The XX Factor

MacGyver Will Be a Woman Soon. It’s Time.  

Richard Dean Anderson as Angus MacGyver.

Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR reports on an interesting new experiment in crowd-sourcing TV writing: Asking the public to decide who the next MacGyver should be. 

The creator of the original MacGyver, Lee Zlotoff, has teamed up with the National Academy of Engineering and top Hollywood TV producers to launch a crowdsourcing competition. Anyone around the world can submit ideas for the fictional character. Five winners will get the chance to work with a Hollywood producer to develop the character and write a pilot script.

The entire project is open-ended, but there’s one hard-and-fast rule: The new MacGyver has to be a woman. She can be any race or ethnicity and from anywhere in the world, but she definitely has to be a woman. “We put so many images [of women] out on TV and cable, and it’s really up to us to start portraying people the way they actually are, not that old-fashioned idea of what we think they must be,” Lori McCreary of Revelations Entertainment, who is producing the project, told NPR. 

The idea of MacGyver as a woman might sound like a gimmick (within the gimmick of the crowdsourced pilots), but, looking at the TV landscape circa 2015, it actually makes sense. MacGyver was a popular ‘80s series featuring a secret agent who resolved dilemmas through science instead of violence. Its hero saved the day by being brilliant, just as Sherlock Holmes once did, and smart men in Doctor Who, Perry Mason, ColumboHouse—really, this could go on forever—have done for years.

But recently, women have been getting a chance to play the role of the hyper-competent hero, from Veronica Mars to The Good Wife, in which nearly every episode turns on Julianna Margulies’s character Alicia coming up with a brilliant insight that wins the day, to the ABC mini-series Agent Carter, in which Peggy Carter from Captain America runs around besting all the men who underestimate her.

Having a woman step into the MacGyver role doesn’t seem nearly as strange as it would have even a few years ago. There’s no real reason anymore to be concerned that audiences will reject the idea of women in parts that were traditionally understood as male roles. Which is why we’re even getting an all-female Ghostbusters, for the loveable-screw-ups-who-are-nonetheless-geniuses variation on this theme.