Every time I dig through my folders, I come across material about the Unaired MacGyver Reboot Pilot, filmed in Spring 2016. I’m still trying to find new material; putting together all the interesting information.
If you missed previous posts about the Unaired Pilot, here’s a quick overview:
- Part I (Origins)
- Part II (Promo Material)
- Part III (BtS Photos, Part 1)
- Part IV (BtS Photos, Part 2)
- Part V (Storyboard, Part 1)
- Part VI (Storyboard, Part 2)
- Part VII (Storyboard, Part 3)
- Part VIII (Storyboard, Part 4)
- Part IX (Official Stills)
Don’t worry, there’s more to come. Problem is that the days never have enough hours…
Rebooting the Reboot
A short recap for fans who recently joined the fandom (or have faulty memories): The Unaired Pilot was filmed in April and May of 2016; based on a script written by Paul Downs Colaizzo and directed by David Von Ancken (who sadly died in July 2021 at the age of 56). Production wrapped two weeks before the CBS Upfronts.
The Upfronts are a press event where networks present their upcoming TV schedules and rookie shows. They release art work and previews to get the press to write positive reviews so the projects attract a big audience and international buyers.
On the 13th of May, Variety confirmed that the Reboot had been ordered to Series. Deadline added that Showrunner Peter Lenkov would write a new script with the general premise remaining the same; confirming an earlier report by The Hollywood Reporter that the supporting cast was not coming back.
Within a few days, CBS erased all their former tweets, posts, the trailer and official stills regarding the discarded pilot from their social media accounts. The pilot itself or its 20-minute-promo-cut for the Upfronts has never surfaced. Ironically, it has an IMDb-rating of 9.7 stars.
Note that in case the promo cut or the full episode ever get released, I will omit some of the most spoilery lines and plot twists in the upcoming blog posts regarding the script. I don’t want to ruin your fun *hehe*.
The Unaired Pilot Script
I never got my hands on the final script used for filming. I recently did get my hands on what looks like the first draft of the script, though. It’s dated with February 26, 2016.
(Don’t ask me how I came to it, as I can’t reveal my source. I won’t upload it anywhere or send it out since said source could get into trouble.)
In April 2016, cast member Anita Kalathara (who played Neha) had provided a look at the script title page used during a table read. It was the “Yellow Draft”, dated for March 25 and now listing Brett Mahoney (Empire, Code Black, CSI: Miami) alongside Paul Downs Colaizzo as writers. The title page also carries the red logo that was used for production.
The script title page provided by Costume Designer Eileen Cox Baker has 2nd Blue Revisions, dated for April 3. A photo of the script title page by Second Assistant Director Clint Buckner shows 2nd Cherry Revisions, dated for April 12.
Fun Fact: There is a standard order for script revision colors. According to the WGA West, the standard script revision color sets are:
- White (unrevised)
- Second Blue Revision
- Second Pink Revision and so on…
Using Second Cherry Revisions means that in theory, there could have been 16! revisions up to this point; possibly more. Just by judging the teaser trailer alone, the pilot that was filmed has many differences to the first draft (more about that further down). In fact, it seems to be a completely different episode.
Not much is officially known about the storyline of the Unaired MacGyver Pilot. All we got for promo was a few stills and a teaser trailer. There are a handful of BtS photos and excerpts of the storyboard.
The website Season Zero used to review scripts during Pilot Season. Back in May 2016, they had posted a synopsis and a review online (the site was deleted a few years ago; the company being incorporated into Primetimer). Their verdict:
CBS didn’t like the first version of the script written by NCIS: Los Angeles executive producer R. Scott Gemmill. They could have abandoned the idea. But they comissioned another one instead, by newcomer Paul Downs Colaizzo, who’s under an overall deal with them. My guess: he didn’t really have a choice and did it without any pleasure. And it shows.Season Zero, May 1st, 2016
Fun Fact: The title of the article was “And you thought Scorpion was stupid?”. They later changed the URL to “the-handsome-and-adventurous-version-of-tbbts-sheldon”, but kept the title.
Regarding MacGyver, the author was a bit confused about why the origin story is set in 2015. He cites the dialogue as poor, that there are too many flashbacks from war and that the script is never fun:
Well. Not entirely true. The opening scene kinda is. In a ridiculous way. The way he escapes from prison… It’s clever. And laughable. (…) Spoiler alert: Mac ends the sequence on a hand-made parachute over a giant cliff! That’s one hell of a cliffhanger. But as soon as he returns home, right after the main titles, it’s never fun again.Season Zero, May 1st, 2016
Of course, we know what Parachute Scene he’s talking about, as this was shown in the teaser trailer and also used in the header for the official Facebook page.
While doing promo for another project back in August 2019, Colaizzo admitted in an interview:
MacGyver was a bit of a one-off. It was sort of a jumble of influences, trying to get that show going. It’s not something I really worked on for long, or with passion.Deadline, August 29, 2019
It’s still not clear to me why CBS was in such a hurry to get the project going; ordering two scripts they weren’t happy with, yet still getting one of them filmed only to drop it and have it re-written and re-filmed again.
