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."
"MacGyverism" from "Legend of the Holy Rose"
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.
Carol Jones (by permission from "Paramount News"), The Hollywood Reporter.
March 5, 1990: p.S-1 to S-24.