Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mike Greenburg: A Conversation -- Part 2

Mike Greenburg served as Executive Producer of Legend for its one and only season.  I talked to him last year about MacGyver, and I thought it would be fun to get some background from him on Legend and also hear his thoughts on the new MacGyver series.

NS: How did you and Richard Dean Anderson get involved with Legend?

MG: The Legend two hour pilot script written by Mike Piller and Bill Dial was given to Rick and I to read.  It was a great fun read.  And the Ernest Pratt/Legend character was a great quirky reluctant hero character for Rick to really have fun with.

NS: What was your favorite memories from working on the show?

MG: Every day was filled with great times and memories. Legend was the most fun set to be on and the most fun series to produce on every level and in every department.
The Saloon scenes were hilarious.

NS: In the third episode, RDA is hanging upside down by a rope for a good five minutes.  I was curious if you remember anything about that -- I would think that must have been physically tough on him.

MG: I don't remember that scene but I'm sure it was a relief for Rick's back. He prefers to be upside down.

NS: I heard that Jarrad Paul is your godson.

MG: Yes, Jarrad is my godson. His mother Janet is my cousin through marriage. Janet's cousin Carol was married to my cousin Michael Oritt.  Steve Oritt is their son and a close friend of Jarrad's. One big happy family.  Jarrad is doing great stuff. He created Grinder and is Exec Producing the series with another friend Andy Mogel. 

NS: I like his character in Legend.

MG: Jarrad really did a great job with his character Skeeter. Brought him off the page big time onto the screen. All those quirky mannerisms were Jarrad's gifts to Skeeter. He had a great chemistry with Rick. They played off each other nicely.

NS: What was John de Lancie like to work with?

MG: John was a gigantic pain in the ass!! Just kidding. John is the best!! One of the smartest actors I've worked with in my career. Very intelligent and knows how to make stage direction work and fix dialogue for his role as Bartok, which was another very unique character based on Tesla.

NS: I think he does a great job as Bartok.

MG: Yes, we always cast John as much as possible. He was in MacGyver and Stargate SG-1, and he did play God (Q) for Mike Piller on Star Trek.

NS: Why was the show cancelled so soon, and how disappointed were you with that decision?

MG: Cancelling Legend was the dumbest decision in television history!  We got caught in a regime change after the first year of the new network UPN. Legend was the great irony in Rick's and my career.  It had the greatest franchise and characters and could've easily gone eight to ten seasons like MacGyver and Stargate. We didn't fall off the milk truck on Legend, we reinvented the milk truck. The ratings were there and the critical acclaim. The cancellation sucked big time!  It's a shame our fans didn't get 150-200 episodes to enjoy.

NS: What are your thoughts on the proposed new MacGyver tv pilot and movie?  I just read today that they have started casting and may even start filming in March.  

MG: I'm not involved.  Good luck to THEM. They will need it because they will find out that it is rocket science.

NS: And has anyone from the new MacGyver production called you to pick your brain on the show's history, and would you be open to working on it in some capacity? 

MG: Nope.

So big thanks to Mike for sharing his insights.  At some point very soon I'm going to do a post with my thoughts on the new proposed MacGyver tv show and movie, but for now I'll just say that I would find it concerning if the show's powers-that-be haven't at least placed a call to Mike Greenburg and Steve Downing to learn all they can about the history of the original series. 


  1. Out of curiosity, how long ago did you reach out to Michael Greenburg with these questions? I was impressed by how good his memory was with "MacGyver" details so I'm not surprised he remembers so much about "Legend" as well. Just as some added insight, Bill Dial and Michael Piller who created the show were long-time Hollywood writers involved in 80s action shows like "Simon and Simon" and (I believe) "Scarecrow and Mrs. King".

    Fascinating that RDA preferred to be upside down because it was good for his back. Guess I hadn't heard of anything like that before as I just can't imagine that would be comfortable. The first thing that came to mind was the scene from "Blow Out" where he was sick and hanging upside down in his houseboat. I mentioned in an e-mail that Jarrad Paul is a co-creator of "The Grinder" which gets my vote for the funniest TV comedy in quite a few years. I'd be curious to see if I'd recognize him 20 years after playing Skeeter on "Legend" and 15 years after the show I most remember him from, "UC Undercover". I've always gotten the sense that John de Lancie would be an amusing guy to work with. You can tell the chemistry was there with RDA.

    It really is a shame the fledgling UPN didn't give the show more time. At the very least it would have been nice to see it get a full-season order.

    Unfortunately it isn't surprising that Greenburg was not consulted about those responsible for the "MacGyver" update on CBS next year since actor George Eads has just been revealed as being cast in the new series playing an actor that was never part of the original series. That's not to say they might not get the new series right on some levels but I never expected narrative continuity was of much interest to them. I'm sure Greenburg is right regarding how much of a challenge the series was and that the new showrunners will discover that.

    1. This all went down yesterday -- he responded very quickly. That's funny that you thought of him hanging upside down in Blow Out because I did too! I can picture Nikki telling him that someone's trying to kill her and then he flips around and says, "What?!"

      I'm not sure how things are normally done in Hollywood, but if I were remaking a show, I would make every effort to consult with some of the people involved with the original. Even if they make new characters and stray from the original, they should at least make sure they are aware of and understand it as best they can. But if their only goal is a cash grab and trading off of the MacGyver name then I guess it makes sense that they wouldn't bother.

  2. Another interesting insight. However it appears to me that sometimes the shows and episodes that were the most fun for cast and crew don't always translate into the best experience for the audience! Eg Everyone involved seems to have loved the MacGyver 'westerns' too but not sure they come over as the fans' favourites either.

    I don't think I'd expect the new reboot team to consult with the previous generation of Macgyver makers. I'm sure, in Hollywood, that unless you're commercially/contracturally in on the project, you're not usually consulted in any way and nor would you freely give advice!