THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER MACGYVER 100th EPISODE SALUTE
On the occasion of MacGyver's 100th episode, The Hollywood Reporter included a special 24-page salute to the series in its regular issue.
MESSAGE OF THANKS FROM RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON
My Friends, we made it work! Thank you all for your patience, perseverence, understanding, faith & support - you are the best! Richard Dean
MESSAGE OF THANKS FROM DANA ELCAR
My best love and Happy Hundredth to all! Dana Elcar
MESSAGE OF THANKS FROM HENRY WINKLER AND JOHN RICH
March 5, 1990
To the "MacGYVER" family:
Congratulations and thank you... every one of you... for bringing "MacGYVER" to this milestone. The production of 100 hours of imaginative, socially responsible television is an extraordinary accomplishment made possible by your dedication and pride in your work. You may be justly proud of your achievement.
We feel so lucky to have Richard Dean Anderson as our Star Performer. His efforts, energy and level of cooperation -- above and beyond the call of duty -- have done much to cement the feeling of "one-ness" that characterizes our set. All this on top of an exceptional ability to create and maintain a performance that each week figuratively jumps off the screen and compels devoted attention from an ever-widening audience.
It is impossible to praise highly enough our production team in Vancouver led by our partner, Executive Producer Steve Downing. His skill as a writer, innovative creator and managerial genius are without parallel in the industry and we are deeply indebted to him.
Here in L.A., management support from Paramount's Mel Harris, John Pike and John Symes has been exemplary, and we are most grateful for ABC-TV's continued commitment to the series.
Our sincerest thanks to all of you! We're looking forward to the next 100!
Henry Winkler & John Rich
THROUGH THE YEARS WITH MACGYVER
FIVE SEASONS AND 100 EPISODES
"MacGyver" Keeps Beating the Odds
It's early in the first season. MacGyver is galloping down the hand-packed sand of Pismo Beach, trailed by a band of shrieking Arabs. He looks ahead. Another large posse is coming straight at him. There's no way out. He's being attacked from the rear and from the front, flanked on the left with the ocean on his right. What do you do? If you're the producers of "MacGyver", you fly up in a helicopter, drop a hook to the saddle and fly our hero and the horse off into the sunset. "It was that kind of conceit that said, 'If we can do that, we can do anything,' " laughs John Rich, who executive produces the show with Henry Winkler and Steve Downing.
After five years and 100 episodes, that conceit felt by the producers of ABC-TV's "MacGyver" series has grown into full-blown pride. Like its hero, the show has week in and week out faced seemingly impossible odds and still survived. Over its five-year run, the "MacGyver" series has dodged lackluster ratings, slogged through time slots set in quicksand and weathered a stormy move to Vancouver. But doing the impossible is what the character and series are all about.
The unique thing about our show is that we're in our fifth season and we haven't peaked. We're still gaining momentum," executive producer Steve Downing says, sounding like a proud father. "We're tilling new ground and we're finding that this new ground is very fertile."
The reason, Downing says, can be found in the character itself. "MacGyver," played by Richard Dean Anderson, began as and remains an enigma. He started off as a vague idea Paramount's Tony Jonas brought to the newly formed Henry Winkler/John Rich Prods. Winkler and Rich took the idea of "the man you call when all else fails," and developed five or six variations, enough grist to hand the show's creator, Lee David Zlotoff. Zlotoff did some research and came up with a fellow at Caltech named John Koivula. Koivula was something of scientific jack-of-all-trades with a broad knowledge of chemistry, gemology and physics. With that background, "MacGyver" was born. He was to be a unique TV hero. Instead of brawn, he used his brains. Instead of solving problems with a gun, he solved them with a seemingly endless array of ingenious devices created from ordinary objects at hand. They would later become known as "MacGyverisms." It was a breakthrough concept and it needed a breakthrough star.
"When we were trying to cast this thing, everybody that came in were these macho-type heroes," John Rich remembers. "As my partner, Henry Winkler, used to say, 'They all had big belt buckles.' But then Anderson came in one day. He was certainly good-looking and athletic. But when we asked him to read, he said, 'Do you mind if I put on my glasses? I don't see that well.' " Says Winkler, "It was that moment John and I looked at each other and knew that this was the guy. Because he was not only talented, but vulnerable."
The show got off to a rocky start. The original hour-and-a-half pilot moved too slowly, and, with the network's permission, Rich cut the pilot down to one hour. "They began to see some potential in it at that point," he recalls. "Prior to that, it was very iffy, maybe a dead duck."
