It’s been a source of confusion ever since Lee Zlotoff first announced he owned the rights to MacGyver. We naturally assumed he meant all the rights to everything, but we now know that’s not the case and exactly how it all fits together is a little tricky.
So, who owns what and how does it all fit together for new material?
Lee David Zlottoff owns the rights to use everything he created for the pilot script – including the MacGyver character and name. The characters, organizations, locations and ideas he introduced in that script all belong to him. He does not own rights to any other part of the show though.
This means he can create any new MacGyver material and use the MacGyver name and character in any way he wishes but can’t directly use any of the familiar elements we expect from the TV series (characters, organizations, etc) unless he gets permission from ViacomCBS. It also means that he gets full control over who gets to use the MacGyver character and name and what they can do with it.
ViacomCBS own the TV shows and everything in them as they are now. So all the stories, characters, organizations, all the footage and film stock used to make them, everything belongs to ViacomCBS and they can use it anyway and for any reason they wish too. However, they can’t use the MacGyver character for any new materials without permission from Lee Zlotoff which limits them to only being able to use footage and images from their own TV shows for things like promotion. They could make spin-off shows using other characters or organizations from the show though without any issues.
How did the reboot series get made then?
CBS negotiated a deal with Lee Zlotoff to use his MacGyver character. That deal included such things as Zlotoff being an Exec. Producer and would have also specified that the rights were granted exclusively to CBS for the sole purpose of making the reboot series and once that is ended the right to use would expire.
How would this work for another network producing more MacGyver?
Any network wanting to continue the reboot would need to negotiate with both ViacomCBS for the right to the show and then Lee Zlotoff for the rights to use the MacGyver character and name. If they wanted to do a stand alone project which wasn’t using any elements of the TV show (such as the web-series) they could just work directly with Zlotoff to gain the rights for the character. Alternatively, if they were looking to do a spinoff which didn’t use MacGyver they would only need to deal with CBS.
Why is CBS involved in this if the show aired on ABC?
Although the original show aired on ABC it was made by Paramount Television who sold the broadcast rights to ABC but maintained overall ownership of the show. Paramount and all it’s assets and properties was subsequently purchased some years later by CBS who remain the owners today.