys. It’s about what guys do,” Dirk Benedict said. “It was the last truly masculine show.”

Smoking Like a Chimney

While Hannibal always seemed to be chomping on a cigar, actor George Peppard stuck mainly to smoking cigarettes. The actor was a longtime heavy drinker and smoker. He was even known to smoke upwards of two packs a day!

George Peppard posing in front of a green background leaning on a ladder
Photo by Harry Langdon / Getty Images

Peppard finally put an end to his drinking in ’78 and kicked his smoking habit in ’92 after doctors removed a tumor in his lungs. Unfortunately, it may have been a little too late. The actor passed away from pneumonia during his lung cancer treatment two years later. He was only 65 years old.

A Devoted Following

More than three decades after NBC canceled the series, The A-Team still has a devoted fanbase. It also seems to be THE television show that most people associate with the ‘80s. It also helps that Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict have shown up at fan conventions around the world.

Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz posing together on the set of The A-Team
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Like several other series or films with a cult-like following, The A-Team also has fans who are creative in expressing their love for the show. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a hit series without some fan fiction. You have been warned! Some of these storylines go places that the show never did, if you get what we mean.

Before He Was Hannibal

George Peppard was born in 1928 in Detroit, Michigan. Sadly, his family lost all their money in the Great Depression, forcing his father to move out of state for work. After graduating high school, Peppard enlisted in the U.S. Marines, rising to the rank of corporal.

George Peppard leaning over Audrey Hepburns chair in the library in a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Photo by Paramount Pictures / Sunset Boulevard / Corbis / Getty Images

He eventually fell in love with acting, and his good looks and elegant manner helped land him the role of Paul Varjak in Breakfast at Tiffany’s alongside Audrey Hepburn. Fun fact: Peppard did not get along with either Hepburn or Patricia Neal. In fact, Neal called the actor “cold and conceited.”

Four Marriages Later

It seems that everyone had a problem with Peppard. It got so bad that before he was cast on The A-Team, his career took a complete nosedive. Thankfully for the actor, he was able to make some money during his time on the series.

A black and white photograph of George Peppard
Photo by John Springer Collection / Corbis / Getty Images

“Four California divorces and 25 years of alimony will see to it you have no money in the bank,” he told reporters. “[The A-Team] was a giant boost to my career and made me a viable actor for other roles.” He went on to star in a series of TV movie features called Man Against the Mob, up until his death in ’94.

Making the TV Rounds

Born Dirk Niewoehner, the actor reportedly changed his name to Dirk Benedict after his favorite breakfast food, eggs benedict. The Montana native got his big acting break in ’78 when he was cast as Lieutenant Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Dirk Benedict in Battlestar Galactica
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That same year, the actor starred in the made-for-TV movie Cruise into Terror. The following year, he made an appearance in the ensemble movie Scavenger Hunt. He also made appearances in Hawaii Five-O as well as in Charlie’s Angels before landing the role of Faceman in The A-Team.

“The War Against Masculinity”

Years after the A-Team came to an end, Benedict wrote and directed his first screenplay, Cahoots, in 2000. In 2006, the actor came out with a controversial essay that criticized the Battlestar Galactica re-imagined series.

The cast of the new Battlestar Galactic series
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Benedict had a major problem with the fact that his character, Starbuck, was now being played by a woman. “The war against masculinity has been won,” the actor wrote. “A television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction.” Hmmm someone’s got his panties in a bunch.

His Big Break

Actor Dwight Schultz got his big break with the role of “Howling Mad” Murdock. A year after The A-Team premiered, Schultz married the love of his life, Wendy Fulton. Their daughter Ava was born four years later in 1987; she currently serves in the Marines.

Bonnie Bedelia and Dwight Schultz looking at each other in a scene from Fat Man and Little Boy
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It looks like she took some inspiration from her father’s breakout role! When The A-Team came to an end in ’87, the actor went on to appear in several films, including The Fan and Fat Man and Little Boy. He also had a recurring role as Lieutenant Reginald Barclay in Star Trek.

Quite the Resume

The actor also made a cameo appearance in the 2010 film adaptation of The A-Team, alongside his former co-star, Dirk Benedict. Besides his roles on The A-team and Star Trek, Schultz is also known for hosting a conservative talk show podcast.

Dwight Schultz sitting at a table with pens to his side signing autographs
Photo by Paul Warner / Getty Images

He has also guest-hosted several other shows, such as The Savage Nation, The Jerry Doyle Show, and The Rusty Humphries Show. The actor is also known for his voiceover work. He provided the voice for Dr. Animo in the Ben 10 series, Chef Mung Daal in the children’s series Chowder, and Eddie the Squirrel in CatDog.

Humble Beginnings

Mr. T, whose birth name is Lawrence Tureaud, was born and raised in Chicago. He is the youngest of 12 children who grew up in a three-room apartment in the city. In 1970, he legally changed his last name to T. So, what’s with the “Mister”? Well, the actor has quite the explanation.

Mr T holding up a large gold cup while walking on the red carpet
Photo by Frank Trapper / Corbis / Getty Images

“I think about my father being called ‘boy’, my uncle being called ‘boy’, my brother, coming back from Vietnam and being called ‘boy,’” he later explained. “I self-ordained myself Mr. T, so the first word out of everybody’s mouth is Mr. That’s a sign of respect that my father didn’t get, that my brother didn’t get, that my mother didn’t get.”

Mr. T Is Born

After being discharged from the Military Police Corps in the late ‘70s, Mr. T tried out for the Green Bay Packers, but unfortunately he didn’t make the team due to a knee injury. So, he decided to put his size to good use and began working as a bouncer at a club.

Mr T kissing Janet Jackson on the cheek
Photo by Afro American Newspapers / Gado / Getty Images

It was then that he began to create his persona, wearing gold chains that customers had left behind. His reputation eventually grew, and Mr. T soon transitioned from a bouncer to a bodyguard. He protected well-known celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Muhammad Ali, and Steve McQueen.

Rise to Fame

During his rise to fame, Mr. T was often offered strange jobs, which included tracking runaways and assassinations. He was once offered $75,000 to assassinate a target and was even mailed the file of the hit and an advance of $5,000. But, thankfully, he turned down the job.

Mr T being interviewed
Photo by L Cohen / WireImage / Getty Images

Mr. T got his big break after being spotted by none other than Sylvester Stallone while he was taking part in America’s Toughest Bouncer on NBC. His role in Rocky III was originally intended to be just a few lines. However, producers were impressed with Mr. T’s acting skills and offered him the role of Clubber Lang, the antagonist.

After The A-Team

During his time on The A-Team, Mr. T made several appearances on other TV shows. He most notably hosted Saturday Night Live with Hulk Hogan. He entered the world of professional wrestling and became Hulk Hogan’s tag-team partner in WWF’s WrestleMania.

Billy Crystal, Mr T, and Hulk Hogan sitting around a table on the set of SNL
Billy Crystal, Mr T, and Hulk Hogan in a skit from Saturday Night Live. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

He also made a series of commercials for RadioShack, Snickers, Comcast, and World of Warcraft. In 2017, Mr. T was cast in the 24th season of Dancing with the Stars. He and his dancing partner, Kym Herjavec, came in 10th place. Fun fact: Mr. T often refers to himself in the third person and speaks in rhyme.