The Human Swiss Army Knife

There’s lots of action, fast cars and all, but MacGyver is no shoot ’em up hero.


AFTER FOUR seasons on American TV MacGyver has carved a niche for himself as something of a role model for young viewers. He’s James Bond without the license to kill; Indiana Jones without the whip. One critic described him as “a combination of Albert Einstein and Batman . . . a human Swiss Army knife with a boy scout handbook for a brain”.

MacGyver grew out of producer Henry Winkler’s concept that TV didn’t have to be littered with corpses, gun battles or car chases to attract an audience. Winkler (the Fonz in the long-running comedy series Happy Days) has been proven right.

Original article clipping

“We were intrigued by the idea of a TV hero who had an aversion to guns,” explained the man who plays him, Richard Dean Anderson, during a break from filming in Vancouver “The image of a hero who had alternative ways of beating the bad guys was definitely novel. There’s a strong moral fiber that runs through the show. He doesn’t pull a gun and shoot. Instead, he slumps into a corner and devises a way out of this predicament.”

Anderson was once a boy scout himself. Born in Minneapolis — his mother is an artist and father a jazz musician — he came to primetime TV from the afternoon soap scene (General Hospital for five years).

Anderson claims to have a real soft spot for MacGyver. “He may pull off the incredible, but he’s a human being, first and foremost. He’s afraid of heights and hates to get hit. He has normal, human reactions to things, and — not unlike myself — he likes to wander arid encounter adventures along the way. That’s one of the parallels that we have.”

In the first three years of the show, Anderson insisted on doing some of his own stunts, including hitching a ride on a helicopter and hanging onto the back of a runaway car. But a serious back injury after a tumble, followed by spinal surgery, cooled his physical ardor. Like his TV alter ego, though, he lives a fast-paced life. A polished athlete, he plays ice hockey, races cars competitively, skydives and skis.

New Zealand Listener,  1989.

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