"Airwolf" is really the forgotton show of the popular mid-80's action shows of the time. Although not as a highly-rated, most cult viewers of the time, regarded "Airwolf" on the same level as it's sister shows, "The A-Team" & "Knight Rider". Although not scripted as good as "The A-Team", "Airwolf" easily won out over script quality over "Knight Rider", even in "AW"'s darkest times, circa '86 & '87. "Airwolf" had the action of "Knight Rider", but kept a seriousness about itself, where it didn't cross over into that 60's "Batman" area of cheese, like "Knight Rider" did.
In it's 1st Season (1984), "Airwolf" showed tons of promise to be one of the greatest action shows ever made. Each episode was superb in writing, and most episodes kept you on the edge of your seat. It's obvious now that shows like "Airwolf" set the mold for shows that we see today such as "24", with the foreign intrigue element, but also lots and lots of action, with the budget of a film, but on a TV show. However, "Airwolf" did not keep this quality past it's 1st Season, sadly, and when it fell, it fell fast! However, Season 1 remains probably one of the best quality seasons of any show ever to me, to this day, albeit the fact it only contained 10 episodes and a two-hour movie.
Season 2 (1984-85) saw many changes, mainly to the show's formula. A female character was added to give balance to the show, a balance that wasn't really needed, and it was obvious to viewers that gradually the international intrigue stories that were so so good in the show's 1st Season, were being phased out for more domestic-oriented stories here in the U.S., due to pressure from the CBS suits. The quality of the show also seemed to start suffering. Although the beginning of the season started somewhat strong, by mid-season, certain elements of the show seemed to start showing 'rushing to the network', and the show also started suffering from production delay's due to a variety of issues, which also caused the budget for the series to skyrocket. It's almost strange, the first several episodes to Season 2 are very familiar to the viewer, showing the same kinda stuff from Season 1, but by the end of Season 2, it's almost a completely unrecognizable show, other than Airwolf itself still being on it. It's like the show went an overhaul within only one season. I don't know, it just feels like a completely different show watching say, "Sweet Britches" and then watching "Short Walk To Freedom".
Season 3 (1985-86) saw the biggest change to the series at this point, and also proved to be the last on CBS. The show's writing staff & producing crew was pretty much turned over from Season 2. Don Bellisario stepped down as Executive Producer from day-to-day production, but did keep a distant eye on the show, but not much, deciding to hand the reigns over to veteran TV director, Bernard L. Kowalski. The season saw weird highs & lows. For example, the first four episodes almost seem like they each are from an entirely different show, with the Airwolf helicopter & the characters being the only recognizable things. "The Horn of Plenty" is some goofy attempt at a brainwashing episode that, granted sees great performances from both Jan-Michael Vincent & Jean Bruce Scott, but mainly seems like something out of "The Six Million Dollar Man". "Airwolf II" then becomes one of the greatest episodes of the series, my personal favorite myself, as we get to see Airwolf finally meet it's match by taking on it's successor, Airwolf II: Redwolf. "And A Child Shall Lead" then seems like some 'very special heartfelt episode' of "Highway To Heaven" with Airwolf thrown in for action measure, and then after that, we get "Fortune Teller" which was like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." meets "Airwolf". Season 3 was plagued with problems like this. But the overall quality still remained as soemthing good enough to watch on Saturdays at 8pm, when nothing else good was on. Sadly, the show never had a chance to rebound, although the show still consistantly won it's timeslot & CBS Saturday nights, it was canceled at the end of it's 3rd Season, due to too high production costs.
Someone at Universal decided in order to make the show more marketable in 2nd-run syndication, it needed another full-season of episodes, in order to make the package more attractive to syndicators. Universal then teamed up with the fledgling USA cable network, and decided to produce 24 additional episodes on a shoestring budget up in Canada ... enter ... the infamous Season 4 (1987).
Season 4 premiered on a new network, on USA (so it's now a cable series) in January of 1987. To the shock of audiences the entire cast had completely been changed. In the story, **SPOILERS**, Dom had been killed & String badly injured from a helicopter explosion, Archangel was re-assigned perminately to the 'far east', and Caitlin just vanished and was never mentioned again, as was St. John's supposed Amerasian son, Le Van (who popped up as a recurring character in the second-half of Season 3), who was also never mentioned again, and just vanished. St. John was rescued from Burma (apparently he got moved around alot since becoming an MIA in Vietnam so many years ago), and Archangel's replacement, Jason Locke, now composed an entirely new Airwolf crew, with St. John, a new agent Maj. Mike Rivers, and Dom's niece Jo (who was never mentioned ever before, until now, but we were led to believe she was a regular friend of their's). The show was also shot in Canada on a shoestring budget (the budget-quality of the show dropped to something of "MacGyver", when it 'was' something of "Airwolf"). The show also was so poor 'financially' by this point, that they didn't even have the real Airwolf. They just recycled stock footage from the previous three seasons of "Airwolf" for all of their aerial scenes. Despite all of this, the writing actually improved, on a story point. Alot of the international stories that made the 1st Season so good had actually returned, but by this point most people didn't even recognize the show anymore, and there were so many continuity errors from the CBS seasons to the USA season, that the show was barely recognizable other than Airwolf.
Overall, despite all of these issues, and the sudden plummet of a series that started promising into the trashcan in only a couple of seasons, was a disappointment. But I grew up with this series, and it's one of the first shows I can remember, so despite all of it's flaws in the later years, it's still a personal favorite, even Season 4. I'd still take 'flawed' Season 3 or 4 "Airwolf" over some of the things on TV today.