Most established stars are quite blasè about interviews and press conferences. Meeting the press is just a ho-hum necessary part of the job. Henry Winkler approaches these sessions like he’s still the new kid who is desperately trying to make a good impression. He’s all over the place-shaking hands and introducing himself to every critic in the room. He exudes enthusiasm and all the aw-shucks sincerity of a Frank Capra hero.
In Hollywood, a town full of cloyingly phony “sincere” types, Winkler’s demeanor may seem suspect. But the man either is for real or he’s become a parody, knowingly or unwittingly, of a typical Tinsel Town personality. Listening to the actor/producer push his company’s new ABC series, MacGyver, I opted for the less cynical verdict. After all, here is the Fonz, and he isn’t afraid to show journalists that there’s a cheerleading, eager-to-please businessman behind that leather jacket.
Yet like Fonzie, the role he played for about a decade on Happy Days, Winkler won’t tolerate certain un-cool behavior. That includes disrupting a positive working environment with worrisome talk of ratings. “As an actor on a set,” said Winkler, who is producing MacGyver with his partner, veteran director John Rich. “I have seen too much energy and too much time wasted because the actors look at time periods and ratings points. We have no control over that. We have control over being the best we can be. If the staff or the cast have major conversations about time periods and/or ratings points, they will be fined.”
There will be a box on the set, he said, and offenders will be required to deposit a nominal fee.
An action/adventure series scheduled to air 8 p.m. Sundays (sorry, Henry, but that is a bad time period for ABC), MacGyver stars Richard Dean Anderson as a government agent who uses his scientific savvy to solve seemingly impossible problems. Using routine items like chocolate bars and cold capsules, this one-man Mission: Impossible team stops acid leaks and fashions bombs.
“From (the first) concept of the court of last resort,” Winkler said during a Los Angeles interview with about 20 critics, “we went through three or four variations, of which I cannot tell you about, because they’re all good enough to be a series on their own. And then we came to MacGyver, a man who takes what is around him, listens to the people around him and solves a problem by his wits, by using household items.
“Rather than having him so electronified and machofied that he is no longer relatable to people, we have a very human character who is in tune with the world around him.”
All of the scientific data in the series will be accurate, Winkler promised, but MacGyver won’t be Mr. Wizard joins the Secret Service. Far from professorial, Anderson is a young actor capable of believably carrying an action series.
“There’s nothing extraordinary about my career so far,” said Anderson, who’s appeared in two prime-time series, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Emerald Point, N.A.S. “I’ve done a daytime show (five years as Dr. Jeff Weber on the daytime soaper General Hospital) and made a transition into nighttime. It didn’t work out for whatever reasons I’m not embarrassed by what’s going on. I make transitions and adjust as any normal brilliant, talented human being will do.” Although there will be a great deal of James Bond-like gimmickry in MacGyver, Anderson isn’t afraid that his character will be lost in a high-tech shuffle.
“I’d been turning down a lot of things for the last year or so,” he said. “I’m trying to let integrity be an integral part of my personality. This character has a lot of the qualities that I’ve been looking for. He’s a very physical character, (but) there’s a humanity about the character that is very attractive to me.
“He’s not relying on an underlying vein of machismo to get through all this I’m going to embellish the hell out of this character. They have no idea how well they cast this.”
Winkler and Rich were supposed to have two ABC series starting in the fall, but Mr. Sunshine, a situation comedy about a blind university professor, got bumped when the network scheduled Spenser: For Hire. Mr. Sunshine, however, begins production in July as a possible midseason replacement.
“I like to make televsion that I’d like to see on television,” said Winkler, who produced the TV movie indictment of the tabloid press, Scandal Sheet. “I wouldn’t mind being the character of MacGyver. This guy is great.”
Mark Daeidziak, Akron Beacon Journal (Life Style section), 26 June 1985.