Friday, April 3, 2015

Mike Greenburg: A Conversation

Mike Greenburg is a filmmaker who has worked on MacGyver, Legend, and Stargate SG-1. He joined MacGyver at the beginning of Season 2 and stayed with the series until its conclusion, and his impact and influence on the show is incalculable. Many thanks and much appreciation from Mark and I for his amazing work on the show and for taking time to talk to us today.

MH: What duties did you undertake in the role of supervising producer and how did they compare to what Stephen Downing was doing as executive producer?

MG: Steve worked with the writing staff and made the final pass on the "shooting drafts" of every script.  He also had the "final cut" of the episodes so he spent a lot of time in the editing suites.  I also worked with the writers and led the “concept meetings” that started the prep stage of each episode and included the director and all department heads. My job was to make sure we executed the scripts on screen with maximum quality while staying on budget. I was the producer on the set giving the cast and crew the “go to guy” consistency since as you know the directors come and go after each episode.

MH: Was there ever a downtime for the crew during the year or did you work 12 months a year mulling over story ideas for the upcoming season even when the series wasn't officially in production?

MG: There was a bit of down time between the seasons but not much… usually a couple of weeks in June.  The writers were always writing 24/7/365.  Some years between seasons, we would all gather in Las Vegas to "spit ball" stories.

MH: You and Richard Dean Anderson were said to be good friends during and after MacGyver.  What was it that helped you and him connect so well and do you still keep in contact today?

MG: Yes, we are close friends.  We were production partners in Gekko Film Corp for over two decades.  After MacGyver the series, we made two MacGyver films for television, the series Legend and then Stargate SG-1.  I think the key to our partnership and friendship was respect and trust.  We have each others back and always know that when we work together that each of us will push the creative bar up for greater quality.

MH: Were there ever any major guest stars you were trying to get on the show that almost happened but for whatever reason never did?

MG: We pretty much always got who we wanted.  We helped to make great actors “stars"… like Bruce McGill, Mayim Bialik, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jason Priestly, etc.

MH: At the end of the season 2 clip show "Friends", there was a message that the production was dedicated to coworker "Wes Tansey".  I never saw that name in the credits and am curious who he was.

MG: Wes was our Key Grip for seasons 1 & 2.  Wes was one of the best grips in Hollywood and a great guy.  He left us way too soon.

NS: You and Stephen Downing are credited with the story for The Coltons.  What do you remember about that episode, and what exactly transpired with the proposed spin-off (or lack thereof)?

MG: Steve and I wrote the story together as a spin off pilot.  We had done individual Colton episodes with Della Reese as the Mother/Matriarch and Cleavon Little, Richard Lawson and Cuba as her bounty hunting sons and we thought that a series about a bounty hunting family with these outstanding actors would be a great series with a strong franchise foundation for fun stories.  ABC should’ve picked it up — The Coltons would’ve been a groundbreaking and long running series with the writing staff and production company we had behind it.  Editor's Note: I agree!  The cast for The Coltons was fantastic and I believe the series would have had a ton of potential. And if you're read this blog before, you know how fond I am of Frog Dog. 

NS: What do you remember about the decision to reveal MacGyver's first name and the choice behind the name?

MG: It was the right time and a fun reveal.  Rick came up with the name.

MH: What was your personal favorite episode?

MG: I personally love the MacGyver westerns — Serenity and MacGyver’s Women.  They were a lot of fun to write, produce and watch.  Every day on the set was an absolute blast. Watching Rick become and be that period western MacGyver was priceless.  Also, that characterization of MacGyver had similarities (mainly the moustache) and was a nice segue to his Nicodemus Legend character in our next series Legend.

Click here for Part 2 of my conversation with Mike (this one focuses more on Legend).


  1. I <3 Greenburg! He's pretty good friends w/ Jay Acovone (who was on SG1) too. Greenburg was invited to Gatecon several times and his talks were always interesting. Though, it took me like 8 yrs to get his autograph b/c he had to split early the first year I was there. =(

    The last time I was at Gatecon, on the way home, I saw him and Jay in the airport at god-awful-o'clock in the morning. We all looked like we needed about 18 more hours of sleep. /o\

    1. Awesome that you got to meet him!

    2. He's a really nice guy. =)

      My love of SG-1 and RDA was definitely good for something. I think I made 5 or 6 trips to Vancouver for Gatecon and, while I did meet lots of celebs, I made lots of friends too. *g*

    3. Do you prefer SG-1, MacGyver, or the same?

    4. I like them both. They're really different shows. Overall, I like MacGyver a little better - there aren't any eps of Mac that I refuse to watch, whereas, w/ SG1, there are a few that I think I've only seen once.

    5. Few episodes that you found really bad or that just weren't a good fit for you for whatever reason?

    6. It's been a while since I've watched SG-1. There's 1 ep from s5 that I can't stand. I think I even watched it twice to make sure it wasn't just a kneejerk - and it didn't improve. I don't know if the story was bad, or if it just wasn't to my tastes.

      The story arc for s9-10 is less interesting to me, though I do admit a smidge of bias b/c RDA was gone from the show by then. However, the stories had started to slip a little by that point anyway. In s9 they intro'd a new set of 'bad guys' and brought in additional main cast members and the cast didn't seem to have the same chemistry.

      And the final episode was rather disappointing. (I actually had to go read the ep description to remember what it even was.)

  2. Another excellent set of responses from a crew member. I bet there were a lot of stressful days on the set of a show like "MacGyver" being a producer in charge of keeping things within budget. Hard to imagine putting in those kinds of hours and then only getting a couple weeks off in June. I'm sure there were a few more weeks in summer that weren't as intense as the middle of the season but it's easy to see why everybody was ready to move on when the series approached its end.

    I figured there'd be at least one story of a "dream guest who got away". Interesting that there wasn't. Nice to have the Wes Tansey mystery solved too. I'll have to forage through those early season credits to look for Tansey as a key grip.