Saturday, May 7, 2016

Script Analysis: D.O.A.: MacGyver

I recently got a hold of two original MacGyver scripts, and I thought it would be fun to read them cover to cover and then write about what I read.  The first script I'll discuss is Season 2's DOA MacGyver, written by Jaison Starkes.  A few days ago I rewatched the episode with the script in hand, and I took notes to highlight the similarities and differences between what was on the page versus what was on the screen. The story was basically the same and some of the dialogue was verbatim from what was in the script, but there were also several significant differences.

For this blog post, I will focus more on the differences since I think they are more interesting to talk about.  I'm not sure if my copy was the very first edition of the script but I assume that it wasn't the last.  So if you ever wanted to take a very deep dive into DOA MacGyver, today is your lucky day!

SCRIPT: Character descriptions: "Jules, tall, bald, and burly, is briefing Dakota, who is middle-aged, avuncular, rumpled, radiates kindly anonymity.  Tara, a black woman in her 20's, is present."

"Braddock is a tall, weedy Englishman in rough clothing, a man who's sense of British humor is still present despite the grim surroundings."

FINAL EPISODE: Jules is not bald, the head villain's code name is Lancer (not Dakota), and Tara is Asian. Another difference from the script is Lancer's personality -- rather than being "avuncular" and "radiating kindly anonymity," Lancer comes off as obnoxious in the way that he constantly belittles Jules.  Though I suppose you could say he is a little rumpled.

SCRIPT: Getting back to the Dakota/Lancer name change, there's this somewhat amusing dialogue:
MacGyver: What's the problem?
Braddock: Dakota.
MacGyver: North or South?
Braddock: It's the name of a man.  Actually a -- frightening man.

SCRIPT: The military at the funeral are part of the Delta Force.

FINAL EPISODE: They are part of the Omega force.

SCRIPT: In the warehouse shootout, MacGyver throws a crate at Jules and Dakota, and then after Braddock is shot, MacGyver drags him away and then checks to see that he's dead. After MacGyver flees, Dakota checks Braddock's dead body and says "Cheery-bye" in a British accent.

FINAL EPISODE: None of this happens.

SCRIPT: MacGyver "sees a leaking drum of oil nearby" and then "tips it over so the oil spills out onto the floor."  Then he finds an old motor and "pulls the gas plus out so the gas spills onto the oil." His voiceover says, "Gas burns, but oil smokes.  A perfect combination for evening the odds." Then MacGyver "lights the gas -- black smoke starts to fill the air."

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver mixes muriatic acid and ammonia to create "instant chemical fog."

SCRIPT: After MacGyver is shot, he runs toward the glass and throws himself through it.

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver still crashes through the glass, but it's the momentum of the shot that carries him rather than a conscious choice to break through it. 

SCRIPT: Character description: "Anne Varnay is in her late twenties; lean and muscular; a big handsome woman, weathered, clearly competent, as she handles the boat."

FINAL EPISODE: The character's name is Carol Varnay.  And she's not big and muscular.

SCRIPT: Anne sees MacGyver struggling to stay above water and throws him a boathook to grab onto.  The general arc of their conversation on the boat (e.g. offering coffee that tastes like "diesel fuel," revealing how MacGyver doesn't remember his name) is the same as the final episode. Though in the script, he drops the cup of coffee and it smashes when he says he doesn't know his name.

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver climbs on board the back of the boat without Carol noticing.

SCRIPT: Character description: Pete's secretary, Helen White -- "middle-aged, brisk, tart, salty."

FINAL EPISODE: Her name is Helen Wilson.

SCRIPT: The boat lands in the small fishing town of San Marcos.

FINAL EPISODE: The boat lands in Bristol Harbor.

SCRIPT: While still on the boat, MacGyver has a flashback (which is not triggered by anything in particular) to Target MacGyver and Phoenix Under Siege (specifically Victoria smashing through the window).

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver is on land and sees a welder which triggers memories from Last Stand and Target MacGyver.

MacGyver: Maybe I should get to a doctor.
Anne: There's no doctor in San Marcos.  And not much of anything else.

Carol: Look, let me take you to Dr. Jennings.  He can take a look at your head.
MacGyver: No, I'd rather not.  A doctor's going to ask questions.  I don't have any answers. Yet.  I just need some time to think.

SCRIPT: Dakota goes to the crime scene posing as a journalist, but he is also in disguise -- "white hair, white moustache, looking elderly, mousey, benign."

