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MacGyver was an Americanmarker action/adventure television series created by Lee David Zlotoff and executively produced by Henry Winkler and John Rich that aired on ABC. Seven seasons were produced, all of which were broadcast by the ABC Network in the United States and various other network abroad from 1985 to 1992. The series was filmed in Los Angelesmarker during Seasons 1, 2 and 7, and in Vancouvermarker, Canada from Seasons 3-6. The show's final episode aired on May 21, 1992 on ABC.

The story arc of MacGyver follows the laid-back, extremely resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson. He prefers non-violent conflict resolution wherever possible and refuses to carry or use a gun. MacGyver works as a problem solver for the fictional Phoenix Foundation in Los Angelesmarker. Educated as a scientist with a background as a Bomb Disposal Technician/EOD in Vietnam ("Countdown"), and from a fictional United States government agency, the Department of External Services (DXS), he is used as a resourceful agent able to solve a range of problems along with his ever-present Swiss army knife.

The series was a ratings success for ABC and was particularly popular in the United States, Europe and Australia. The series received much critical response, and MacGyver was honored with numerous awards and award nominations in its seven-season run. Two television movies, entitled MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis and MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday, aired on ABC in 1994. While never released, a spin off entitled Young MacGyver was planned in 2003. A live-action feature film is planned with a release date yet to be announced. Merchandise for the MacGyver media franchise includes games and toys, print media and an original audio series.

Series overview

The series revolved around Angus MacGyver (known to his friends as MacGyver or "Mac") who favors brain over brawn in order to solve desperate problems. MacGyver's main asset is his practical application of scientific knowledge and inventive use of common items—along with his ever-present Swiss Army knife (mainly the Huntsman and the Tinker models). The clever solutions MacGyver implemented to seemingly intractable problems—often in life-or-death situations requiring him to improvise complex devices in a matter of minutes—were a major attraction of the show, which was praised for generating interest in the applied sciences, and particularly engineering, as well as providing entertaining story lines. All of MacGyver's exploits on the show were ostensibly vetted to be based on real scientific principles (even though, the creators acknowledged, in real life one would have to be extraordinarily lucky for most of MacGyver's ideas to succeed). In the few cases where MacGyver used household chemicals to create poisons, explosives or other things deemed too dangerous to be accurately described for public consumption, details were intentionally altered or left vague.

The use of ordinary household items to jury rig devices shows an influence from The A-Team (though MacGyver eschewed firearms). The idea has entered United States popular culture; such constructions are referred to as "MacGyverisms" (a term first used in episode 3 of season 2, "Twice Stung"). The name has also become a verb, as in "The car broke down but he MacGyvered a fix to get home". The show often dealt with social issues, though more so in Seasons 4-7, versus Season 1-3, which were mostly about MacGyver's adventures working for the United States government, and then later the Phoenix Foundation.


Several episodes began with a cold open, finding MacGyver already on a mission. MacGyver often narrated himself with a story from his childhood that was somehow analogous to his current situation. MacGyver resolves his current situation quickly and the main story commences after the opening credits. This opening sequence is called in the credits the "Opening Gambit". This segment is often written and directed by a different team than the main story of the episode. After the credits, the main story plays out in standard three-act structure. In many episodes, the opening sequence occurs after the opening credits and often does not involve MacGyver on a mission, but rather in a situation used for character development. In the same manner as the "Opening Gambit" sequences, these opening segments often do not directly relate to the main story.


  • Richard Dean Anderson as Angus MacGyver, a highly intelligent, optimistic action hero who prefers non-violent conflict resolution wherever possible. He refuses to carry or use a gun due to a childhood accident with a revolver that resulted in the death of a friend. However, in the pilot episode, MacGyver is seen firing an AK47 on a mission in the opening Gambit (7:51 into the episode). He is often suspicious of militaristic attitudes within the government; he sees his Phoenix Foundation employer as an alternative to the more conventional (and violent) means of law enforcement.

  • Dana Elcar as Pete Thornton, MacGyver's boss and best friend. Pete is an operative at the Department of External Services (DXS) which is where he is impressed by Mac's ingenuity while tracking down Murdoc, an international assassin. When Pete takes the position of Director of Operations at the Phoenix Foundation several years later, he brings MacGyver into the program. In addition to sending Mac out on various tasks for the Foundation, Pete is many times forced to bail MacGyver out of the trouble he gets into. Pete has a son named Michael.


While creating the series MacGyver, John Rich worked on the American series, Mr. Sunshine, which was eventually canceled by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). After this Rich teamed up with Henry Winkler and Lee David Zlotoff to create the series which would later be known as MacGyver.

The television series was filmed in Southern California for its first two seasons and again in his final season. From seasons 3-6 it was filmed in various locations around Vancouvermarker, Canadamarker. The estimated budget for each episode was around 1 million United States dollars.