The cut-down version worked. "Testing on the presentation tape showed that audiences embraced both the MacGyver character and Richard Dean Anderson," says John Pike, president of Paramount's Network Television Division. "While very few leading men are able to carry action-adventure shows, Anderson had the potential to be a television star."
For the next two years, Winkler, Rich and Downing, who had risen from supervising to executive producer, placed MacGyver in one high-concept, action-adventure episode after another. The series began to find an audience despite ABC programming changes that forced the show to jump from its original 8 p.m. time slot on Sundays to Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (where it hit No. 10 in the ratings) to Monday nights before or after football. But the final move cost the show viewers. "On the West Coast, we were desperately damaged by the time slot change because after football, it was 'time-approximate,' " Rich explains. That meant the show would begin at whatever time the game concluded. "The miracle is that we were able to survive at that terrible hour in the western and mountain states," says Rich. (This year the show was given a definite 10 p.m. air time in the West. Though it still is not getting 100% clearance, the show consistently pulls a 20 to 21 share.)
The show's solid performance in what Anderson describes as "historically kind-of-a-death slot" enticed the network to keep the show alive – but only by ordering new episodes a half-season at a time. Finally, in order to keep the show's quality up to the standards it had set, the decision was made to move the production from Los Angeles to Vancouver. According to Rich, the move was initiated less for the favorable exchange rate and more for the locations Vancouver had to offer. "We had done two years in L.A. and we had simply run out of stories we could tell at Indian Dunes," Rich explains. "We weren't trying to run away from any obligations down here. We're a thoroughly union shop, carefully manned in our key departments by Americans."
The move to Vancouver was not without risk. There was no existing facility large enough to house the "MacGyver" operation. Paramount agreed to renovate an old bridge factory where the Golden Gate Bridge had been fabricated. But Steve Downing, who would remain in Vancouver to oversee the show, only had a skeleton crew to fill the new Bridge Studio offices. Drawing on the administrative skills he had gained as an L.A. deputy police chief, Downing began building and training a crew from an already depleted Vancouver craft pool. "MacGyver's" staff, now comprised of 11 Americans and 169 Canadians, performs every production function except dubbing in Vancouver.
But fresh locations and a new crew weren't enough to keep "MacGyver" thriving. The character still remained a mystery, both to the writers and the audience. From the first year, MacGyver had worked for a private research group called the Phoenix Foundation headed by Peter Thornton (Dana Elcar). The relationship had grown and provided a limitless number of action scenarios in which to place the hero. But by year three, it was time to begin to see the more human side of MacGyver. The writers began to ask questions: "We know MacGyver hates guns, but why?"; "We know he's sensitive about the environment, so how would he feel about clear-cutting?"; and "How would he react to the poaching of black rhinos for their horns?" The answers formed the framework for a series of episodes that shed more light on MacGyver's character while taking definite stands on contemporary and often controversial subjects.
Mounting these episodes is a logistical nightmare. In addition to the series' eight days of principal photography, two days of secondary photography and two days of insert work are required. But quality is never sacrificed. Downing points to the black rhino episode as a perfect example. In the episode, set in South Africa, a poacher has cut the horns from a rhino with a chain saw. MacGyver finds the dying animal in the bush and is forced to watch as the animal is destroyed.
"We built a $40,000 rhinoceros model for a three-minute scene," Downing says. "It'll knock you on your ass. We did it because, in order to tell the story right, we had to have the audience understand what the plight of the rhino is." In fact, the scene was so realistic and disturbing, the network was flooded with calls – many viewers thought the rhino was real (including an official from the Humane Society).
Much to the chagrin of the show's producers and star, "MacGyver" has never been nominated for an Emmy in any category. But the series' core audience continues to shower the show with accolades. "This year our mail has at least doubled and probably tripled over prior years," Downing says proudly. "It's parents who thank us for their son's or daughter's renewed interest in school or others thanking us for airing programming that has values that don't exploit violence or sex."
And it's not only parents who are grateful. Educators across America have used the "MacGyver" program as a learning tool, starting "MacGyver Survivor" programs that teach children how to solve problems creatively. In one letter, the director of a special education school wrote to say that "MacGyver" was responsible for changing the life of one student who had a history of fighting and general troublemaking. "A few months ago his behavior changed drastically," the educator wrote. "He had decided to model his life after his hero MacGyver, because he solves problems without violence. Needless to say, the school officials are thrilled."
