Part 5 – Who You Gonna Call?
If you recall from the last installment, I had just managed to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of Henry Winkler and his alter ego, The Fonz, to be faced with concocting a suitable alternative to the ‘Hourglass’ concept that preserved the notion of a single-lead, action/adventure series. Piece of cake, you’re thinking, right?
And I’d like to report that, having repaired to my office in Santa Monica, I cogitated for a brief period and—in a stunning epiphany—the concept of MacGyver in all his inimitable details simply sprang full-blown into my fertile mind. That’s what I’d like to report, but no such luck I’m afraid because it took a good deal more than that for Mac to enter the world.
Part 4 – The Fonz: Up Close and Personal
So, just to recap, in the last issue I was on my way to meet with Henry Winkler who asked to see me after I informed the studio that the ‘Hourglass’ concept wouldn’t work—at least in my humble opinion.
Now Henry’s office was on the Paramount studio lot, which is smack dab in the heart of Hollywood. And the traffic there is usually terrible, so I’m really counting on the long crawl across town to rehearse the encounter in my head and get my nerves under control. No such luck. In some freak occurrence that defies all explanation there is no traffic. The roads are deserted and you just know I make every single traffic light. It’s almost as if I’m being inexorably pulled toward his office like it’s some black hole from which any escape is hopeless and I will be sucked into oblivion— forever.
And before I know it I’m inside the studio gates and marching across the acres of parking lots, sound stages and twisting warrens of offices— in the searing southern California heat—so that, by the time I finally locate Henry’s office, you could wring the sweat from my clothes, my nerves are in wicked knots, and when his smiling assistant chirps, “Would you like something to drink?” it takes a Herculean effort NOT to ask for a double scotch and instead mumble that a water will be fine, before I’m ushered in to meet my fate.
Part 3 – Write or Wrong?
In the last chapter, if you recall, I left you to ponder why the ‘Hourglass’ concept as it was pitched to me—one hour of TV time was one hour of actual time—was ultimately not going to fly as a TV series. And I promised in this installment to explain how I knew—even upon hearing it—that, no matter how cool it sounded in the room— I had a major problem on my hands. So here goes—but this may get a bit technical so just bear with me…
They told me they wanted a single-lead, action/adventure show of ‘stand alone’ episodes: that is, each show had to be a complete story in itself built around a single, main character and NOT a serial where the story carried over from episode to episode. (For example, NCIS, BONES or CASTLE, say, are ‘stand alone’ shows where the character stories may arc over a whole season but each show is a ‘case’ to be solved in that episode: whereas GREY’S ANATOMY and BOARDWALK EMPIRE are more ‘serials’ where the stories carry over from show to show and each episode is just a part of a larger story that arcs across an entire season, sort of like a soap opera. The networks’ desire for stand alone series vs. serials in prime time tended to move in cycles, but in the early 80s when I got this assignment, trust me, no one wanted a serial so there was no point in even exploring that option.)
Part 2 – The Bomb in the Hourglass….
So, after the usual haggling between my agent and the studio’s business affairs department, the deal for me to write their ‘Hourglass’ pilot was finally made and it was time for me to head over to Paramount TV to meet with the studio execs and the producers to find out what exactly was ‘Hourglass’. (Since all I’d been able to glean so far was that is was supposed to be a ‘single-lead, action/adventure show’ – “single-lead” meaning one hero instead of an ensemble cast or ‘a team’.)
Now ‘meetings’ in Hollywood are a lot like dating; there’s usually a round of ‘pre-meeting’ calls between the agents, producers and execs to stroke everyone about how excited we all are to be meeting, followed by the meeting itself of course, and then another round of ‘post-meeting’ calls to determine how the meeting really went, and was everyone pleased with the outcome or just pretending that they were. I mean, nobody likes to blow it on the first date, right? And since we already had a deal in place, all involved were eager to see things got off on the right foot.
Once upon a TV show… Hard to believe that it’s been a generation since MacGyver first whipped open his Swiss Army knife on the cultural horizon. Harder still to believe that his name has joined the dictionary and become a global icon for resourcefulness and invention in the face of adversity. And, most surprising of all—at least for me— has been the persistent demand to BRING HIM BACK, PLEASE! So, finally bowing to popular demand, in this graphic novel series, and in other forms currently in the works, we’ve dug out the knife, duct tape and the leather satchel to turn MacGyver loose on a whole new world and set of adventures—which has been something of an adventure in itself. But more about all that later, promise…