The setup for MacGyver seemed like pretty straightforward adventure show fare: the title character, a former Special Forces agent, worked for a secret agency called the Phoenix Foundation. The foundation undertook missions for the U.S. government and other groups to keep the world a safe place, and MacGyver was their agent of choice. The obligatory supporting characters were there, too: MacGyver’s boss Peter Thornton, fellow agent Jack Dalton, lawyer/love interest Nikki Carpenter, and recurring villain Murdoc.
With that premise alone, MacGyver might have ended up as just one more forgettable action/adventure hour, but this show had an edge. It wasn’t just about what MacGyver did; it was about how he did it. Instead of using brute force and conventional weaponry, this particular agent preferred to rely on his knowledge of physics and chemistry, utilizing everyday objects to carry out his assignments. MacGyver’s creativity was impressive: he could make a flamethrower out of some hose, a metal pipe, and gasoline, or make a poison antidote from eggs and charcoal. These instances of ingenuity were dubbed “MacGyverisms” in a second-season episode, a term still used today by fans of the show. It should also be noted that these solutions were based in fact but always had an element or two left out, keeping these MacGyverisms out of the hands of real-life pranksters and impressionable fans.
Created by Henry Winkler (Happy Days’ the Fonz) and John Rich, the show was a unique entry in the pantheon of adventure shows, emphasizing intellect and quick thinking over violence. In later seasons, the show became a more serious affair, addressing social topics like the environment and the plight of teenage runaways. Also, when actor Dana Elcar (Thornton) started to lose his sight from glaucoma, it became a part of his character and another topical issue treated on-screen.
MacGyver ended its long run in December of 1991 after 139 episodes. The show was resurrected briefly in 1994 via a pair of made for television films, MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis and MacGyver: Trail To Doomsday, and reruns remain popular today. So much so that it’s currently undergoing a revival on CBS with Lucas Till in the lead role.
USA / ABC – Paramount – John Rich Prod. / 2×90 minute episode 139×60 minute episodes / Broadcast 29 September 1985 – 8 August 1992
Creators: Henry Winkler, John Rich, Lee David Zlotoff / Theme Music: Randy Edelman / Executive Producers: Henry Winkler, John Rich, Stephen Downing
Richard Dean Anderson as Angus MacGyver
Dana Elcar as Peter Thornton
Bruce McGill as Jack Dalton (1987-92)
Brigitta Stenberg as Maria Romburg
Dalton James as Shawn A. Molloy
Elyssa Davalos as Nikki Carpenter