Next year, "MacGyver" will begin its domestic syndication run exclusively on USA Cable Network. But the show's popularity goes far beyond U.S. borders. It is also seen in more than 70 foreign countries. Henry Winkler feels that the show's international strength comes from the universal appeal of the show's title character. "I think it translates well internationally because of Ricky Dean," Winkler says. "He has a personality on the screen that translates across with a vulnerability. He is quiet when he has to be. And his thoughtfulness is international because those are all silent communications. You don't have to understand a particular American idiom in order to go with MacGyver. You can actually watch and understand his vulnerability and cleverness. And," Winkler adds, "he's extraordinarily good-looking."
In spite of its difficult time slot, locations and production requirements, the "MacGyver" series had made it. The reasons are many: top production values; renewed support from ABC under ABC Entertainment president Robert Iger; the continued backing of Paramount; the tenacity of the crew and audience.
But how long can "MacGyver" go on? Though Winkler remains a vocal cheerleader of the show, he had gone on to other projects. Rich continues to supervise the dubbing from Los Angeles, but concedes that the only reason he'll be returning to Vancouver in the near future is to help celebrate the 100th episode. Talks are underway regarding a sixth season, but Winkler and Rich agree that continuing with the show depends a great deal on the men at the front lines: Steve Downing, supervising producer Michael Greenburg and Richard Dean Anderson. Downing and Greenburg say it depends on their star.
I've been working on this show for five years and from a creative standpoint, it's probably time to move on," Downing admits. "But when I think about moving on, the first thing that enters my mind is that I owe it to Rick not to. Greenburg, Rick and myself are the primary movers on this show. So, especially with the three of us, there's a rapport and loyalty and recognition of what we've been able to pull off. When I think about moving on to something else, I think, 'Gee, who would be there with Rick?' It's not money, it's not Paramount. It's this bond that has grown with us. An executive producer and a supervising producer do not have a bond like that with a star unless the star is a human being and a team player like Rick." Greenburg agrees without hesitation: "No, I wouldn't leave Rick, even if I had a better opportunity elsewhere. It would be like walking out on your family."
"MACGYVER": AN ADVENTURE FOR RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON
He's solitary, introspective, athletic, sensitive, socially conscious and apolitical. At times, he's a maverick. And most of the time he's just a big kid. "He's between 2½ and 8 years old most of the time," makeup artist Jan Newman says, chuckling. "He stood on the edge of that gravel pit the other day, and pushed his bike off just to see how far it would go." Is he MacGyver or Richard Dean Anderson? Right now, it's hard to tell.
Dressed in MacGyver's uniform of dungarees and green bomber jacket, Anderson rubs sleep from his eyes as he steps out of his motor home. He's been napping while the crew breaks for lunch. The cold air seems to help him focus. Behind him, snow-covered mountains rise abruptly from the valley floor where "MacGyver" is shooting exteriors for an upcoming episode entitled, "The Treasure of Manco." Normally, the surrounding pristine wilderness serves as a watershed for the city of Vancouver. But this week, it will double for the wilds of Peru.
"I just had to rest for a couple of minutes. My vacation exhausted me," Anderson says while settling into a chair inside the location mess tent. He is just back from Christmas hiatus, where he took 11 plane rides shuttling between Vancouver, Hawaii and his family's home in Minnesota. "I love pleasure, but I seem to go in the other direction sometimes," Anderson says, smiling.
After five years of appearing in virtually every scene of the series' 100 episodes, it's a wonder Anderson can smile at all. But everything about the show seems a tailor-made fit for him. "The nature of this show feeds right into my need to work," Anderson explains. "I'm not a workaholic, mind you. I love to play and relax. But 'MacGyver' affords me the opportunity of having a very strong work and creative outlet."
Anderson came to the "MacGyver" series in the roundabout way most actors make it to the big leagues. After breaking both arms as a teenage hockey fanatic, Anderson's dream of becoming a professional hockey player melted. A 6,000-mile bike trek across Canada and a brief stint studying theater in college convinced Anderson that Los Angeles might hold more promise than his native Minnesota. There, he climbed the ladder of success one rung at a time, first working as street mime and juggler and later directing and starring opposite killer whales at Marineland. In 1976, Anderson landed the role of Dr. Jeff Webber on ABC-TV's "General Hospital." He stood on that rung for five years. Two short-lived primetime series for CBS followed: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Emerald Point, N.A.S."
