Question: What did the B.A. in B.A. Barakus, aka Mr. T, stand for? — Jonus, Plainfield, N.J.
Televisionary: Officially, the A-Team master mechanic's initials stood for "bad attitude," but most fans hold to the belief that they were really for "badass." Depending on which day you caught him, either could be accurate. If you'd asked the show's producers or the reporters who interviewed the mercurial star at a bad time, however, my guess is that the consensus would lean toward the former.
The first time TV Guide sent a reporter to spend six days on the set of the hit action show, which ran on NBC from January 1983 to June 1987, the writer was stonewalled by T's equally formidable brothers, who explained that an interview wouldn't happen unless it was a matter of life or death. Asked if another time was more appropriate, perhaps lunchtime or later in the afternoon, the brother explained that the star "don't like to give up his lunch."
Later on in the show's run, another writer found Mr. T to be a little too forthcoming. Told he wasn't needed in a scene for 10 minutes, the star responded: "Well, that's good because I got to go to my dressing room and..." — he then went on to use an impolite expression for having a sit-down. Asked by someone on the set if he had to announce everything going on inside him, T explained that people didn't have to listen to everything he said and then went on to rephrase the coming event in more polite language.
Of course, that didn't get him in the kind of trouble that truly expensive behavior did. Shooting an episode on a cruise ship halfway through the show's run, for example, T's mood was darkened by his asthma, the other passengers and the recent loss of a family member. So he took off — literally — arranging to be flown off the set, then telephoned boss Stephen J. Cannell with a list of demands. Cannell listened, then fired his star for that and several other infractions ("stuff that was going on and needed to get cleaned out," said Cannell at the time) — no small thing considering that Mr. T, beloved by adults and kids alike, was one of the show's main draws. T promptly rescinded his demands and was taken back by the show. After all, even his hit Saturday-morning show couldn't compete with a network series gig, so holding out would have been stupid. And T was anything but that.
"The man is a tycoon," Dwight Schultz, who played A-Team pilot H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock, said in 1984. "He's so smart. When he started out, he said, 'Before this is done, I'm gonna get money even from people who hate me. I'm having a dartboard made.'"
Other co-stars were equally generous. In fact, Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Galactica), who portrayed pretty-boy con artist Templeton "Faceman" Peck, credited the whole cast for their brains, himself excluded. "There ain't a dummy in the bunch," he said. "'Cept me, maybe. I'm the dumb blond. You don't have to be bright to be a TV star. You don't even have to be a human being! You can be a chimpanzee or a dog."
Perhaps not, but you certainly need to keep your audience pleased if you want to stay on the air. And The A-Team, a huge hit when it started, was having trouble doing that by 1986. The network and the producers conducted a good deal of market research to find out what audiences liked and disliked about the show — a move that series lead George Peppard, who played team leader John "Hannibal" Smith, likened to finding out what sex is like by doing interviews. Then, in an attempt to liven things up, they brought in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s Robert Vaughn and added Eddie Velez as "Dishpan" Frankie Sanchez.
However, Peppard's opinion of market research proved to be rather astute, though it was Benedict who truly called it when asked whether or not the adjustments would bring the viewers back. "Oh, I think it's the last season," he said in 1986. "You mean as a betting person? Yeah, this is it."That's a bet he would've won. The show was off the air the following summer.