Monday, June 6, 2016

Lee David Zlotoff: A Conversation

It's Pilot appreciation week at the MacGyver Project!  To go along with my Script Analysis of the first episode, I thought it would be fun to talk to Lee David Zlotoff and ask him a few questions about his script.  Needless to say, I'm a big fan of his and indebted to him for creating my favorite character and favorite show of all time.  He's currently listed as an executive producer on the MacGyver reboot, and you can learn more about him at his MacGyver Global site.

NS: Where did you get the idea for the Opening Gambit in the Pilot?

The opening sequence in the pilot— and the main story line of the episode— were both simply creative inventions to best demonstrate MacGyver’s unique nature and abilities and are not based on any personal experience of mine.  I thought it would be fun to first introduce the character in action and— ideally— in a perilous situation: i.e. like hanging off the side of a cliff!  So, instead of having to wait for a cliffhanger, why not just start with one, literally. And, assuming our military knew where the plane had crashed, to send in an armed team to try and recover the missile or its secret guidance system, would have no doubt caused an international incident.  Hence, they needed someone who could get the job done as quietly as possible.  Rescuing the pilot turned out to be a complication for Mac to up the stakes— and require yet more resourcefulness.

NS: And how about the idea for the primary plot in the Pilot?

LDZ: The notion of our most sophisticated technology going haywire and requiring someone who could outwit it also seemed like a great way to highlight how Mac was different from other action/adventure characters: James Bond, Indiana Jones, etc.  Technology is awesome until, you know, it isn’t.  And then it can be not only maddening but even dangerous.  And giving Mac a whole series of obstacles to overcome in attempting to rescue the scientists would further underscore how amazingly clever he was.  Which I guess it did.

NS: Where did you get the name "Stace" from for MacGyver's first name?

LDZ: I’m not really sure where the name ‘Stace’ came from.  I just needed to give him a first name (because I knew the studio and network would ask for one.)  And I wanted something unusual to befit the uniqueness of his character.  Ultimately, they— and I don’t know who exactly— changed that to Angus, I guess in keeping with the Scottish last name.  Though it wasn’t mine, I think Angus was a great name for him and certainly better than Stace.

NS: What went into creating the character traits of MacGyver?

LDZ: Some of that came from my father, who could fix anything with anything and never acted like it was particularly special or something more than just solving the problem at hand.  He just loved the challenge of figuring it out and making it work.  So I very much wanted a character who— while no doubt being the smartest guy in the room— never ACTED like he was the smartest guy in the room.  Thus giving Mac that sense of humor and humility that I think has gone a long way to endearing him to so many.  You know, a quiet, low-key kind of guy, which would only make him seem that much more awesome when you saw what he could really do.

NS: Did you have any input into the casting of Richard Dean Anderson, and what did you think of him?

LDZ: I was not personally involved in casting RDA.  That said, I thought he was a great choice. And, given the success of the show, obviously the right one!

NS: What are your responsibilities in the new reboot, and how is it going so far?  I understand if you can't answer this one because CBS has been keeping a tight lid on news/updates.

LDZ: You are correct about CBS wanting to manage the press on the new show, so it would not be appropriate for me to say anything at this point except, from what I’ve seen so far, it feels like things are moving in a good direction.  And the new show runner, Peter Lenkov, has a stellar reputation and list of credits and I imagine will do a great job bringing this new incarnation of MacGyver to life.


  1. Good interview with the "architect". Was it by e-mail or by phone? Surprised you didn't get into further what his thoughts on the show were as they progressed in future years or even in the episodes immediately following his creation. Zlotoff had a stellar reputation as a skillful Hollywood scriptwriter and he clearly had his finger on the pulse of this character and the series generally, so it would have been intriguing to see what it would have looked like if he had been the showrunner for any extended period.

    1. It was by email. Believe me I had a ton more questions I would have loved to ask him but I didn't want to overdo it -- maybe some day there will be a part 2!

    2. What's the episode where MacGyver says, "Be-leeeeeve me!" in an animated way? I can hear him saying it in my head but I can't place the episode.

  2. It's from "Good Knight MacGyver" - when he's talking to Merlin - he tells him 'I do NOT want your job...'