Whatever Happened to Great Action TV Shows? (A-Team, Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, etc)

I’m English and nearly all the shows I loved on British TV when I was a kid were the American action/adventure ones, classics like the Six Million Dollar Man, The Dukes of Hazzard, Airwolf - I could go on and on. They all seemed to have impressive stunts, great music and silly plots but we loved them.

But in the late 80s they seemed to disappear, I don’t just mean the individual shows but the genre as a whole. Do they still produce this type of show in the US? If not, does anyone know why?

I know ALIAS is a GREAT action show. I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer could have been considered action too…
I 've seen plenty of syndicated programs that are action oriented, but of course they don’t seem to have the same level of quality as the latter two.

I think formulaic and repetitive plot formats were further dragged down by the mediocre acting talent of the performers. Too many cars self-detonating as they swan dive off cliffs tend to numb even the most avid viewer. Having “no plot to get in the way of the action” might work for Willis and Schwarznegger on the big screen, but scaling it down for tube eviscerates much of the over-the-top excitement those sort of productions require.

Kinder words can be found for the predecessors of those shows you named. The Wild Wild West and Mission Impossible both maintained better levels of intrigue. While The Wild Wild West frequently engaged in some low level hamming, the competent stunt work still gave it an entertaining aspect. Mission Impossible exhibited fairly advanced technology solutions along with some reasonably competent actors (e.g., Martin Landau, Greg Morris and Barbara Bain). Having one of the finest television theme songs ever written (by Lalo Schifrin, conductor for Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra), did it no harm either.

24 also has many of the standard action ingredients.

I’ve seen reruns of some of these and I think the kindest thing you can say about those shows is that they haven’t aged well.

Don’t have a good theory about why they vanished in the late 80’s, though. Except that TV seems to go through fads.

For a while, the action-adventure niche was filled by Hercules and Xena – two shows that shared a similar characteristic with the A-Team in that there was a whole lot of cartoon violence, but no one ever got killed or seriously injured (unless they had the bad luck to fall in love with the main character in which case they were toast).

I am a little worried that you think A-Team, Knight Rider and The Fall Guy are ‘great’ action shows.

As has been mentioned before, 24 is a good choice. As is The Sheild. Both have an action base (24 more than The Sheild) with a good underlying story.

Remember… Plot matters.


Maybe ‘classic’ would have been a more appropriate word than ‘great’, but I’m speaking from my memories as a young boy - I certainly wouldn’t watch a 2003 version of the A-Team, for example, but 20 years ago it was the best show I’d ever seen.

I was thinking more of the ‘Glen A Larson’ style of TV that the whole family could watch - 24 is very good but it’s not suitable for kids and Alias is shown at midnight here, so I assume that’s a fairly adult show as well.

Of course audiences have become more sophisticated and so have the shows, but there just don’t seem to be any over-the-top macho heroes on TV anymore. Maybe kids these days are more into action movies than TV shows.

I still love the A-Team theme song.


And the dude who always smoked cigars was a badassmofo.

24, Alias, and the Shield are my 3 favorite shows without a doubt. I would have to say that they are all action packed, but agree that they are meant for more mature audiences than the shows in question.

I don’t think the plots that were presented in those shows could make it today. The T.V. audience of today is much more sophisticated, and like Zenster said, we have seen the same plot hundreds of times as it is.

I did love A-team and the Dukes of Hazzard, but only because I was a kid. I have seen some of those episodes in syndication, and can barely watch.

Both had great themes by the way…

Didn’t The A Team suffer in the end for concern over the level of violence and shootings in it (or was that just my mother?) That sort of cheesy consequence-free violence seems highly out of favour.

There were so many shows of that sort, like Airwolf and Blue Thunder and Streethawk as well. Not that they were great shows, but they had a sort of action and excitement that you don’t get in TV shows now. Maybe now people can see action movies on video every night, so the tamer stunts of that sort of TV show aren’t appealing to audiences: that means TV sticks to what TV can do that film can’t, continuing stories and character-based drama. Alias and Buffy, to take modern examples mentioned above, are far more character- and relationship-driven than the A Team or Knight Rider.

