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MacGyver Online Forums > House Boat > Email from MacGyver writer Rick Drew

Posted by: MacGyverOnline 8 November 2006 - 12:29 AM
Melissa Kelley, owner of the now defunct mac-list got in touch with a writer from the MacGyver show. Here is some background on how the MacGyverisms were developed, from writer Rick Drew.

Greetings, Melissa...

While writing the show, the MacGyverisms were usually developed out of the nature of the story. We seldom if ever came up with an idea for a MacGyverism then built story elements around it. More often than not, they evolved from the location of the story itself. Given that I (and others) were on location, we often developed ideas at the last minute due to location restrictions. For example, a writer in LA may have written an elaborate stunt to take place in a auto plant, but when it came down to shooting, the location might be changed to something like a saw mill or an abandoned fish cannery -- as a result, the elements necessary for the MacGyverism conceived in the original script would no longer be available, and we would have to brainstorm something based on what would logically be available on the new location. In short, to create MacGyverisms, we had to think like MacGyver.

One of my favourites was in "Murderer's Sky"; MacGyver was trapped in a subterranean hidden room in Chinatown. Knowing that Vancouver's Chinatown is (supposedly) honeycombed with tunnels and opium dens from the last century, I thought this would be an interesting place to trap he and the boy he was locked up with. The problem then became, how do I get him out? While watching our art department build a cave set for an up-coming episode, I came up with an idea: They would use industrial aluminum foil to create a rough surface, then spay it with liquid styrofoam, which was then painted. I then wrote in a stove an packing paper to be placed in the room, and had MacGyver and the boy disguise themselves as rocks! It proved to be a lot of fun...

Steve Downing had a phrase that always guided such notions "Simple but memorable". I'm sure you will agree, the best ones were based more on creative ingenuity, rather than a vast knowledge of scientific theory.

We had two researchers proved extremely helpful, John Koivula in LA, and Jim Green in Vancouver. When we were stuck, they would help us brainstorm, and would provide us with the scientific theory behind the ideas. Whenever we created anything "bomb-like" or otherwise destructive, we took pains to be certain we were not being instructional, by leaving out or changing a key element. We all were disturbed when every now and then, we'd read in the paper that some kid did some damage or blew something up based on what he'd seen on MacGyver. This was never the case.

As for the ideas for episodes in general, they came from as many different areas as there are episodes. Recalling a few of my own...

THIN ICE: Was my first original episode. It was inspired by the upcoming winter Olympics at the time, and the fact that Richard Dean Anderson was the honourary captain of the US Olympic hockey team. We felt we could take our "non-violent" theme and apply it to the blood sport of hockey.

BLOOD BROTHERS: This was an effort to examine why MacGyver never used a gun. Steve Downing (a former police officer) has very strong views about gun control, shared by all of us. Though the shooting of (the young) MacGyver's friend did not occur in R.D.A.'s life, the shooting of the bird did. He told me about an incident when he was a kid when he shot at a bird casually, and actually hit it. He was sickened by the fact he had taken a life so casually, and never shot at anything again. I borrowed this true incident as a set up for the accidental shooting. A point of trivia; the fellow playing the sheriff of MacGyver's home town was actually Rick's best friend when they were kids. There was a storm of controversy about the episode because ABC bowed to pressure from the NRA, and refused to air a message at the end of the show stating the facts about deaths related to handguns and children. Also, it marked the US network debut of Jason Priestly, who was still a local Vancouver actor at the time. In a way, it was his first big break into prime time TV.

CLEO ROCKS: Murdoc as the Phantom of the Opera. I had just come back from having seen Phantom in London, and I couldn't resist. John Sheppard and I had fun with that one. As always, Michael had fun chewing the scenery as Murdoc. It was also a chance to show off Teri Hatcher (now Lois Lane on "Lois and Clark"). The song she did was written by Michael. It was fun to feel like a Broadway producer for a little while.

JENNIE'S CHANCE: Also written with John. It was inspired by a true incident in England where ultra sonic signals were being broadcast from a riding crop to throw off other horses in a race. I had worked on a couple of movies with Linda Blair, so it seemed like a nice idea to create a vehicle for her. "Stings" such as these are hellish to write.

THE WALL: I remember when the wall came down in Berlin, I thought "Freedom rushed in, but what got out?" The rest of it was based on research from the New York Times magazine about Stazi agents left out in the cold. G. Gordon Liddy, who had been on the show as an actor proved to be a helpful and inspirational resource for information and wild ideas.

EASY TARGET: Was based on an article Liddy wrote for OMNI magazine suggesting that terrorists could cripple an area by generating an electromagnetic pulse that would ordinarily accompany a nuclear explosion. The episode came out pretty lame for a number of reasons. It was written to be shot at a local power plant, but they backed out at the last minute for technical reasons. The rest of it just came off like a lame 50's sci-fi flick. Not one of my favorites, and easily my worst experience writing the show.

THE SECRET OF PARKER HOUSE: John and I rewrote it based on the original by one of our producers. [name deleted], who took a pen name due to the re-write. The explosion scene got out of hand, and several windows in the old house we were using were shattered as a result.

Another bit of trivia: "The Endangered" (one of the few spec scripts we ever bought), was written by Peter Felardi, who went on to write the successful "Flatliners".

Hope these ramblings are of interest to you. Keep up the good work.

Best regards....


Posted by: AbCarter 8 November 2006 - 03:14 AM
While writing the show, the MacGyverisms were usually developed out of the
nature of the story.

Well, then they're true MacGyverisms, aren't they, if they're not planned in advance.

Posted by: MacsChick 8 November 2006 - 09:14 PM
Thanks for posting this. I love the insider information.

Posted by: MacGyverGod 10 November 2006 - 03:48 AM
Another bit of trivia: "The Endangered" (one of the few spec scripts we ever
bought), was written by Peter Felardi, who went on to write the successful

From which I am the proud owner!!!

Posted by: Shiloh 11 November 2006 - 09:15 PM
QUOTE (MacsChick @ Nov 9 2006, 05:24 PM)
Thanks for posting this. I love the insider information.

So do I.
Thanks again for posting it.
I love reading all the behind the scenes stuff. smile.gif

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Posted by: MacGyverOnline 26 April 2008 - 07:17 PM
I just re-read this, and noted the line about the song she did being written by Michael... so I take that to mean she actually did the singing herself.

Not somethign I have ever given any thought to.. but I guess it does kinda sound like her singing.

Posted by: jknnej 27 April 2008 - 06:47 PM
Yeah, Teri Hatcher thinks she can sing; did you see her on "Idol Gives Back" singing "Before he Cheats" by Carrie Underwood? She sang it in front of millions, I couldn't believe it. Needless to say, it wasn't good...but it wasn't as bad as it could have been, either.

Posted by: MacGyverOnline 13 May 2008 - 01:44 AM
I remember she did a small singing number in an episode of Lois & Clark too.

She has done musical type roles in the past, so she obviously knows the basics of how to sing properly.. breathing and projecting and all that, it's just a matter of having a voice which people actually like I guess.

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