FINAL EPISODE: Lancer goes to the crime scene without any disguise.

SCRIPT: MacGyver fixes Jason's bike with a barrette from Anne.

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver fixes Jason's bike with Jason's mini license name plate.

SCRIPT: "There's a beat as they [MacGvyer and Anne] look at each other."  This is the first sign of a MacGyver/Anne romantic spark (and not the last).

FINAL EPISODE: There was no hint of romance between MacGyver and Carol (unless you count the part when their legs are touching while they're eating sandwiches).

SCRIPT: It's revealed that the name of the trawler Damian comes from a combination of "Dave, Mitch, and Anne."  Anne was very close to her father Dave and her brother Mitch, but they died at sea.

FINAL EPISODE: We don't hear about the origin of the name Damian, though Carol does mention that her father and brother died at sea.

SCRIPT: MacGyver sees the stern of a fishing boat called "Phoenix II" which jogs his memory.

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver sees a bumper sticker that says "I Love Phoenix" (with a heart symbol).

SCRIPT: In the Varnay house, Anne "touches his face."  A little later she "takes his hands, grips them firmly, leans closer."  And then "she leans forward, kisses him deliberately. Holds it.  Then breaks, smiles."

FINAL EPISODE: No such love for MacGyver, sadly for him.

SCRIPT: For the funeral, Dakota is in disguise as a general.

FINAL EPISODE: Lancer does not have a disguise.

SCRIPT: MacGyver sees Pete at the funeral and has a flashback to Deathlock ("Pete's face, an explosion, a woman's scream").

FINAL EPISODE: MacGyver sees Pete at the funeral and has a flashback where Pete is firing a gun at night.  I'm actually not sure what episode this is from -- maybe it's not from a prior episode but instead was filmed specially for this one?

SCRIPT: Pete jogs MacGyver's memory with flashbacks to the boat chase from A Prisoner of Conscience, Pete in MacGyver's loft in Out in the Cold, and Pete and MacGvyer in the Phoenix Foundation (episode unspecified).

FINAL EPISODE: Pete jogs MacGyver's memory by reminding him about how he saved him in the avalanche.

SCRIPT: MacGyver yells, "There's a bomb here!"

FINAL EPISODE: Pete quietly warns the people and they calmly evacuate.  I think the script version is more realistic.

SCRIPT: After tossing the bomb under the RV, "MacGyver arrives just as Tara and Dakota, both coughing, crawl out the drivers door of their smoking vehicle.  Dakota lifts his gun as MacGyver grabs a grave shovel, knocking the gun away, then smacking Dakota into Tara, who also loses her balance.  Both villains fall into the open grave, one on top of the other."

FINAL EPISODE: If only we would have been so lucky to see that on film.

SCRIPT: The last line: "He smiles, she leans forward to kiss him, and... FADE OUT."

FINAL EPISODE: No love for MacGyver, who was likely headed home to a night alone in the loft with only his hockey table and whipped bean curd.

I got a hold of episode writer Jaison Starkes and asked him what he remembered about writing this episode.  He said:

My agent at the time set up the meeting with the producers. I pitched them several ideas and they settled on the amnesia angle. I didn't have any particular interest in the subject. It just felt like an interesting premise.

They gave me the go ahead to submit an outline, which I submitted in a week or so. The producing team had suggestions which were minor.They liked the direction I was headed in which made it easy to work with them. I met almost exclusively with a senior producer. He was helpful and very encouraging.

Writing the first draft was a treat, because I was into the story and enjoyed the MacGyver
character. After I submitted the first draft I was given notes from the producer I was working closely with and other suggestions from several other staff writers. I turned in the second draft a little more than a week later. When the director signed on ,he submitted notes for changes. I completed that draft and there were small changes that came from the director, the producers and Rick Anderson himself.

After this pass they put the episode on the shooting schedule. I was invited back to watch them shoot, and had the pleasure of meeting Rick, the director, etc. It was a wonderful experience. Some of the original flash backs I suggested were replaced with scenes from the previous episode. This was all overseen by the director and the producers. I had no participation after that. It still ranks as one of my favorite experiences as a freelance writer.

