Question: What was MacGyver's first name, and how long was the show on? Thanks. Wilfred K., Drew, Ga.
Televisionary: Y'know, Wilfred, I've always said that rather than having my senility strike all at once in my later years, I'd prefer to take it in small doses, distributed over my entire life. So thanks for the opportunity to suffer another episode and admit that though I'm certain I've answered this before, I cannot for the life of me find any reference to it in my own archives or past columns on the site.
All of which is a long way of saying: MacGyver's first name was Angus. (You'll see references to Stace out there on the wild Web, but that was only his first name in press kits and promotional materials sent out before the series debuted on ABC in September 1985; it was never actually used on the show.)
As for how long MacGyver ran, it enjoyed a seven-year run because its star, Richard Dean Anderson (Stargate SG-1) was likable, but also because it featured a different sort of action hero. MacGyver, an agent for the do-gooder Phoenix Foundation, used his brains rather than his brawn. (Come to think of it, he didn't actually have any brawn.) The MacGyver gimmick was that instead of pulling out a gun and blasting this way through enemies and obstacles, our hero relied on a paper clip, a stick of gum and notebook-paper reinforcement to, say, take down a fighter jet. (I exaggerate, of course, but not by much.) That resulted in a series which TV Guide reviewer Don Merrill called "a charming adventure show, less violent than most, and just right for young people in its early-evening time."
The fans liked MacGyver's ingenuity. And the show kept consultants from Cal Tech on hand to not only make sure MacGyvers's tricks were plausible, but also to recommend which ingredients and steps to leave out so kids at home wouldn't hurt themselves trying to replicate the formulas.
As for the star of the show? Anderson wasn't above taking a less artful approach to a problems. Take the time in 1986 when a reporter asked him about a little bench he kept in his trailer. "It's my Swiss Army bench," he said of the furnishing, which was red and sported a white cross. "I was at the MacGyver Christmas party, but since we were a new show, nothing much was happening. So a buddy and I went over to the Cheers party, where considerably more was happening."
Considerably more indeed. Enough so that Anderson found himself locked out of his own house at the end of the night. Did he pick the lock with a breath mint? Scale the walls to a second-story window using a roll of dental floss? Oh, no. The actor merely heaved the garden bench through a plate-glass window. (His partying pal was the one who painted it and presented it to him as a gift).
That said, though, Anderson liked the nonviolent way so frequently taken by his character. "The philosophy corresponds to my own beliefs," he said. "I don't think the NRA and I would get along real well."
In 1994, while bringing the character back for a TV-movie, Anderson credited that think-first attitude with making his show stand out from its competition. "He was an odd kind of TV hero," he said. "This wasn't a guy who puffed up his chest. He was human. If he had to hit somebody, it hurt his hand. When we started, shows like The A-Team were running, and there was an awful lot of machismo floating around. MacGyver was not that kind of guy."
No, he wasn't, and it was that same quality that landed Anderson the part, according to cocreator Henry Winkler (Happy Days), who said the actor claimed the role with one move when he came in to read for it. "Before he could read the script, he had to fish his glasses out of a bag," he recalled. "The simple humanness of not being able to see without glasses was very much in keeping with that character. The marriage was made when he fished those glasses out."
That and a self-effacing attitude which went over well off screen as well. Like the time Anderson, a die-hard hockey fan, was hanging out at an L.A. Kings game and a woman nearby, mistaking him for a player, told him she cut all the players' hair and wanted to know who did his. Anderson made up a stylist's name and the woman replied that the handiwork left a lot to be desired. "Well, the actor said, grinning, "it's supposed to look good on television."