"I was kind of a vagabond, maverick, misbehavin' fool back then," Anderson recalls. "It was fun at the time but I fell out of favor with the idea of being part of a big ensemble because I had too much creative energy." He was on the verge of signing a two-feature production deal when Henry Winkler called and offered him "MacGyver." The unique nature of the series' title character intrigued Anderson. "The typical TV hero is wielding a .357 Magnum and shooting bad guys as a solution to problems," he explains. " 'MacGyver' presented an alternative approach. He never appeared to be a superhero. He was always a kind of human guy who happens to have a certain attitude about life and about solving problems. It was different: This guy used his head instead of a gun."
When the producers made the decision to change the show's backdrop from Los Angeles to Vancouver, they also knew that MacGyver had to move beyond the bang and bash typical of other action-adventure series. Given the character's established sensitivity, the obvious tack was to take on socially relevant topics within the show's framework.
"There's just so much that you can do of what we call 'run-and-jump' episodes," Anderson says. "We realized about a year and a half ago that we're in a position – not to preach – but to raise awareness by how this character would deal with such matters."
The resulting shows have addressed such issues as the plight of the black rhino, the massacre at Tiananmen Square and the clear-cutting of forests in the Pacific Northwest. Angry letters from special-interest groups have proved that the episodes have had an impact. "What they were asking was for us to entertain the kids and not get so uppity about these topics, which of course, riled us even more," Anderson says with obvious pleasure. "This caused us to realize that what we were doing was very good and very important."
Though Anderson is clearly proud of the contemporary subjects "MacGyver" has tackled, his favorite episode to date took the show to another place in time. Anderson's character falls asleep while watching a western and dreams of living in a snowy town in the Old West. "Occasionally, the writers and producers will throw me a bone like a hockey episode," Anderson says wryly. "But when this came out, it was a little boy's dream come true: to be a cowboy in the 1860s and ride horses – without a gun, mind you. I told the producers immediately that I wanted that to be a recurring dream. I was in heaven."
When trying to explain why the show has reached the magical number of 100 episodes, Anderson points to everybody but himself for the answer. "After five years, what I'm beset with here is the finest, most talented group of people I've ever come in contact with," he says. "The fact that we're approaching 100 episodes alone is a tribute to the tenacity and perseverance of this crew. We've weathered some hard times, not the least of which has been a time slot that hasn't been real kind to the ratings. But ABC has been patient, especially in the last year. I don't want to harp on our past relationship with the network, but now it's phenomenal."
Anderson turns 40 this year and has had little time for a personal life. Though he keeps an apartment in Los Angeles, he prefers to live in a hotel during the show's nine-month production period. In the off-season, he travels extensively. Anderson still plays hockey whenever he can with L.A.'s Celebrity All Star Team, a group he helped found that has raised more than $1 million for charity. But in the past three season hiatuses, Anderson has had to curtail his playing due to back and foot surgeries.
His Gekko Prods. banner (in partnership with his best friend and supervising producer Michael Greenburg) has two projects in development. One involving G. Gordon Liddy has gotten nibbles from the networks, but there's been little time to pursue them. So how long can he go on?
I'm real tired, but I'm not tired of doing the show," Anderson says convincingly. "If you're around for a while, you'll realize how exhausting it is: the locations, the schedule we're under, the kind of production quality we demand from ourselves. You get a little run down, but I can't think of a better thing to be doing than this show, especially in a television motif. It affords me every opportunity to act, to be as physical as I like to be, and it's creative. I love it." –K.M.
DANA ELCAR: FINDING VARIETY IN "MACGYVER"
Like many aspects of the "MacGyver" series, Dana Elcar's recurring guest role as Peter Thornton, director of field operations for the nebulous Phoenix Foundation, seems meant to be. Elcar competed for a similar role during casting for the pilot but didn't get it. though he did appear in the pilot, it wasn't until the tenth episode that the relationship between Peter Thornton and MacGyver began to form. That relationship has provided one of the few anchors in MacGyver's hectic, globe-trotting life. It has also given Elcar a chance to grow with his character.
"One of the reasons I like doing this role is because it has a broad spectrum," Elcar explains. "It calls for reactions to things all over the world and in all kinds of different situations. The groundwork between Thornton and MacGyver is so sound because their basic respect for humanity and each other is so great. Thornton has responsibility to the world: to seek out the right approach and live life as best he can. That's one of the things I really like because that's the way I feel."