When the series was in pre-production, executive producers Henry Winkler and John Rich were looking for a suitable actor for the lead. After Richard Dean Anderson's appearance in the Americanmarker television series, The Love Boat, Winkler got Anderson to audition for the part of Angus MacGyver. According to Rich, every auditioning actor "hulked" his way through his audition. When Anderson eventually auditioned for the role, Winkler and Rich felt that he gave the character a human touch which the other actors couldn't. Both believed that Anderson would become one of the new "breakout" stars on American television.

Richard Dean Anderson is known for having done many of the stunts on the series, though in later seasons he reduced his stunt participation because of accumulating injuries. He injured his back and required a foot surgery because of his accidents working as a stuntman.

By the sixth season, Dana Elcar who portrayed Pete Thornton in the series was going blind as a result of glaucoma. This condition was eventually written into the Thornton character.

The producers of MacGyver had a tendency to use the same actor in multiple roles throughout a series run. Kai Wulff played Stepan Frolov in season one's "Every Time She Smiles", Hans Visser in season four's "Collision Course", Ladysmith in season five's Black Rhino, and Nicolas Von Leer in season six's episode "Eye of Osiris". Gregory Sierra appeared in the season one episode "The Gauntlet", playing General Antonio Vasquez, the season two episode "Jack of Lies", playing Colonel Antunnez, and the season five episode "The Treasure of Manco", playing Captain Diaz. Nana Visitor of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame appeared in the season one episode "Hellfire" as Laura Farren, and in the season two episode "DOA: MacGyver" she appears again as Carol Varnay. David Ackroyd appears in the season one episode "Trumbo's World" as Mr. Trumbo, and in the season three episode "The Negotiator" as Mr. Knapp. Elyssa Davalos played Lisa Kohler/Kosov in "Lost Love: Part 1 & 2" in season 3, then just a few episodes later (in the same season) she re-appeared as Nikki Carpenter, a role which she reprised in several more episodes. Dana Elcar first appeared in the pilot episode as the chief of operations for KIVA laboratories under a different character name, Andy Colson. Elcar returns later in the first season to play the main character, Pete Thornton.

Broadcast and release

Syndication, cancellation and future

After a slow start in its first season, MacGyver became a sleeper hit for ABC in its second season. During the show's fourth season, Richard Dean Anderson complained that ABC was not marketing the series enough. Saying that the series is "just another action show" for ABC, he further stated that ABC didn't give the series enough promotion.MacGyver was canceled after the seventh season because ABC wished to broadcast a new series, entitled Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which became a minor success compared to MacGyver. When asked why the series was cancelled, Anderson replied: "The only reason it went off the air was that everybody was ready to move on. I was physically exhausted and had no life."

In 1994, the series was released in over seventy different worldwide markets.Because of popular demand, two TV-movies were created, both released in 1994. The first movie MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis premiered in the United States in May. The film was shot in Englandmarker and Greecemarker. The second movie was entitled MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday. Anderson served as executive producer for both films, which were filmed in Europe. Re-runs of the series still air in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

In 2003, The WB Television Network had a pilot for a possible new Young MacGyver series starring Jared Padalecki as MacGyver's nephew Clay, but opted to pass on it. In an August 2007 survey commissioned by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, Americans polled voted MacGyver as the favorite fictional hero they would want to have if they were ever caught in an emergency. Lee David Zlotoff, creator of the series, announced on May 3, 2008, that a MacGyver film is in the planning stages. He will produce the film along with Martha De Laurentiis and Raffaella De Laurentiis through her Raffaella Productions. Richard Dean Anderson has expressed interest in revisiting his role, however there is no word on who will be playing the role of MacGyver in the film.MacGyver now airs on the Sleuth Channel.

Home releases

MacGyver, The Complete Series collection.

CBS Home Entertainment has released all 7 Seasons of MacGyver on DVD in Region 1 and shortly will for Region 2. On October 16, 2007, CBS released MacGyver: The Complete Series, a special collectors' edition boxset that features all 139 episodes of the series as well as the two TV movies that followed. It is not known if the TV movies will be released in a separate set on their own.


Popular culture references


In 2006, Richard Dean Anderson appeared in a MasterCard television commercial for Super Bowl XL. The spot poked fun at the character's ability to use everyday objects to perform extraordinary feats: In it, he manages to cut the ropes binding him to a chair using a pine tree air freshener, uses an ordinary tube sock as the pulley for a zipline, and somehow repairs and hotwire a nonfunctional truck using a paper clip, ballpoint pen, rubber band, tweezers, nasal spray and a turkey baster. In contrast to previous MasterCard commercials showing people making somewhat extravagant purchases to accomplish some mundane task, MacGyver is here portrayed as escaping from some sort of deathtrap using less than $20 worth of common household items. The commercial ends by showing him purposefully buying an assortment of such things at a department store with his credit card (as a tongue-in-cheek explanation for how Mac seems to always have items he needs on hand no matter where he goes). Although the commercial clearly indicates Anderson is portraying the role of MacGyver, he is never explicitly identified as such.

