Friday, October 14, 2016

MacGyver Background Bible: Part One

I was unable to watch tonight's new episode of MacGyver due to it being preempted for the Wisconsin Senate debate between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson (fun fact: I once was about 10 feet away from Feingold at one of his informal constituent meetings). Not sure why they thought that politics and our nation's future was more important than a new episode of MacGyver but it's not the first time that events outside of my control thwarted me (see: Business, Strictly). While that night left me with scars deeper than the ones on Murdoc's face, there's no such stress over tonight's episode considering I care much less about the reboot (sorry, reboot).  And also I'll just have to wait a day or two (rather than months) when the episode is available online or OnDemand -- thanks, modern technology.

So in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to go through the MacGyver Bible that I recently got a hold of.  The Bible was used as a way to get new people up to speed on the show's background and characters.  For example, David Rich told me that he received the Bible when he started writing for the show.

The date on the Bible is 4/16/86 which was toward the end of the first season and the same night that The Escape aired.  There's no author listed, but my money is on Stephen Kandel given his proclivity for using big words that I've never heard before (e.g. woodslore, protean, roustabout, annealed).   I'll reach out to him and see if he remembers anything about the Bible.  In the meantime, here are the first parts where MacGyver and Pete are introduced.  And now, a reading from the gospel of Angus:

Born and raised in rural Minnesota.  Learned survival, woodslore; expert fisherman and lure maker. Amateur botanist, zoologist.  

Father: James MacGyver.  Mother: Ellen Jackson MacGyver.  Maternal grandparents: Harry and Celia Jackson.

When MacGyver was ten years old, his father and grandmother died in a tragic accident.  After a year, his grandfather who had been very close to the boy left abruptly.  It was a shattering blow to MacGyver who was suddenly the male of the house.  His mother returned to schoolteaching; they continued with life while Grandfather Harry worked in Alaska, sent money regularly; sent letters almost never.

When MacGyver was nineteen, his mother died after a brief illness.  Left alone, isolated, his only living relative a remote and alienated grandfather, MacGyver sold what was sellable, discarded the rest -- and took off.  He was a junior in college, majoring in Physics at the time -- and already possessed of a nomad's itch to travel, to see, to sample, to taste the world.

There was an additional incentive.  MacGyver had had a serious love-affair with a fellow student, Amy Austen.  It broke up over his desire to take a year off from school and work/travel.  The pain of loss seemed to symbolize the end of a period of his life -- he left.

And drifted.  Armed with protean mechanical and scientific skills; cursed or blessed with a mind that could never pass a puzzle by, he worked, traveled, paused here and there -- accumulated experience, and began to know himself.

He learned petroleum engineering, geology -- worked as a roughneck in Sumatra, Aden, off Malmo. He fought oil-well fires in the middle east; did gold mining in Africa, was Third Mate on a coastal freighter in the Adriactic, worked roustabout in a small traveling circus through Spain and France. And through it all, he kept studying -- and learning.  Not always the same thing.  He's a passable jack-physicist, a good kitchen chemist, knows a scattered lot about a number of scientific disciplines. More important -- he has a genius for using whatever's to hand -- and creating whatever he needs. Turning a roadmap into a sled; using an aspirin tablet as an explosives timer; making a prison cage out of two bushes; combining a magnesium bicycle strut and a rust can into a thermite torch. MacGyver, in other words, changes the ordinary into the mildly miraculous.

In North Africa he met Peter Thornton, then a field operative for a somewhat obscure US Intelligence Agency, the DXS: Department of External Service.  The meeting was accidental -- MacGyver was flat broke, scratching along cheerfully by driving a battered taxicab -- he'd gotten the job by repairing the cab.  Thornton hailed him -- got in -- and MacGyver instantly found himself the co-object of a pursuit.  He got them away, but was marked, as Thornton's man -- and had to hang in with Pete Thornton until the mission was over.

He did more than hang in.  He joined in, and when it was over MacGyver and Thornton made a very personal deal.  MacGyver would stay in touch -- maybe do an occasional job for Thornton. But not too officially, and always at his own discretion.

The agreement was born out of and annealed a strong friendship -- a permanent thing for both men. It's still there -- modified, now that Thornton is out of the Government...of which, more later.

Early fifties.  Widowed.  One child, a daughter, Laura -- now a hospital administrator in San Francisco.  Colonel, US Army, Special Forces.  Seconded to the State Department, in charge of a group of special couriers, three years.  Retired and became Operations Director of DXS, western group, operating out of Los Angeles.

Excellent chess player, good poker player, terrible tennis player.  Hates cold weather -- baffled by MacGyver's love of winter sports.  Expert shot, pistol or rifle.

Often lonely; an isolated man.  MacGyver may be his best friend; certainly the friend who knows him best -- something like a younger brother.

Left the DXS last year to become Director of Operations for the Tine Corporation, Santa Monica, California.

It's very interesting that this Bible was dated at the end of Season 1 and yet there are some threads of Season 2 episodes like Phoenix Under Siege (his father and grandmother dying in a car crash) and Partners (how MacGyver met Pete).  I've talked before on the blog how the MacGyver/Pete meeting for the first time is inconsistent -- in Deathlock they say that they met in the desert with MacGyver pulling Pete out of quicksand, but in Partners they meet in the cab chasing Murdoc, and it's funny that the Bible combines the two stories.

Two other obvious differences between the Bible and the show are Pete's daughter (in the show he has a son) and the Tine Corporation being called the Phoenix Foundation.  Also it's interesting that MacGyver's nonviolence doesn't come up. The Bible does go into more detail about Tine and about MacGyver's home life, and there are some sketches for possible future episodes (some that were made and some that weren't).  A topic for another day!


  1. What an odd read! I tend to agree that it was Kandel who wrote this thing. My guess is they spitballed story ideas for season 2 in the later months of season 1 and incorporated the future narrative into the show's bible. It's extremely odd though that the bible simultaneously claims MacGyver and Pete met in North Africa (confirming the camel story) AND that they met in hot pursuit of a villain in a taxicab. It's either one or the other isn't it!?!

    And interesting indeed that they ultimately decided to give Pete a son after the original plan was for him to have a daughter. I definitely like the way the "Phoenix Foundation" rolls off the tongue more than the "Tine Corporation". I also don't recall Pete's chess, poker, or tennis skills ever being mentioned....and definitely not his marksmanship. Am I mistaken or is "Nightmares" the only episode where Pete fired a gun?

    My hunch is the bible was revised at the end of every season. April 16, 1986, would have probably been right around the time that season 1 ended production and I'll bet it was written in the first couple weeks of the interim before the new season began and second season stories were being bantered about. Is this one of the four scripts you purchased or a secondary item?

    1. Yeah I was thinking if there was any way to posit that the Pete/MacGyver meeting in Partners actually took place in Africa, but that doesn't work for a number of reasons. As far as Pete firing a gun, the only other episode that comes to mind is the flashback MacGyver has in DOA MacGyver.

  2. That bible has been up on MacGyver online for years....

    1. Thanks, yeah I actually noticed that last night after posting this -- I went to MacGyver Online to see if there were any comments on the Bible and saw the whole thing there. And here I thought I was breaking some news!

    2. Well we appreciate your rushing over here to share it with us anyway! Macgyver fans always know what's really important, ;)