In his role of Peter Thornton, Elcar hires MacGyver on a "free-lance" basis for the Phoenix Foundation's disparate clientele – everybody from Boy Scouts to foreign governments. The nonviolent approach MacGyver takes in executing his assignments was central to Elcar's decision to accept the role as MacGyver's boss. "I can't tell you how important the nonviolent character of the show is," Elcar says. "Even if there is a certain amount of violence on it that is in the world, it is not gratuitous. And that is a very important element to our standing audience. And it's important to me. I'm grateful not only to be in a show, but to have a show that my family can watch. I feel good about that."
"MacGyver" is Elcar's third TV series. He spent three years starring as Col. Lard on "Black Sheep Squadron" with Robert Conrad, and a year as the captain opposite Robert Blake on "Baretta." Those co-starring roles make up a small portion of his nearly 400 episodic television appearances. But TV work is only a part of Elcar's career. After his sophomore year at the University of Michigan, he spent 12 years working on and off- Broadway before landing a part in the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production, "Elizabeth & Essex."
The move west was permanent and successful. Elcar has appeared in more than 40 films, including "The Sting" and the 1984 Steve Martin starrer, "All of Me." Elcar has produced shows for the Los Angeles Theatre Center and directed episodes of "The Rockford Files," "Black Sheep Squadron" and "MacGyver." Elcar has also appeared in productions for San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater and South Coast Repertory Theatre, and directed Ron Hutchinson's "Rat in the Skull" for the Mark Taper Forum's Taper Too in Los Angeles. In 1985, Elcar and his partner William Lucking founded the Santa Paula Theatre Center.
During "MacGyver's" five-year run, Elcar has appeared in about 17 out of each season's 22 episodes. With only 12 weeks off each year, it's been difficult for him to work in other mediums. But he's not complaining.
For Elcar, each one offers its own unique challenges. "To work on stage in front of a live audience is an incredible, rich experience because every night is different," Elcar explains. "Working on features has its own timing. The amount of time you have to build a character and get what you need on film is different. And a series is another wonderful medium. It gives you a long time to get to know the character and to bump up against so many unusual situations. I do miss doing features but I appreciate the good elements of a series. You have to overcome the regularity and the danger of reproducing what you've done before, and that's a healthy challenge."
There have been a few other recurring characters during "MacGyver's" five seasons: Bruce McGill has returned on several episodes as Jack Dalton, an old buddy of MacGyver's; Teri Hatcher has appeared as Penny Parker, an old friend and house guest; and Michael DesBarres has portrayed the murderous Murdoc, an assassin and master of disguise. But only Peter Thornton has remained a constant part of MacGyver's life. For Elcar, the ongoing relationship between his character and MacGyver has made the show's five-year climb a personal growth process.
"Peter Thornton has certainly matured and developed as a human being," Elcar says. "With every show we do that deals with a social element or a different scenario in life, you can't help having a profound reaction and growing from it. It's one of the wonderful things about being an actor. In a lot of jobs in life, the repetition is much more leveling. The variety is not there. But for an actor you're called upon to meet different situations. The maturing of the character is in a sense, my maturity. They work together, and I feel a better person for it." –K.M.
OF PARAMOUNT APPEAL
Five years ago Paramount Television decided to develop a show about "an action hero who can play in early time periods who is also advertiser-friendly," says Paramount Network TV president John Pike.
From that seed sprang "MacGyver."
ABC executives on both coasts say "MacGyver" is very "advertiser-friendly" and in "high demand." That's because while it's action packed, it doesn't have a lot of violence – MacGyver doesn't use a gun, champions things, like the environment, advertisers like to be associated with and comes out strongly against things like animal tusk poaching.
Advertisers also like having their name associated with a show to which educators are actually giving good grades. School teachers nationwide, while deploring the amount of time students spend in the vast network "wasteland," have come out in favor of "Mac" because he uses his wits, not weapons, to solve crimes; he rescues damsels and escapes peril.
"It's not like a 'Miami Vice' situation where, depending on the episode, it can be very violent or sexually hot," Pike observes.
Another draw for advertisers is the series' appeal to viewers both young and old. "If you ever find an action hero that parents and children can watch at the same time, you've got yourself a pretty good format," Pike asserts. "It can perform anywhere: you can put it on early or late."