Despite the decline of action TV, comedies now are far better than in the 1980s, and there are whole genres and styles of TV that weren’t around then (Survivor/Big Brother). While other genres like the Dallas/Dynasty primetime soap are dead too.

OK, I like cheezy television, which is why my friends in college couldn’t believe someone who was studying Japanese and listened to classical music could like Knight Rider, The A-Team, and The Dukes of Hazard.

At the risk of sounding incredibly naive and pollyannaish, I like knowing who the good guys and bad guys are. I don’t like the way people behave in reality shows like Survivor and Big Brother (although I wouldn’t mind a chance to be on Junkyard Wars or Trading Spaces). I like fast cars, good looking guys, and the notion that “one man can make a difference”, especially if he’s got a good-looking genius of a girl behind him. I know there’s a ton of moral ambiguity in the world and the hero with a heart of gold can have feet of clay or a fetish for them, but I don’t want to wallow in that for entertainment. I want heroes. I also want to be a hero. In my fantasies, watching shows like Knight Rider, The A-Team, and The Dukes of Hazard, I was one.


As the market share for the networks dwindled, I suppose that action shows may have become cost prohibitive. Even in a cheesy action sequence or chase scene, the costs of location shooting, specialty performers and designers add up quickly.

Don’t forget MacGyver. Henry Winkler has been working on a new version centering on the original’s nephew.

Come on, A-Team haters! The show was actually a clever parody of its own genre. The cookie-cutter plots. The plot holes (if ordinary folks can hire the A-Team, how does the government not find them?). The cars flipping over. The millions of gunshots with no deaths. B.A. The relationship between B.A. and Murdock. B.A. and milk and airplanes. Characters even acknowledging cliches or repeat plot elements. It’s gold!

Excellent observation. Market share points now rule the budget purse.

If it was purely a cost matter, what about the huge cost of shows like ER, much of which is due to salaries? With the amount of money TV stars are demanding, it may be cheaper to have an action show with a small regular cast, than an ensemble drama.

Tastes change, maybe?

When TV is saturated with one type of show, anything new has a better chance of becoming a hit. When a new hit arrives, networks fall over themselves replicating the formula. The older genre is dropped. Then the new genre becomes oversaturated, and the cycle continues…

I was watching a Quincy rerun the other day, and it struck me just how insufferably self-rightious the whole show seemed. Was this a characteristic of '70s TV, or was it a reflection of Jack Klugman’s personality?

Hey, preachy TV was a staple of the 70’s and into the 80’s. I don’t think it’s really recovered – check out Jordan’s Crossing or Law & Order: SVU.

As to the action shows, I think they gave way to much cheaper sit-coms. And while we’re at it, I’ll gripe about them. Name a strong white male character from any sitcom in the 80’s. Okay, now forget the white part and name a strong sit-com male from the 80’s. What a bunch of neurotic, emotionally crippled losers. They were the exact opposite of the action heroes of the 70’s.

Back to the subject at hand: I think once you’ve seen that stock car crash where one car flies over another and into the one in front of it blowing up everything in sight as the heroes plow foward about 100 times in a given week, you tend to just turn everything off. Of course, I was never a fan of the genre – except for some inexplicable reason I loved Airwolf. I think I would have watched a little more of Knight Rider if I could have taken David Hasselhoff – but he was so unbelievably bad (still is).

I agree with the poster who said A-team was a parody of the genre, although most people didn’t get it. The few episodes I watched I always got the impression the cast thought so. wink wink, nudge nudge

Isn’t that why we she the types of shows that use to be on networks on syndication instead (Xena, Doyle’s Lost World, V.I.P)?

Wouldn’t that be where these shows exist today?