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.
Carol Jones (by permission from “Paramount News”), The Hollywood Reporter.
March 5, 1990: p.S-1 to S-24.