Because it can play both early – thanks to its clean-cut image and low violence level – and late, ABC bounced the show around and finally put it to the task of solving the network's Monday night problem.
During the Fall football season "MacGyver" runs at 8 p.m. on the East Coast. The series follows "Monday Night Football" on the West Coast, where some stations opt to preempt it in favor of NFL overruns. Although "MacGyver's" flexibility has proven to be a mixed blessing, regardless of its schedule changes, 100 episodes and five seasons later, "MacGyver" has prospered. "One of the things that has always worked about "MacGyver" is that adults get a kick about the clever nature in which he solves the crime – it's a mini 'Mission: Impossible' form," Pike says, referring to another Paramount series for ABC.
You're watching the latest episode of "MacGyver." The hero is again trapped in an impossible situation with no visible means of escape, and you think, "I wonder how 'Mac' is going to get out of this one!" Enter gemologist John Koivula, a man with an all-around scientific knowledge. He knows what will happen next because he is the show's scientific consultant. He is the one who dreams up about 90% of the "MacGyverisms," the scientifically feasible special effects that allow MacGyver to defeat criminals and solve mysteries without the use of violence or weaponry.
The job of the show's writers is to create a believable storyline. They then turn to Koivula for the scientific expertise needed to come up with the "MacGyverisms."
Koivula explains: "The writers will call me any time, day or night, and say something like, 'MacGyver is in a basement without doors or windows. How do we write him out of this one?' "
While this may seem challenging, Koivula usually comes up with a scientific solution right away. However, there have been instances when he's had to research the problem. "But I'm happy to say I haven't been stumped yet," says Koivula.
Of course, Koivula is careful to omit at least one key element in TV recipes for certain "MacGyverisms" -- the ones that are dangerous. The producers as well as the creative staff have a feeling of responsibility to their audience, particularly the large number of young viewers.
Occasionally, the writers, in tandem with Koivula, have to stretch the limits of scientific credibility in order to fit into the parameters of a given storyline. In the premiere episode, MacGyver stopped a sulfuric acid leak with a couple of chocolate bars. While it is true that the sugar in chocolate will react with sulfuric acid to create a sticky glue, a couple of bars would not be nearly enough to stop the leak.
Sometimes an episode will be in production and the "MacGyverism," which worked in theory, will not translate well onto the screen. Then the show's special effects expert, Henry Millar, steps in to decide whether or not Koivula's "MacGyverism" is technically feasible. If the problem cannot be worked out, Koivula stands ready to deliver MacGyver from his enemies in some other way.
In one episode, while locked in the laboratory of the Phoenix Foundation, MacGyver takes exercise putty and presses it into the door lock. He then pours liquid nitrogen into the lock, which freezes the putty, forming a key that unlocks the door. As the episode ends, Peter Thornton, director of field operations for the Phoenix Foundation, congratulates MacGyver on another job well done, which wouldn't have been possible without the expertise of John Koivula -- the real MacGyver.
PULLING EVERY STUNT IN THE BOOK
"It's a stuntman's dream," says Vince Deadrick Jr., stunt coordinator for "MacGyver." "We've rolled cars, set guys on fire, done over 100-foot-high falls, a lot of horse work, a lot of fights, car hits - just about everything in the book. It's not a violent show, but it's got fun action in it that requires a lot of special skills. We've done parachuting and guys getting hit with bullets while hang-gliding and crashing to the ground. And everybody walks away. Nobody has spent the night in the hospital on this show. We've got a good record -- one of the best in episodic."
Deadrick has been coordinating stunts for the series since the beginning. Though Richard Dean Anderson has virtually his mirror image in stunt-double Steve Blalock, the star has always preferred to do his own stunts. And that's caused a little friction over the years. "The first season, Rick and I would fight verbally because he wanted to do everything," Deadrick recalls smiling. "Anything could happen, so I had to put the reins on him and just say no. But he still does quite a bit. We did a western show recently in Calgary and Rick had to do some heavy galloping. He's excellent on horseback." Deadrick did the stunt work on "Jewel of the Nile" and "Romancing the Stone," doubling for Michael Douglas. But he gives Anderson his highest marks. "I've done over 400 shows and Rick is the best I've worked with."