The series is referenced in many episodes of The Simpsons, primarily detailing Marge Simpson's sisters Patty and Selma's obsession with the show and their crush on the MacGyver character. The sisters' regular viewing of the show is an unalterable element of their daily schedule to the point of death as demonstrated in the episode "Black Widower". The episode featured a fictional scene of MacGyver where he downplays his role in saving a village ("Don't thank me. Thank the moon's gravitational pull"). In another episode, "A Star is Burns", Homer tricks Jay Sherman into insulting MacGyver in front of Patty and Selma; Sherman ends up being hung from the rain gutter by his underpants, and Bart asks "You badmouthed MacGyver, didn't you?" Anderson himself is an avid fan of The Simpsons, and even provided his voice for an episode of the show titled "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore", which first aired April 6, 2006, where Patty and Selma kidnap Richard Dean Anderson after he admits that he never liked doing MacGyver and only did the show for the money.

In Richard Dean Anderson's later show, Stargate SG-1, there is a blooper reel where Amanda Tapping's character, who is trapped with Richard Dean Anderson's character on a glacier, begins ranting about how "we have a shoelace, a belt buckle, and some chewing gum! Build a nuclear reactor, for heaven's sake! My god, I'm stuck on a glacier with MacGyver!"

In 2007, the NBC sketch show Saturday Night Live featured a parody of MacGyver called "MacGruber" with Will Forte as the title character. The intros for these skits featured scenes from the MacGyver series. MacGruber and cohorts are always locked in a control room of some type with a bomb set to go off in 15–20 seconds. MacGruber has his costars hand him components to defuse the device, but something inevitably gets in the way (either situational, because MacGruber himself interferes, or because no one wants to touch what he has asked for) and the bomb detonates. In a recent installment of the "MacGruber" sketches, it was revealed that MacGyver is MacGruber's long-lost father.

The New Zealandmarker sporting skit show Pulp Sport had a running gag called "Mc Kay-ver" in which the MacGyver theme is played. This skit, a spoof of MacGyver, involve the hosts playing pranks on TV3 sports reporter Hamish McKay. The pranks often revolve around the victim's car, such as covering the car with Post It Notes or decorating it in a manner similar to that of the General Lee, and / or around the victim's office area, such as wrapping the victim's office equipment with fishing line.

In February 2008, the popular science show Mythbusters featured a MacGyver special which tested several of MacGyver's tactics. Also, earlier in July 2004, a portion of the episode titled "Car Capers" featured the Mythbusters testing if an egg placed into a radiator of a car would subsequently cook and plug holes in said radiator. This was featured in an episode of MacGyver titled "Bushmaster".


MacGyver employs his resourcefulness and his knowledge of chemistry, physics, technology, and outdoorsmanship to resolve what are often life-or-death crises. He creates inventions from simple items to solve these problems. These inventions became synonymous with the character and were called MacGyverisms by fans. MacGyver was unlike secret agents in other television series and films because, instead of relying on high-tech weapons and tools, he carried only a Swiss Army knife and duct tape.

This also led to the verb, 'to MacGyver' or 'to MacGyver-ize' (the latter being introduced by Gregory Shockley in his training manuscripts published for the Boy Scouts of America). This word was used in Richard Dean Anderson's project Stargate SG-1. 'MacGyverism' was first used by Joanne Remmings (played by Pamela Bowen) in the third episode of Season 2. When MacGyver introduces himself to her, she uses the term in a manner that suggests other people had used it before:

"Oh I've heard about you! You're the guy who does the whatchamacallits, you know, MacGyverisms; turns one thing into another?"

The show's writers based MacGyver's inventions on items they found on location, concepts from scientific advisors John Koivula and Jim Green, and real events. The show also offered a monetary prize to people who sent good ideas in to the show. A young fan of the series suggested that MacGyver could patch up a vehicle's radiator by cracking an egg into it. The episode "Bushmaster" was constructed around this trick, and the fan was rewarded. Although staff were appointed to read every letter sent in, few usable ideas were obtained in this way.



  1. Britton, Wesley, Spy Television, Praeger/Greenwood, ISBN 0275981630, p. 212.
  2. Rich, John, 2006, Warm Up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir, ISBN 0472115782, p. 167.
  3. Season 2, Episode 3 - "Twice Stung". Her phrasing suggests it's a popular term to those who know of MacGyver's track record, although MacGyver himself was unaware of the term.


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