Without the Fonz, There’d Be No ‘MacGyver’
It’s hard to believe, but we have Henry Winkler to thank for MacGyver.
In 1984, the Fonz was just wrapping up his 11-year run on Happy Days and was looking for a new project. He got together with a couple producer friends, John Rich and Lee David Slotoff, and the trio somehow came up with the idea for MacGyver, the secret agent who hates guns but loves Swiss army knives. They sold the idea to Paramount, and the show subsequently landed on the ABC Network, where it premiered in the fall of 1985.
Winkler was also responsible, to some extent, for who was chosen as MacGyver. He had seen Richard Dean Anderson on The Love Boat and convinced him to audition. In his memoir, Rich noted that "every audition seemed to produce hulking actors," but Anderson gave the character a more sensitive human touch, leading to him land the role.
Watch a Scene From 'MacGyver'
In its seven years on the air, MacGyver found Angus MacGyver in near constant peril. A mild-mannered but wicked smart Vietnam vet, MacGyver chooses not to use guns due to the accidental shooting death of one of his friends when he was 12. Instead, the Phoenix Foundation gadfly/Department of External Services agent uses the skills he learned when he was trained as a physicist at Western Tech, as well as what he picked up as a Bomb Team Technician in the Army Special Forces.
MacGyver seems to know just about everything there is to know about chemicals, physics, nature, and all manner of physical sciences, and he’s also extremely handy. During the show, he’d regularly use typical household goods like duct tape, paper clips, matches, hoses, and—of course—his trusty Swiss army knife to get himself and his friends out of scrapes, often while up against a clock.
His handiness led to the use of the term “MacGyvered” in common vernacular, with the word added to the Oxford Dictionaries in 2015. There, it’s defined as making or repairing something "in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand,” with the dictionary giving the example, “He MacGyvered a makeshift jack with a log."
Watch a Scene From 'MacGyver'
MacGyver was a decently popular show in its time, earning itself a loyal following and spawning two TV movies, and a line of merchandise including games, toys and an original audio series. It’s been syndicated into 70 different worldwide markets and a possible spin-off series, Young MacGyver, was planned in 2003, yet never made it past the pilot episode. CBS did manage to get a reboot, also called MacGyver onto the air in 2016. Once again produced by Winkler, that series ran until the spring of 2021, when it was retired.
When the original MacGyver ended in 1992, it went out with more of a whimper than a bang. The series finale aired April 25, 1992, and featured a plot in which MacGyver discovered he had a son and quit the Phoenix Foundation in an effort to regain some lost time with his newfound kin. Just before the credits rolled, Anderson’s voice thanked viewers “for seven great seasons… on behalf of all of us at MacGyver.” Despite this being the obvious end of the show, one more episode, shot prior to the finale, aired May 21, 1992. It would be the final broadcast of the original MacGyver run.
Watch a Promo for the 'MacGyver' Finale
This ignominious ending for MacGyver left some fans wondering what had happened to the show. Anderson gave an interview to TV Guide years later explaining that, as far as he was concerned, the series had just run its course.
"The only reason it went off the air was that everybody was ready to move on,” the actor explained, saying that he was “physically exhausted and had no life,” which is understandable considering he’d actually performed many of the stunts in the series himself, injuring both his back and his foot in the process.
While some of its geo-political conflicts haven’t aged well in the 30 years since it went off the air, there’s still a lot to love about MacGyver. For those who want to revisit the show, it’s streaming on multiple services. Now crank that excellent theme song, and rock out.
Listen to the 'MacGyver' Theme Song