“MacGyver as a character is still very enigmatic,” observes Rick Drew, executive story consultant for the series. “Part of what we’ve been doing over these last few years is developing stories that rediscover the character and redefine him through the circumstances he finds himself in.” Drew, along with story editors John Sheppard, Chris Haddock and Paul Margolis, form the backbone of “MacGyver’s” writing team. they produce about half of each season’s 22 scripts, the remainder coming from free-lance writers.
Drew, a Canadian writer who has been with the series since it moved to Vancouver, says that many episodes grow out of “subtextural hooks” found either in the MacGyver character or casual references made in previous episodes. He cites the episode he wrote explaining MacGyver’s abhorrence to guns. In that episode, MacGyver returns home and remembers witnessing the death of his best childhood friend, caused by an accidental gunshot wound. “We’re kind of discovering him as the audience is,” Drew says.
Because the show’s format is so loosely structured, writing for the series is a mixed bag of blessings and drawbacks. MacGyver’s relationship with the Phoenix Foundation formed late in the first season because a base was needed for the series’ jack-of-all-trades character. However, he still remains aloof, working for the foundation as a sort of contract worker when he’s available.
More and more episodes are growing out of MacGyver’s personal relationships and his own character. For instance, this season an episode addressed the massacre at Tiananmen Square. MacGyver was personally touched by the tragedy because of a Chinese foster child he had sponsored. In the “Serenity” episode, MacGyver dreams of living in the Old West. The freedom that comes with such an open canvas makes Drew’s work fun but difficult.
“It’s great because everything is do-able,” Drew says. “If the story is good enough to support the cost and production value of a wild idea, we’ll do it. If we felt that we could do a viable, entertaining story about MacGyver finding the Loch Ness monster, then he’d probably find the damn thing.”
With only two continuing characters and two standing sets, Drew says “MacGyver” is probably the closest thing to anthology you can get away with, given a regular series. “I don’t know of any other series that has that freedom. But again it’s that double-edged sword. Because with freedom there’s responsibility. That responsibility is that it’s such a vast void to draw stories from, it’s an embarrassment of riches sometimes.
“If you think everything is possible, then what do you do? Sometimes we think it would be nice to be a little more defined, like Mike Hammer where he comes into an office, there’s a message on his phone and the story starts. But with MacGyver you’ll have someone hang gliding and landing on his roof. It’s kind of crazy.”
By Kevin McKelvey, The Hollywood Reporter. March 5, 1990: p.S-1 to S-24.