Generally, it’s a typical CBS crime drama storyline, peppered with MacGyverisms. A war hero returns home, seeing a threat. No one believes him, but he teams up with some interesting characters and saves a lot of people.
As mentioned above, the storyline isn’t anything that blows your mind – but it’s not a total failure. The characters stay a bit bland (similarly to the rebooted version of Patricia Thornton in Season 1), but we don’t know how they would have handled their backstories in follow-up episodes.
There’s some clever MacGyverisms, but I didn’t understand them all (probably due to the language barrier since English isn’t my First Language). But if you take them out, it would be a standard CBS crime show episode; written for any of the current crime dramas on air.
Original MacGyver fans will immediately recognize several Easter Eggs, meaning that Colaizzo must have watched at least the pilot episode (which isn’t saying much, sadly). There aren’t many, though. We have a Phoenix on a messenger bag, for example.
Sadly, there’s no mention at all of a Swiss Army Knife, which is certainly the biggest failures of them all. (There’s talk about paper clips, though.)
Yes, there are several flashbacks to Mac’s time as a POW (Prisoner of War), but they didn’t bother me. I could see the flashbacks playing a role in further episodes (similarly to TV-Show Arrow), especially if they had picked up on the storyline of the two soldiers who were taken with Mac.
There’s a hint of MacGyver being whumped (beaten and whipped), so it would be weird if they would have glossed over it (although that’s not unusual for a show on CBS). In the script, Mac goes to veteran support group meetings, an idea that was never incorporated in the rebooted version.
Yes, the Unaired Pilot Script is darker than the pilot we’ve seen on TV. There aren’t many fun quips as seen in the teaser trailer, so they must have added those later to add some levity. (Although I’m not sure if they didn’t backfire; as many OG viewers found rebooted MacGyver to be arrogant and full of himself.)
In general, it feels like the pilot was written in a hurry. The storyline didn’t really stick with me. And it shows that it was a writer who was tasked with it because he was under an overall contract and not because he really wanted to do it.
Just before the Upfronts, SpoilerTV had provided character descriptions. They differ from the script I’ve read, so I’m not sure if some stuff was added to be revealed later in the season or if the descriptions are based on a revised script (or even the final draft). They might have been written for the Upfronts; e.g. the press kit that was handed out. I’m not sure about the original source.
In the script, Lincoln is described as being in his forties, so the age might have been changed after George Eads had been cast. Interestingly, Jack Dalton in the rebooted version is younger than George while at the same time, they used Lucas Till’s real age for Mac. Maybe CBS or Peter Lenkov wanted the age difference smaller to make it a more believable bromance.
The description says that Gunner works as a handy man. In the script, he used to be a coast guard. He now works at Portlife Life Insurance, and boasts about being named the 16th best life insurance broker in Portland by Oregon Magazine. They kept the fact of Gunner dating MacGyver’s ex, so they sure wanted to hold onto the potential love triangle drama.
In the script, MacGyver says that specialists Zwickey and O’Neill have been shot. Otherwise, they’re barely mentioned. In the character description, it says that they are still alive and in need of rescue. Also, they seem to be civilians, not fellow EOD Techs anymore. This plot point might have been rewritten as a cliffhanger. Maybe one of them was supposed to come back for revenge (similarly to Episode 3×11: Mac + Fallout + Jack)?
I will touch upon the characters in upcoming blog posts; presumably MacGyver, Lincoln, Gunner, Mickey and Earl. There was also another character named Sipps in the script that wasn’t mentioned in the character descriptions. It’s possible that Sipps and Mickey were fused to one character; played by Addison Timlin in the filmed version.
Having MacGyver’s ex on missions sure would have led to some tension and drama in later episodes. Some baselines of the characters were rewritten and incorporated into The Rising, the pilot written by Peter Lenkov. So that could be another blog post. (So much stuff to write about! Do you even want to read about all that?)
Script versus Trailer
As mentioned above, the scenes in the teaser trailer and the storyboard excerpts differ a lot from the script. There’s also differences in the character descriptions provided by SpoilerTV.
In fact, none of the scenes or lines apart from the beggining and the end of the trailer make an appearance in the script at all. There’s no Kresson building, no MacGyver and Lincoln masquerading as lab rats going undercover, no Mac standing in front of the press in the hangar, no Mac tripping a bad guy with a fire house and also no Mac shooting a bow and arrow.
The storyboard excerpts and the official stills made it look like there was some bio weapon involved, but there’s none of that in the script, either. The only line in the script that made it into the trailer is the one at the end, when Mac is asking for bubblegum and a q-tip.
This all indicates that there were indeed heavy rewrites before filming. Even with reading the first draft of the script, we might never know what the Unaired Pilot would have been like if we never get to watch it.
Great, now I’m even more curious to watch it.