Saturday, September 17, 2016

Peter Lenkov: A Conversation

My favorite show currently on television is Hawaii Five-0, masterminded by Peter Lenkov.  If I had to choose anyone in Hollywood to reboot my all time favorite show, he'd be on my short list. And on Friday 9/23 we'll finally get our first full look at his vision as MacGyver makes his triumphant return airing right before Five-0 on CBS.

The word "Friday" comes from Frigga, the Norse goddess of love.  Well, time to step aside, Frigga, because the undisputed king of Fridays is now Peter Lenkov.

NS: We're one week away from the first week of MacGyver and Hawaii Five-0 back to back.  Can you quantify your excitement for that night?

PL: I don't know if it's excitement -- it's more nerves and a lot of nervous energy.
Not for Five-0 where we have a pretty solid audience that tunes in every week and has been very loyal from the beginning, but MacGyver is an unknown. I'm hoping people tune in and that they respond well, but nothing's a given. So I don't think I'm excited, I think I'm more nervous.

NS: How important to you is feedback from social media?

PL: It's only important for my ego. I'd like people to like it, but unfortunately I can't steer the show in a different direction than I've already set the course right now. By the time you guys watch that first episode, I'm on episode 12 and am so far ahead in the storytelling. But I just want people to like it because everyone worked very hard and we think we have a good product, and so hopefully people respond well. The feedback is important to make you feel like you've done a good job and that people appreciate it.

NS: When you went back to watch the original MacGyver, what thoughts came to mind and what stood out to you?

PL: When I started this, I knew the show pretty well.  The stuff that I've seen since then just reminded me what I liked about that show which was how original it was where you had a hero that was very different from everyone else in the landscape -- somebody who was a cerebral hero, somebody who thought differently.  I was a kid who always liked to take things apart and make things out of whatever was available to me, so it reminded me that you can look at something and see it in a different way.  And how different Richard Dean Anderson was from everyone else on tv back then. 

NS: What do you think makes Lucas Till a great MacGyver and how would you compare and contrast him with Richard?

PL: Richard will always be MacGyver -- those are big shoes to fill.  The things that Lucas bring are an enthusiasm and an energy, and he's very believable in the role because he's a fan of it and believes in that role.   And his Mom was a scientist and he grew up in that kind of world where science and building and engineering were very important, and his father was involved in that kind of stuff also.  I think it's who he is and it's in his blood. 

NS: I've heard Murdoc's name mentioned as a possible returning character.  Anything else you can tell us about that?

PL: Murdoc's definitely coming back but I can't tell you who's going to be Murdoc.

NS: Any chance of Michael Des Barres coming back in some way?

PL: It would be a nice cameo for sure.  

NS: I think Murdoc and Wo Fat have some parallels.  My Dad used to watch the original Five-O and told me that Wo Fat always got away, and Murdoc is similar in that he always would look like he died but then would come back. 

PL: There is a parallel between those two villains.  The original Wo Fat character was the one who got away from McGarrett, starting in the pilot episode and sprinkled throughout the course of the 12 seasons.  And then he was McGarrett's last case and putting him in jail was sort of how they brought closure for the original show.  And I look at Murdoc in the same way, as someone who is always a little out of arms reach for MacGyver. 

NS: The music was a very important part of the original show for me.  What can you tell me about the music in the reboot?

PL: Just that we're staying true to the soul of the original show and the music being an important part, and I know the theme is very important to the original fans.

I look at what I'm doing as similar to Five-0 in that I'm keeping the torch lit.  I'm not doing anything other than keeping this thing alive and and relevant so that somebody 30 years from now is going to reboot it because we helped keep the idea alive.  So music and those kinds of things that were important to the original show are important to this version as well.  

NS: What would you say is the biggest difference between the new MacGyver and the new Five-0?

PL: Location!  Other than that I think the biggest difference is a lot of the original MacGyver audience are still actively watching television.  The audience that back in 1968 was watching Five-O are not as avid tv watchers nowadays.  I think the people that watched MacGyver are still very avid tv watchers -- it hasn't been off the air that long.  So people are more vocal and more involved in social media compared to the generation who watched Five-O.  And so what I'm getting now on MacGyver is a lot of feedback, good and bad, from an audience who fondly remembers that original show.  I'm very aware that there's a huge audience out there that does not want me to mess up their beloved show.    

NS: What's the latest on Richard Dean Anderson's involvement?  Have you personally talked to him?

PL: Years ago I met him at a friend's house in Malibu, and I told him how much I loved MacGyver and that I was a huge fan of his.  When I got involved in this, one of the first things I did was to reach out to his agent and told him that I wanted him involved in some capacity.  We were supposed to have a call a couple of days ago and had to push the call, but I'm hoping he's involved and I have a role for him in mind.  The one thing he's doing which I think is the real gentleman thing to do is he's allowing us to come out of the gate on our own, and he's giving us a little bit of distance so we can stand out on our own which I think is a nice thing to do.  But I'm hoping to convince him to come join the show. 

NS: Tell me a little about your creative process.  It's hard for me to imagine sitting down and not just writing an episode but brainstorming a whole new series.  Do you have a lot of notebooks or do you go to coffee shops or sit by the ocean?  What gets your creative juices flowing?

PL: All of the above.  It takes me an hour and 15 minutes to get to work each way, so you're talking about 2 and a half hours in the car -- most of my daydreaming comes then. Most of the time I'm thinking about the shows, the characters, the arcs.  If I come up with something, I'll dictate it into my phone.

