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This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series
Occasionally, TV shows do desperate things when they’re in trouble. Some, like Happy Days, have their most popular character on water skis jumping over a shark. Others, like Dexter, have their lead character’s step-sister suddenly realise, six seasons in, that she’s in love with her brother. In The A-Team’s case, it was a succession of increasingly bizarre cameos that helped speed up this once titanically popular show’s decline.
You could never claim that The A-Team — which first aired on this day, 23 January, 1983 — had realism on its side (The Wire, it emphatically ain’t), but, for its first few seasons at least, it managed to balance its cartoony nature with a degree of plausibility. As the series went on, however, it threw what little reality it was clinging to out of the window, and by its end in 1987, it was a shadow of its former self.
So let’s remember some of the whacked out cameos that only served to prove how The A-Team, by the time of its final seasons, had lost the plot entirely…
Boy George - 'Cowboy George'
In this season four episode from 1986, the man born George O’Dowd guests as a lightly fictionalised version of himself, after Face (Dirk Benedict) books a band named Cowboy George and the Range Rats for a gig at a local dive bar.
When our George turns up caked in eye glitter and Max Factor lippy (though admittedly his look here is a watered down version of what we were used to seeing on Top of the Pops), it’s not what the singer was expecting and he’s certainly not what the bar were expecting. George, who gets to perform two songs in the episode, was reportedly paid £100,000 for his appearance.
“When I got there, they gave me this script, which was a total valley-girl script," the Culture Club frontman reflected. "And it was like, 'I wouldn't say things like this.' But I thought, 'Well, they're paying me loads of money, so I guess I'll go for it!'"
Hulk Hogan - 'Body Slam'/'The Trouble with Harry'
The later disgraced WWE champ appeared in two episodes in The A-Team’s fourth season, both times as himself. In 'Body Slam', he pops up as a buddy of Mr T’s BA Baracus (both, coincidentally, had appeared in Rocky III) and again 14 episodes later, in 'The Trouble with Harry' (alongside another WWE fave, William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry).
Hogan revealed years later that he’d been asked to become a series regular, only to turn the job down, because — he admitted — of the friction between stars Mr T and George Peppard. “I got tired of being a referee,” he said.
“Mr T would say, 'Oh Hulk, you can't be George Peppard's friend. He's not your friend, I'm your friend.' Those guys were fighting all the time. I did two or three episodes, but I wanted to be in the wrestling ring more than being a referee to George Peppard and Mr T.”
Rick James - 'The Heart of Rock’n’Roll'
Another scandal-magnet was funkster Rick James who guested in the sixth episode of — yes, you’ve guessed it — the fourth season. Headlining as himself, it’s all about James hiring Hannibal and co to help a friend of his (played by soul god Isaac Hayes) who is about to be released from prison.
Clearly a deal with the singer’s record company, 'The Heart of Rock’n’Roll' screened just a few months after the release of James’ eighth album, Glow, and features an indecent amount of concert footage, so much so that it sometimes seems that it’s the A-Team who are the guest stars here.
Pat Sajak and Vanna White - 'Wheel of Fortune'
In this – oh yeah – season four episode, ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock wins big on the TV quiz show Wheel of Fortune, before he’s kidnapped by criminals pretending to be CIA agents. NBC nabbed themselves a nice bit of cross-promotion here, with Wheel of Fortune hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White both cameoing as themselves.
It was hardly a stretch for them, though Murdock, who triumphs here using Face’s unique letter frequency system, was certainly a more intense contestant than they were used to. Amazingly, both Sajak and White are still fronting Wheel of Fortune to this day.
David McCallum - 'The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair'
With ratings flatlining during season four, a panicky NBC retooled The A-Team for its fifth outing. Parachuting in Robert Vaughn as a new series regular, the show now featured the troop of Vietnam vets working for the US government.
With Vaughn onboard as the team’s de facto leader General Hunt Stockwell, it was decided to buddy up the actor with his old Man From U.N.C.L.E. comrade David McCallum. The episode is chock with wink-wink-isms referencing the cult 60s spy show, from Stockwell answering the phone with "Open Channel D" to McCallum’s character’s Russian name (Ivan Trigorin), even to the title itself (every U.N.C.L.E. episode was called “The xxxxxx Affair”). Though it may have charmed ageing fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., it looked painfully self-indulgent to everyone else, another example of NBC patting itself on the back and giving one of its other shows a publicity boost.
Sadly, The A-Team’s ratings slide continued through season five and NBC finally swung the axe in the opening months of 1987. As an indicator how little the network cared for the series by then, its final episode (in which Murdock is wearing a shirt with ‘Fini’ emblazoned on it) was shown before the penultimate (where Murdock can be seen in a shirt with 'Almost Fini' on it).
It may have not been the bizarro cameos alone that finished off The A-Team, but they were a symptom of the goofiness and flippancy that had started to pervade the show.
It was noticeable that, when the movie of The A-Team came along in 2010, the only cameos allowed were those of its original stars.
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