According to Deadrick, the toughest part of every episode is the organization, making everything run smoothly during the breakneck eight-day shooting schedule. Unlike other action-adventure series, "MacGyver" requires up to three planning meetings before each show begins shooting. "The show is tough because it demands perfection," Deadrick says. In the "Goldrush" episode, MacGyver and a female guest star used an airplane cargo door loaded down with gold bars as a sled. The characters slid down an ice tunnel, crashed through an ice wall, careened down a mountain and jumped off just before it hit a stand of fir trees. "We had every department in the world working on that - special effects, art, construction - everything. We all had to keep our heads together to make it work. If one department loses track or the communication line is broken, the stunt is not pulled off. Fortunately, we've been lucky. We've got a pretty well-greased machine now."
BY THE BOOKS
The letters come from everywhere: Winter Haven, Fla., Smithburg, Md., Hurricane, Utah, Weston, Ore. They come from teachers who have finally found something that will motivate their students to think. They have found "MacGyver." "As a professional educator I find the show challenging to the minds of the many children I teach," writes one teacher. "It is refreshing to watch a show depicting a hero character that uses intelligence instead of a gun to overcome his obstacles. Mr. Anderson plays his character with such an old-fashioned, 'Aw shucks, anybody can do it' attitude, that the children have taken an increasing interest in the subject of science."
The fascination for "MacGyver" comes partly from the title character's use of common household items to create Rube Goldberg-like devices that extricate him from seemingly impossible situations. These "MacGyverisms," grab at the core of children's curiosity. In fact, "MacGyver" has wormed its way into American slang. Kids are using the word "MacGyver" to describe miraculous solutions to problems.
In Weston, Ore., educators decided to use "MacGyver's" impact by setting up a formal program called the "MacGyver Survivor Project." For the past three years, 6th and 7th graders at the Athena-Weston Junior High School have been given a hard-boiled egg and a problem. Students have to build a series of chain reactions out of household junk that will save the egg from being squashed by a mechanically activated weight. If the contraption works, the egg "survives." The project culminates in a judged competition that now attracts local media coverage.
The ripples "MacGyver" has created in American education have gone far beyond the classroom. Many letters come from the show's adult fans who find the show's intellectual bent and value system reinforcing and, believe it or not, life-saving. During a trip in the California desert, Ronald Prince's 4x4 truck sustained a punctured tire. The sun was setting, they had little water and the nearest help was 30 miles away. Just when they started to feel panicky, the group recalled an episode in which MacGyver had fixed the brake line on a racing car using a piece of chewing gum and a stick. Following the "MacGyverism" step by step, the group was able to inflate the tire again and ride all the way back to San Clemente on the "MacGyverized" tire. "We have to tip our hats to the producers of this show," Prince wrote, "for basically getting us out of there and quite possibly saving our lives." –K.M.
AROUND THE WORLD WITH "MACGYVER"
Officially Licensed International Markets
South West Africa
U.S. Armed Forces
THE WRITERS DISCOVER CHARACTER IN "MACGYVER"
"MacGyver as a character is still very enigmatic," observes Rick Drew, executive story consultant for the series. "Part of what we've been doing over these last few years is developing stories that rediscover the character and redefine him through the circumstances he finds himself in." Drew, along with story editors John Sheppard, Chris Haddock and Paul Margolis, form the backbone of "MacGyver's" writing team. they produce about half of each season's 22 scripts, the remainder coming from free-lance writers.
Drew, a Canadian writer who has been with the series since it moved to Vancouver, says that many episodes grow out of "subtextural hooks" found either in the MacGyver character or casual references made in previous episodes. He cites the episode he wrote explaining MacGyver's abhorrence to guns. In that episode, MacGyver returns home and remembers witnessing the death of his best childhood friend, caused by an accidental gunshot wound. "We're kind of discovering him as the audience is," Drew says.
Because the show's format is so loosely structured, writing for the series is a mixed bag of blessings and drawbacks. MacGyver's relationship with the Phoenix Foundation formed late in the first season because a base was needed for the series' jack-of-all-trades character. However, he still remains aloof, working for the foundation as a sort of contract worker when he's available.
More and more episodes are growing out of MacGyver's personal relationships and his own character. For instance, this season an episode addressed the massacre at Tiananmen Square. MacGyver was personally touched by the tragedy because of a Chinese foster child he had sponsored. In the "Serenity" episode, MacGyver dreams of living in the Old West. The freedom that comes with such an open canvas makes Drew's work fun but difficult.
"It's great because everything is do-able," Drew says. "If the story is good enough to support the cost and production value of a wild idea, we'll do it. If we felt that we could do a viable, entertaining story about MacGyver finding the Loch Ness monster, then he'd probably find the damn thing."