It is a 24 hour a day job.  I keep a notepad next to my bed so that I can write stuff down if I wake up in the middle of the night with a thought.  It doesn't end, it doesn't stop.  In any other job you punch your card and go home and try not to think about work.  But it's very hard when you're writing something to put it down.  I'm constantly thinking about it and rethinking things -- it's a never-ending process.  Sometimes I'm not even writing stuff that's going to be in this episode -- I'll write something down that will be in an episode way down the road.  I still have scenes for Five-0 that I've written that haven't made it into an episode yet.  

NS: I know that Sony is going back and forth with Daniel Craig over the future of James Bond, but is there any chance that Alex O'Loughlin could be the next Bond?  I think he'd be fantastic.

PL: I don't know.  I think years ago he was on a list of people that were being considered, and it would be great if he still is.  It may be hard since he's not British, but anything can happen. It'd be nice. He would love it. 

NS: I mentioned Alex as Bond to my wife and she suggested Daniel Dae Kim as Bond, and I think he'd be good too!

I also wanted to bring up the Five-0 episode you wrote about the Japanese internment camps ("Ho'onani Makuakane").  My Dad and I were talking after that episode aired and he said it was one of the best things he'd ever seen on television.  And I would have to agree. I don't often cry at tv shows but that one got me good. 

PL: Tell your Dad I appreciate it very much.  That was a special episode because that aired on the USS Missouri on a loop for a couple months.  That's a cool thing when you can use the forum of tv to make people aware of something that perhaps they didn't know existed. I didn't even know it existed until I started doing research on Hawaii when I started the show.

NS: Thank you very much.  I appreciate your time and willingness to engage with me and other fans, and also your respect for the original show means a lot, so thank you. 


  1. Nice Interview and a very interesting read!

    I'm not a fan of many modern TV show and I doubt I will like the reboot as much as I love the old show. I'm pretty sure there will be some changes I won't like at all but all things considered, I think that Peter Lenkov might be able to create an interesting action TV show with interesting characters.

    And with all the shoot-em-up-shows on TV right now, it's a good thing that a new generation will get to see a hero like MacGyver.

  2. Wow...outstanding interview. I don't known how Lenkov even has time to go to the bathroom with his multiple current projects so for him to do an interview this lengthy to a fan website is really reflective of his commitment to the project. I liked everything I read here and am not surprised he's "nervous" about fan response as there's clearly a contingent of fans of the original who will not budge an inch from their closed-mindedness. I was pleased to see an old neighbor girl of mine express her excitement on Facebook about the new version so hopefully there are more out there like her. An hour and a half commute each way to work sounds bad...from what I've heard that amount to about 10 miles in southern California. I hadn't heard about Alex O'Loughlin being considered as the next Bond. I agree he's a longshot without being British.

    1. Yeah it was really cool of him to talk to me especially in such a busy time. His answer about being nervous initially took me by surprise -- I thought I'd start with a softball and figured he'd say something like "I'm a 13 on an excitement scale of 1 to 10." But his answer definitely makes sense. It must be quite nerve wracking to work so hard on something and have your name front and center and then just have to wait and wonder how the world will judge it.

      I remember reading that Alex did a screen test for 007 at the time when they hired Daniel Craig. I don't remember the details but remember seeing a picture of him in a tux as part of the test. I have no idea if he's being seriously considered at this point or how interested he'd be (though I'd assume he'd be interested and Lenkov said he'd love it). George Lazenby was from Australia also, and Alex has shown the ability to do a good accent (his American accent is excellent), and I think he has the right look and presence for Bond.

    2. Considering Lenkov pretty much had this project dropped on his lap, it's very interesting indeed that he's so nervous about audience feedback. Since he already has irons in the fire, it would be easy for him to just shrug off the success or failure of "MacGyver", so it's encouraging that he feels so invested. Any idea how old he is? He looks like only about mid-40s so not really that much older than me.

      Alex O would have been a little young for James Bond in the Daniel Craig days. He'd probably be more age-appropriate for the role now. His birthday is like a year to the day before mine so he'd have just turned 40. I didn't realize Lazenby was from Australia. Out of curiosity, where would you rate the Bond franchise next to "MacGyver"? I'm sure I'm an outlier here but for me "MacGyver" wins by a full football field. Only a few of the Bond movies have struck me as inspired. The majority are decently entertaining but there are also some massive howlers in that lot. I've always thought the Bond franchise is quite overrated.

    3. I don't know how old he is but mid to late 40's sounds about right. As for Bond, I won't try to compare it to MacGyver out of respect for MacGyver and since they're very different, but I'm an enormous fan. The Brosnan movies are the ones I connect with the most since I saw them in the theater during my formative years. At some point (college maybe?) I watched the entire canon and read all the original books. For me it's not that there are entire movies that are howlers but rather some particular scenes/moments that aren't as good.

  3. I believe I've seen two Brosnan movies...."Goldeneye" and the one with Teri Hatcher (is that "Tomorrow Never Dies"?). What's your favorite Bond movie of all? For me it would be old-timers "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Goldfinger". Any that you didn't like at all?

    1. My favorites are:
      Connery - Thunderball
      Moore - Live and Let Die
      Dalton - License to Kill
      Brosnan - Tomorrow Never Dies (my favorite of all time)
      Craig - Casino Royale

      Lots of other great ones though. Could be a good topic some day for the blog.