This Week : “The A-Team”
In 2007, Moviehole will endeavor to delve deep into the ‘Whatever Happened To?’ Film Vault. Many people often write in to us at the site and inquire on the status of a film which was first announced in yesteryear, but remained in Development Hell – and so we’re going to finally put our money where our mouth is, and find out what happened to such “lost” flicks. Don’t forget to contact us via the email form if you want us to research a lost movie for you – The Singing Detective
The first to be addressed is ‘The A-Team’. This new column is called:
The Lost Film Files
Title : The A-Team
From 1983-1987 ‘The A-Team’ dominated TV sets in many a home around the world. The team were Vietnam veterans who had been framed for robbing the Bank of Hanoi and subsequently sent to a military prison. The team successfully escaped and became soldiers for hire. Modern day Robin Hoods. They were pursued, not by the Sheriff of Nottingham, but by Colonels Lynch and Decker. The A-Team was led by Col. John ‘Hannibal’ Smith. (Played by the late great George Peppard). Hannibal was accompanied by Templeton ‘Face Man’ Peck (played by Dirk Benedict) and Howling Mad Murdock (Played by Dwight Schultz). All three were classically trained and established acting talent, hailing from stage, TV and the cinema. It was without a doubt Peppard gained top billing and was the star that got the show its go-ahead. Audiences, however, certainly had their own opinion as the fourth member of The A-Team was Sgt. “B.A.” Bad Attitude Bosco Baracus.
B.A. was played by Laurence Tureaud, more commonly known to the masses as Mr. T. The Chicago born Mr. T had been a college football star and wrestling champ, leading on to be a club doorman and later a bodyguard to Steve McQueen and Mohammed Ali. T’s subsequent role in Sylvester Stallone’s hugely successful ‘Rocky’ franchise in 1982’s ‘Rocky III’ as the arrogant contender Clubber Lang gained him his most famous role to date. B.A. in The A-Team.
To George Peppard’s annoyance, Mr. T was the star of the show and T knew it. Neither Peppard or T would speak with one another and messages were passed to both parties via production staff and their fellow acting colleagues. Peppard would speak to Benedict and say along the lines of “Would you tell Mr. T that line was a little off.” or to come in a little quicker. T would be similar. They were like a husband and wife ignoring one another speaking through their children as like; “Tell your father to pass the salt.”
The TV show of “The A-Team” ended in 1987. George Peppard died in 1994. The remaining cast members, since the show’s demise, have never experienced anywhere near the success which made their characters household names amongst young and old fans alike.
Seven years ago comic book company Top Cow Productions signed a deal with Fox to bring the hugely successful 80’s television show “The A-Team” to the silver screen.
There had been little movement two years later, in 2002. However, Top Cow did voice their desires for the theatrical version of the show in the various Trades. President of production at Top Cow, Spike Seldin, said for the action comedy show to be updated and ‘totally re-imagined’ as well as saying; “A lot like what they did with ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’, we’re going to do with ‘The A-Team’.” Seldin was also quoted to say; It’s going to be an updated version, action/comedy with big-time stars.” The A-Team’s creator, Stephen J. Cannell would naturally accompany Seldin as a producer on the movie, along with Twentieth Century Fox.
As far as big-time stars, those, too, were just a yearning factor, a need, a fancy and requirement for the producers. Top Cow had always hankered for “Lethal Weapon” star Mel Gibson to portray the cigar puffing John ‘Hannibal’ Smith. The producers seemed to be stuck. They had a casting wish-list, which with one dream acting talent alone would itself sky-rocket the budget, though what they needed was a script.
Stephen J. Cannell, along with Glen A Larson and Donald Bellisario, were a huge inspiration to me and to whom many considered to be a non-stop action/comedy factory for 1970’s and 80’s television. Between them they churned out formulaic entertainment which made impressive dents in television history. Cannell spawned ‘The Rockford Files’, 21 Jump Street’ and of course ‘The A-Team’, while Larson and Bellisario churned out ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Buck Rogers’, ‘Magnum P.I’, ‘The Fall Guy’, ‘Knight Rider’, ‘Quantum Leap’ and ‘Airwolf’. All are still very active in producing quality hit TV shows today, with Larson behind a forthcoming ‘Knight Rider’ movie and Bellisario’s continued success in developing shows ‘JAG’ and ‘NCIS’.
Cannell told Variety in 2004; “We drove cars off cliffs and people got out and walked away. We’re not going to do that in the movie. In this the tone is more dangerous – you can really die. It’s very tense and exciting.”
I personally am still an incredible fan of the series, as were my closest friends at the height of it all. My friends and I had the action figures. Every kind, too. The six inch figures with the rubber heads in their classic A-Team garb, the smaller fully jointed figures in peculiar jumpsuits and the gigantic 15 or so inch Mr. T, complete with feather earrings and chains. At a good friend’s thirteenth birthday, in London, I got to meet a special guest who was present. None other than Mr. T himself! My friend and I had been heavily into the BMX scene. Both securing championships of various kinds around the UK. It was this I remember Mr. T telling me when I a 12 year old boy, mentioned that I liked to race on a BMX. “I pity the fool who falls off one of those bikes!” Indeed, not too long after that meeting I fell off one of those bikes and broke many a bone.
Cannell also said to Variety in 2004; “Mr T and I had lunch last week, and I’d really like to have him in the movie, although we haven’t begun casting. I always think it’s nice to see the stars of the old show in cameo roles in the movie. But obviously he won’t be playing BA Baracus.”
Still in 2004, the net, as per usual, became alive with news that Top Cow were seeking writing talent to pen an A-Team screenplay.
