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MacGyver Boss on Keeping the D.I.Y. Spirit of the Original

Are there already plans for a Hawaii Five-0 crossover?

Tim Surette

Reboots of beloved classics are tricky, tricky business. You go too modern, you can lose the spirit of the original show and end up with ABC's Charlie's Angels, which even Minka Kelly couldn't make watchable. You stay too close to the original, people wonder what the point of the reboot was. You have to find that sweet spot in the middle where fans of the original won't throw their TV trays at the screen and new audiences can understand why grandpa loved the source material so much he got the logo tattooed on his buttocks.

The latest reboot coming your way is CBS' MacGyver, an update on the mid-'80s and early-'90s action drama starring Richard Dean Anderson as the human science textbook Angus MacGyver. You know what it's about. Charming secret agent who hates guns uses everyday items in unordinary fashion to get out of trouble. The contents of your pocket are trash to you. To MacGyver, it's a bomb-defusing device!

The new MacGyver is a quick fix on the original

Executive producer Peter Lenkov, who took over the show after CBS decided to redo the reboot's pilot, knows he has a challenge on his hands in bringing the franchise back to life.

"For me, I mention this a lot, reviving the soul of that show and making sure the soul of that show exists in that new incarnation [is the most important thing]," Lenkov tells TVGuide.com. "I think people can smell a fraud very easily if we were just going to slap a name onto some new concept. What worked in the original show is not going to be a surprise that it's in this new version."

And yep, that means the character of MacGyver -- played by Lucas Till -- will stay very much intact.

"MacGyver is D.I.Y. or die, it's basically using or repurposing things and using them to your advantage to get out of sticky situations," Lenkov says. "Those are the things I thought that after you watch a MacGyver episode you either try to do on your own or at least you talk about the next day. That's the secret sauce of the show."

MacGyver will build character first, bombs second

So where do the changes in the update come from? Look toward the more ensemble cast, which includes one of CBS' big guns in CSI vet George Eads, who plays MacGyver's gun-toting and wise-cracking mentor Jack Dalton. Also joining MacGyver on missions are Tristin Mays as the requisite computer whiz, Sandrine Holt as MacGyver's boss and Justin Hires -- fresh off another CBS reboot in Rush Hour -- as MacGyver's oblivious roommate.

"One of the things I think maybe adding value to the franchise is a lot of the characters surrounding the new MacGyver are characters that existed in the original incarnation of the show," Lenkov says. "But [the original] didn't really spend a lot of time with them because MacGyver was more of a one-man show. ... I think if you're a fan of that original show you'll smile because you'll get to know some of those other characters that you watched over the years come and go but you're really going to get to know them in this version. And it gives MacGyver a family to lean on. It's not just a one-man show, he clearly is front and center but he's got a very close strong support group around him."

Another big difference is MacGyver's age, a difference that was leftover from the original pilot reboot that Lenkov stuck with. And for Till, that means even more scrutiny against him from nitpicking fans. But Lenkov isn't worried about Till or the notion that a younger MacGyver will be less experienced.

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"I didn't cast [Till], but I see why they cast him because he really is the best actor for the job," Lenkov says of Till. "When you see him in this new version, you'll say, 'I get it, I understand.' Age aside, he's perfect for the role. But nowadays, a lot of people coming out of the military, 24 or 25 years old, they have life experience well beyond what they should have at that age. So the idea is that MacGyver was always someone who had military experience, he was defusing bombs in the military. Even though he's young, he's had some great life experiences so even at 26 years old, I think he's much more mature than most 26-year-olds."

But for Lenkov, his prime objective is to please fans of the original. So you know what means... Easter eggs! Early on, you can expect MacGyver to be toting around a familiar-looking object.

"If you know the original show, the first episode is packed with [Easter eggs]," Lenkov says. "Week to week, we do a lot of that stuff also. That's one of the funs of doing these reboots, planting things for fans of the original to smile about while they're watching. Not everyone is going to catch it, but i think if you knew the show well, you're going to say this is being made by fans of the original."

Lenkov -- who counts Miami Vice, Mission Impossible and Magnum P.I. as other shows he also wants to reboot -- is also the boss behind CBS' Hawaii Five-0, which is heading into its seventh season and will be paired with MacGyver on Friday nights. So the question must be asked: Is there a crossover in the works?

"I hope so," he says "I already planted a seed that Jack new McGarrett."

Let's see what MacGyver can do with a tube of sunscreen and a hollowed out pineapple!

MacGyver premieres Friday, Sept. 23 at 8/9c on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)