I was also curious to learn more about the script writing/editing process and so I reached out to actor, writer, editor, and friend of the blog John Considine.  He said:

The writer first writes his story, usually 20 or so pages. The exec producer (Steve Downing) and perhaps a member of writing staff give notes. Outlining what they liked, suggested changes, etc. If it's close enough to see a good show out of it, the writer is given the 'go ahead' for his first draft of the script. That is followed by another round of producer notes, and at some time, a 'final draft'. The final draft, in my cases, was what you saw on the screen, with the possible exception of some line changes by the actors. R.D.A. had the green light to change (which usually meant shorten) his lines, if he was uncomfortable with any. However, if a writer's final draft was felt (by Steve) to be wanting, another writer might be hired to 'fine tune it' into a shooting script.

So I hope you enjoyed this deep dive through a MacGyver script!  I have at least one more that I am looking forward to reading and deconstructing -- stay tuned!


  1. Nice and surprising MacGyver-related post. What made you spring for two original "MacGyver" scripts and where did you find them? How much did you pay for them if you don't mind my asking? I'll be very eager to see what the second episode is and how much it varies from the original as this one did. I'm a little surprised as I always figured the final draft of a TV script was followed to the letter, much like what Considine's e-mail response suggested. Was this not necessarily the final script or was there indication there were still phases of rewriting ahead for it?

    In most cases it seemed like what we actually saw in the episode played out more to my liking than what the script called for. I really appreciated the treatment the episode gave Carol Varnay and thought she was one of the series' most noteworthy female characters, so I'm really glad they didn't turn her into a one-episode love interest with numerous forced kissing scenes. I'd have to see how they pulled off the intended closing with Tara and "Dakota"/Lancer falling into the open grave after getting beaned with a shovel to believe it, but I did think the ending of the episode was generally too abrupt with the would-be super-bomb exploding and not even having the power to tip over their RV let alone turn it into a fireball, so something else was needed to pull off the climactic moment. Either way, thanks for sharing and I'll be fascinated to see what the next script brings.

    1. I'll tell you offline my story of how I got the scripts. :) There's no indication on this script what version it was, but I believe it was not a final version because they would have really been going off script in that case.

      I agree with you that I like Carol as a character better than Anne. I asked Jaison Starkes about that so hopefully I'll hear his take on why her character was changed. And I agree that the "super bomb" was indeed very weak! Do you know the answer to my question about the flashback scene where Pete fires the gun at night? You may have to rewatch that part since it only appears very briefly.

    2. The flashback of Pete firing the gun did not come from a scene from a prior episode. I'm guessing it was an outtake from an episode that never made the final cut. It actually looks like it came from "Family Matter" which is the only early season episode I know of that featured Pete in the dark.

  2. A great post Nick. Just when it looks like we can't get explore any more MacGyver angles, you come up with something new!

    I agree the story was probably better without the love interest (though I wonder why they decided not to go with it) otherwise I would have liked to see the Dakota joke and the 'cheery-bye', the oil fog would have made more sense than the boat cleaner chemical fog which took ages to produce and the ending sounds better. Dakota sounds like he was originally intended to have a bit more character to him then the final version, rather anodyne, Lancer.
    Mark's idea of the outtake being from Family Matter seems to make sense.

    1. Thanks Al! I was wondering if the script would have a reference to Braddock as an "eccentric, drunk, brilliant Englishman" or however it was you put it! Are you a Quantum Leap fan, and do you have a way to watch it?

    2. I did enjoy Quantum Leap and watched quite a few episodes back in the day but, like you, I can't remember any of them! Will see what I can do to watch along.

  3. Yea scripts can go off kilter all the time. Writers and directors have to be flexible. Sometimes something sounds better and more natural when rearranged or edited on the fly. Not to mention, people forget lines and find something easier to remember. Being an occasional playwright, this can be frustrating to see my baby corrupted. But often it's for the better.

    I'd really like to know how you got your hands on these!

  4. "SCRIPT: In the Varnay house, Anne "touches his face." A little later she "takes his hands, grips them firmly, leans closer." And then "she leans forward, kisses him deliberately. Holds it. Then breaks, smiles."

    "FINAL EPISODE: No love for MacGyver, who was likely headed home to a night alone in the loft with only his hockey table and whipped bean curd.

    FINAL EPISODE: No such love for MacGyver, sadly for him."

    ROFL! Awwww poor Macgyver. :(

    "SCRIPT: MacGyver yells, "There's a bomb here!"

    FINAL EPISODE: Pete quietly warns the people and they calmly evacuate. I think the script version is more realistic."

    I agree!!! The script version is so much better!