MacGyver: An Inspiration to the Maker Movement and a Calgary Link
Being a youngster in the early 80s meant we didn’t get our entertainment instantly as we can over the internet these days. Our entertainment fix depended on print media like monthly magazines and comic books, movies, and TV, with TV being the closest to “instant”, offering a plethora of TV shows that kept us kids glued to the boob tube. Shows like The Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider, Air Wolf, and two of my favourites; the A-Team and MacGyver.
Both shows dealt with solving a problem through innovative ways. In the case of MacGyver; with his wits and wisdom of physics, and without the use of guns. Equipped with his trusty Swiss Army knife, Angus MacGyver could seamlessly get out of any ordeal and defeat the bad guys. There I was, glued to the TV each week watching MacGyver’s exploits, slowly being inspired to eventually become an engineering technologist (at least, that’s what one of my backgrounds are). But watching the show, I found one thing peculiar; MacGyver occasionally wore a Calgary Flames cap during the first season. Many years later, I found out why.
MacGyver, season 1, episode 6, “Trumbo’s World”.
At the beginning of 2005, a little-known (at-the-time) publication called Make Magazine hit the market. The creation of Make Magazine was the catalyst for the formation of a new subculture known as Makers; a community of open-source do-it-yourselfers. I didn’t discover the magazine until issue 21 hit store shelves, and it has been my favourite magazine ever since. Like me, many of the makers in their young lives were inspired by TV shows like MacGyver. Coincidentally, MacGyver’s creator, Lee David Zlotoff, has written articles in Make Magazine (for instance, see Make, Volume 25, “Code 72”, page 30). Another well-known reader and contributor of the magazine named Adam Savage, debunked many of the MacGyverisms on his show Myth Busters, however a number of the MacGyverisms that Lee David Zlotoff came up with, could work given “perfect” conditions. For instance, as in the very first episode, you could seal a leaking chemical tank with a chocolate bar – theoretically, the chemical contents of the bar would work – but you’d need a whole lot more than just one bar. Typical Hollywood. 😉
MacGyver and Make Magazine: they were made for each other. Nice Photoshop from LifeHacker.com.
In 2013, The Calgary Comic Expo announced that MacGyver himself, Richard Dean Anderson would be attending. Having become a regular attendee of the expo for the past three years, I couldn’t give up the opportunity to meet Richard. Let’s just say I was almost in a state of euphoria like MacGyver’s biggest fans, Patty and Selma on the Simpsons. When it was finally my turn to chat with Richard at his signing table, I welcomed him back to Calgary – knowing that the MacGyver crew had filmed an episode here at Heritage Park, while the show was still being filmed in Vancouver (Season 5, episode 12 “Serenity”). This was the episode where MacGyver dreamed he was in the wild west. Richard shared a story with me from filming at Heritage Park; he was on horse back and almost lost his mount because the horse had slipped on ice. He said it was one of his most memorable moments from the show’s seven season run. I then had my chance to ask him about the Calgary Flames hat he wore in season 1. Turns out, a number of the Calgary Flames players in the mid 80s (Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis, et al.) befriended Richard and they’d play hockey together, either here in Calgary during Flames practices, or down in LA. This love of hockey made it into the show as one of MacGyver’s traits. Other parallels between MacGyver and Richard; the fondness for jeeps, the leather jacket, and love of skiing. The producers, which included Henry Winkler, liked these traits so much, they incorporated them into the script for Richard.
Richard Dean Anderson’s panel presentation at Calgary Comic Expo 2013.
After the show wrapped up its seven season run, Richard went on to play Col. Jack O’Neil in the Stargate TV show (a role that was originated by Kurt Russell in the movie) but no role had the impact like MacGyver did on future makers, engineers, and technologists such as myself. So thank you Richard and the MacGyver crew for inspiring us. And yes, I do have a red Swiss Army knife that I take on my adventures. I wouldn’t leave home without it.