With only two continuing characters and two standing sets, Drew says "MacGyver" is probably the closest thing to anthology you can get away with, given a regular series. "I don't know of any other series that has that freedom. But again it's that double-edged sword. Because with freedom there's responsibility. That responsibility is that it's such a vast void to draw stories from, it's an embarrassment of riches sometimes.
"If you think everything is possible, then what do you do? Sometimes we think it would be nice to be a little more defined, like Mike Hammer where he comes into an office, there's a message on his phone and the story starts. But with MacGyver you'll have someone hang gliding and landing on his roof. It's kind of crazy." -K.M.
ALL THE WORLD'S "MACGYVER'S" STAGE
"What's really great about the 'MacGyver' format is that it can be anything," says production designer Rex Raglan. "We've done futuristic shows that have kind of encroached on science-fiction, and we've discovered that MacGyver can dream. He doesn't have to be in contemporary time -- he can go anywhere in time, really."
Raglan has studied everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics to medieval torture devices during his three years on "MacGyver." In one episode, he designed a Titan missile, including a nuclear warhead. "That was real interesting research," Raglan remembers fondly. "We got stuff that was kind of sensitive information and not through the proper channels. I understand we did get a call from the Pentagon asking us how we knew that stuff. That's kind of a compliment."
Raglan works closely with set designer Fauquet-Lemaitre. "I try to be as accurate as I can," Fauquet-Lemaitre says. "There is always creative license, but we try to really stay with facts and reality which touches us on a daily basis. We live in that reality and so it's good to have it there in our stories."
Fauquet-Lemaitre, a native of France, draws many ideas from his extensive travels and his background in film and visual arts. But often, the show is set in a location or time he knows nothing about. When that occurs, Fauquet-Lemaitre heads for the library or the phone. "When we did a show set in Switzerland, I made phone calls to Switzerland to get some research done on police cars," he recalls. "It was tricky because the Swiss police didn't want us to take any pictures in case somebody would want to duplicate a Swiss police car or impersonate a Swiss policeman."
Fauquet-Lemaitre believes that accurate detail makes the "MacGyver" series unique. "People may not be really aware of the fine details, but I think you must get the right image overall," he says. "You have looked at television shows yourself where you are not convinced and you don't believe it. Then you lose some of your attention. We try to avoid that. Even though the awareness of the audience may not be highly sophisticated, you can't fool people. There is a certain respect for the audience that you have to have." -K.M.
MASTERMINDING MAJOR F/X
"If you follow the show at all, you know that all the effects in them are all major-feature quality," says Henry Millar, mastermind behind "MacGyver's" special-effects team. "Most TV series just can't afford or will not afford it. Consequently, you write a story with three times more effects than you could possibly do and hopefully get on-third of them in. But with 'MacGyver,' we keep writing more and more really major gags."
At the moment, Millar is concerned about the 12-foot Incan god being constructed on Bridge Studios' stage three. In the "Treasure of Manco" episode, seven tons of corn are supposed to pour through the god's jaws when MacGyver stands on its hydraulic arms. It works, but not to Millar's satisfaction. When he videotaped the first test run, the corn wasn't pouring fast enough and Millar is worried the director won't get it on the first take. And Millar's stunts always work on the first take. "My whole career has been built around one take," Millar states flatly. "Anything over one, unless it's somebody else's problem, is embarrassing. When I came on the show, I told the crew the same thing. Now they're embarrassed if they have to do it more than once. It's kind of a nice way to work."
In 1958, Millar went to work for his uncle, who headed the special-effects department for MGM. Later, his father took over and Millar worked under his tutelage. After stints on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "Rat Patrol," Millar decided to go independent and work exclusively on features. He was responsible for the spectacular oil rig explosion that climaxed "Diamonds Are Forever." He also received an Oscar nomination for his work on "Capricorn One." "MacGyver" is the first TV series Millar has agreed to do since his days on "Rat Patrol" in 1965.
"They pretty much leave me alone," Millar says of producers Steve Downing and Michael Greenburg. "They'll get a concept, we talk about it and I say, 'Yes, we can' or 'No, we can't.' It's a great working relationship that I enjoy. That's the only reason I'm back. Otherwise I'd go back to features. In fact, I turned down a call from Fox two weeks ago. I said, 'Sorry, I'm doing "MacGyver."'" -K.M.