Science Consultant, John Potter Talks MacGyverisms and Onset Memories.

John Potter was one of the technical advisors responsible for coming up with MacGyverisms in the show. John was kind enough to share some background and memories of his time working on the show.


Dear friends,

I’m John Potter, and I had the great pleasure to be one of the technical advisors for the “MacGyver” series. I also created all of Prof. Janos Bartok’s futuristic, 1876 gadgets for Richard Dean Anderson and John De Lancie in “Legend”. I have worked with Lee Zlotoff and Tony Lee on the graphic novel and look forward to contributing to other projects. I was honored by one of Rick’s comments to me, at the production offices at Paramount. “Potter”, he said, “I really enjoy the crazy situations you put me into but I have to confess that I am a technical illiterate and really don’t know what I’m doing.”

I am an engineer and a partner in a company that designs and builds cleanrooms for healthcare and for scientific research. This is a very interesting profession, and my projects always keep me on my technical toes. I live with my wife and three dogs in Dutchess County, in the Mid-Hudson Valley north of New York City. I am delighted to share my MacGyver experiences.

Working with the writers, producers and props people, I got MacGyver into and out of a number of dire situations, including a lava pit in medieval Scotland, a ticking atomic device in the “Countdown to Doomsday” TV Movie in 1994 and by having him and his long-lost son contrive “rocket packs” to escape from the hold of a ship in the series finale. I also had the opportunity to read many letters, some forwarded to me, from people who were truly inspired by MacGyver, and it made me proud to be a part of that wonderful adventure.

All TV scripts have to be vetted for “Errors and Omissions”, checked for legal issues and for accuracy. My good friend of many years, Pete Sloman, worked at Paramount for DeForrest Research, an E & O office. Pete was frequently asked for help by the writers and always called me for help. John Sheppard, one of the producer/writers, asked him where he was getting his information and contacted me. So, I was involved pretty much throughout the series. When I said team, that was the production company, Steve Downing and the other producers, writers, production designers, the art department and the wonderful people at Paramount special effects. I had the scripts couriered to my house (pre-Internet) and sketched out drawings and text. I also visited the Paramount offices and sound stages enough to get a drive-on pass.

John Considine, one of the writers and actors, has published a fascinating autobiography. I found this flattering quote:

From John Considine’s autobiography, “Improvising- My Life and Show Business”, p. 322:

“It took me an entire season of ‘MacGyver’ to realize (for some reason, no one thought to mention it) that the show employed the services of a technical advisor, a person with the necessary scientific background to assist writers on the show in their creation of ‘MacGyverisms’ MacGyver’s utilization of scientific knowledge to cobble together whatever common items are available to him at the moment in order to save himself or others (e.g. MacGyver is locked inside a utility closet, and mixes together some of the cleaning agents there to blast himself free).

“John Potter was a fun-loving energetic force of nature with multiple degrees, including one in Chinese History, from UCLA, and a seemingly bottomless ocean of knowledge about just about anything you can imagine. Posing a MacGyver-problem to Potter over the phone required a pencil hovering over paper, because in seconds you would receive a deluge of possible solutions, each one better than the last. Not only that, but if the MacGyverism required construction of any kind- and my two-parter would contain the cobbling-together of the world’s first electro phoresis machine, fire-extinguisher, optical pump producing the first laser, as well as a brew of hydrogen gas, to name a few- John Potter would fax you hand-penciled drawings so precise in measurements that you could deliver them as received to the prop-building department. To this day I have a file containing all of John’s amazing ‘MacGyver’ drawings, and, over the years, he has become a treasured friend.”

I really most enjoyed working with John on “Good Knight, MacGyver”, because that was the greatest concentration of MacGyverisms I got to create for one (double) episode. My fondest memory is of meeting Lincoln Kibbee and my friend, Pete Sloman, for lunch at a Hollywood bistro on Melrose. Link was writing “Honest Abe”. We talked, we ate lunch, we talked until dinner time, we ate dinner, we talked until around 10:00 PM, had another dinner and finally parted company around 1:00 in the morning. Link was a dear and creative man, who, sadly, drowned off of Cabo San Lucas, along with one of his young sons while trying to rescue the other one from the surf (who survived).

Switching to “Legend”, a logical continuation, another dinner discussion with Michael Pillar, Michael Greenburg and Bill Dial, when we talked through the episode with Professor Bartok’s remote-controlled, fire-breathing buffalo. Me sketching, as the group was tossing out suggestions was one of the funniest moments of my life. We also lost Michael, in 2006, to cancer, and he was the most-brilliant figure I have met in Hollywood.

Working on the various shows as a technical advisor has been great fun for me, and I learned a lot about writing, production design, prop gaffing and cinematography. I was visiting the Old Tucson set of “Legend” to watch the filming and to meet with the Art Director. This was in indoor shot, at the bank, with Rick/Nicodemus Legend lecturing on forensics. The scene ran into the late afternoon and into the evening. I had noticed about 20 guys with toolbelts standing around during the daytime shooting- yeah, union guys, paid to stand around, right? Wrong. When the sun went down, the lighting director began shouting orders. In 15 minutes, these guys had set up lights, cables and “silks” translucent screens, ringing the set, lit from the rear, to make artificial sunlight. Amazing!

The best part of being on the set? The food! Wonderful breakfast spreads, snack bars, lunch, post-lunch and dinner. The latest I was on a set was 2:00 AM, and the food kept coming.

I know that MacGyver means a lot to many people. What is important to me, and what I always tried to keep in the forefront in my contributions, is that you can use science, physics, chemistry and other disciplines, to accomplish anything.

Best to you all,

John Potter


We asked if he carried a Swiss Army Knife or other multi-tool with him.

Absolutely! I used to carry The Tinker, but my wife gave me the Cyber Tool, with the multi-bit driver set. I use it all the time in my real life. I have to improvise special tools all the time when I am in the field building cleanrooms. In fact, last weekend, I needed a flat surface to assemble a particle sampling manifold from parts from The Home Depot. Where to you find a flat surface in a hotel room where it won’t matter if you drip PVC cement? I used the bottom of one of the drawers from the room dresser. My associate, who was watching, said “Potter, you’re a bad ass.”


We also asked about the dangerous MacGyverisms.

The potentially lethal MacGyverisms were often scientifically inaccurate in the first place. I gave my two cents-worth about several but they were written into the show, anyway. The only one I recall that was vetted was in one of John Considine’s scripts where Mac lights leaking natural gas in the ceramics factory with a match stuck into a ball of clay. The original design was a porcupine of match heads, but this was changed to just one. Many of Murdoc’s lethal traps were, arguably, deadly, but Mac always managed to foil them. The network of wires with the grenades in the cave tunnel was a chance for me to include both vector analysis and an improvised soldering iron to allow Mac to cut a hole in the joined wires without pulling any of the pins.


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