“I was contacted by Top Cow Productions and the Vice President of Creative Affairs, at the time, Chris Carlisle, after I had expressed my affection for the show”, British writer Ben Trebilcook told us in an email. “It also stemmed from my involvement in a ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ script I did for CW and a spec I did entitled Die Hardest, for Willis’ Die Hard franchise.”
Trebilcook continues, “Carlisle and I had many a conversation about “The A-Team” and how him, Top Cow and myself envisioned a movie. Where the heroes hailed from, which actors they should be played by, the type of action and script have and have-nots. “I don’t think it’s a wise move to have the A-Team movie set in the first Gulf War.” I said. “David O Russell already did a tremendous job with ‘Three Kings’, which could be deemed as an ‘A-Team’ esque feature. Clooney taking the Hannibal role, Wahlberg as Face, Spike Jonze as Murdock and of course, Ice T as BA.” It was certainly an interesting conversation and one the company hadn’t even considered recognising a similarity, albeit a modernisation. “I’d have the A-Team as heroes from the Bosnian conflict of the mid 90’s.” I said. “It’s more recent than the Persian Gulf, fresher to a teen audience and there are so many opportunities for the main characters to interact with a whole host of diverse groups of people. Good and bad.” Names of acting talent were banded about too and still Mel Gibson’s name was top of their wish list. “As much as he’d be great in the role, you know your budget’s gone straight away!” I responded.”
Mel Gibson headed Top Cow’s list for an A-Team movie cast. Brendan Fraser followed on with their desire to fill the Face character, Jack Black was their firm favourite as Murdock and who did they say for BA? Taye Diggs?
Despite them being taken on board, the writer’s suggestions to the company were simply that, suggestions. He had suggested Tony Hopkins.
“He got $5m for a five minute cameo in Mission Impossible 2. We may as well try for Gibson.” came the reply. “I’m sure if it was offered.. anyway, can you see him in the role?” Of course they could. Considering this wasn’t going to be a $50m picture, my suggestions for cast were pretty realistic. My next suggestions reeled off like this; For Hannibal; Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson, George Clooney. For the role of BA I had Michael Clark Duncan, Ving Rhames or Djimon Hounsou. For smoothy Face, I had Owen or Luke Wilson or Vince Vaughn. Christian Bale or Ben Affleck or Matt Damon and for the role of Howling Mad Murdock? Johnny Knoxville or Jack Black or even Rhys Ifans. The lists went on”, says Trebilcook.
I had heard Richard Hatem, who wrote ‘Under Siege 2: Dark Territory’, had delivered a script for “The A-Team” feature.
“I met with Chris Carlisle in LA in the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills”, recalls the writer. “I recall Emilio Estevez sat not too far away discussing a project of his own. An awe inspiring film about Senator Robert Kennedy, the recently released ‘Bobby’. It was certainly an informal ‘how you doing beer and chat meeting. I was there on other business, but dropping by to discuss The A-Team just couldn’t be missed. Conversation contained some disheartening information. “The casting might take a dramatic change of course. – BA could be white, Face black, maybe a woman should be in there. Things are being discussed.” It was said to me. If it aint broke, I thought, don’t fix it. Don’t tamper with it. “I hope I didn’t mislead you into thinking you’d get a shot at writing this. They’ve hired Kevin Brodbin to pen a script for the A-Team.” I was still gunning for Die Hard glory at the time and it was certainly a bigger fish to try and catch. “Kevin’s done the Glimmer Man. A whole film. Despite the good work you’ve already done and been involved with, it’s still not yet a whole film and credits count too.” I needed to write more than 40% of a film to receive a screenwriting credit. My loose connection to The A-Team movie came to a halt. “
In late 2004 a friend of mine interviewed original Face Dirk Benedict for BBC Radio. Dirk said he had been showed a script and was appalled by it. He claimed the screenplay was littered with four letter words and just wasn’t what the movie should be about. No writer was mentioned in his interview.
It was soon reported that James Bond scribe Bruce Feirstein had been tapped in to pen a draft for the ‘A-Team’ feature. Feirstein was more of a way to go than Brodbin, especially if the Cannell, Fox and Top Cow team still had a keen eye for a ‘Mission: Impossible’ style venture. ‘Golden Eye’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and ‘The World Is Not Enough’ were impressive Bond flicks and more importantly damn good credits to moot around in Hollywoodland.
Nearing two years on from Feirstein’s hiring to pen ‘The A-Team’, where does it stand today? The message boards and fan sites have their strong opinions, desires and rumors. Even original BA, Mr T, has his. “If I ain’t BA in an A-Team movie, then I ain’t gonna be in no A-Team movie.” I believe the quote went. T was asked by Stallone to cameo in ‘Rocky Balboa’, the movie series which showed the world Mr T in the first place. T, unfortunately had commitments to other projects at the time.
In 2006, A UK documentary called ‘Bring Back The A-Team’, with a great premise and awful host, brought together the remaining original cast members in one room (bar Peppard and Mr T). T was interviewed separately however for the show. Dirk Benedict is currently on a hopeful career-comeback, landing the final of the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother. His desire is to have a West End Stage role. I’m sure he’ll achieve that goal.
At the time of writing, Bruce Willis is the latest name to be mooted around for the role of John Hannibal Smith. He was also up for JR Ewing in the ‘Dallas’ feature, when John Travolta was snapped up instead. One other name has been Tommy Lee Jones.
Are we any closer to seeing an ‘A-Team’ feature? With half the producers focusing on other big budget projects,’Witchblade’, ‘Wanted’ and ‘Magneto’, it appears Cannell, Seldin and Fierstein and are in limbo. Is ‘The A-Team’ movie? To quote Stephen J Cannell in a Variety interview; “We drove cars off cliffs and people got out and walked away.”