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TV’s Remake King on Applying ‘Hawaii Five-O’ Lessons to ‘MacGyver’

Peter Lenkov successfully resurrected one beloved franchise. Now he's about to try it again, this fall, for CBS.

Hawaii Five-O, MacGyver

“Hawaii Five-O,” “MacGyver”

CBS

Peter Lenkov never expected to become TV’s King of the Remake.

But in a season crawling with series reboots and do-overs, Lenkov’s new take on “MacGyver” for CBS stands out in at least one specific way: The showrunner has successfully done it before.

Peter Lenkov

Peter Lenkov

CBS

In recent years, the broadcast networks have had very little luck in taking old titles and giving them a fresh coat of paint. Lenkov, however, unlocked the code with “Hawaii Five-O.”

“Part of it is luck, and part of it is really knowing the property very well, and knowing what ingredients to add to bring it back to life, what worked and didn’t work,” said Lenkov, who admits that even he’s surprised that “Five-O” has already made it to Season 7.

He didn’t expect to do it again. But after CBS shot a “MacGyver” remake as a pilot last season, the network turned to Lenkov for his notes. Eventually, CBS decided to scrap that version – and asked Lenkov to come in, write a new script and run the show.

“It was a whirlwind sort of thing,” he said. “It wasn’t like there was a plan. Maybe they thought with ‘Five-O’ I had some experience in the world of bringing a show back,” Lenkov said.

Hawaii Five-O

The cast of “Hawaii Five-O”

CBS

How did Lenkov pull off such a daunting challenge? Follow along.

Lenkov’s first rule of remakes: Honor the original property. When he took on “Hawaii Five-O,” Lenkov made sure the original characters that existed in the 1970s original would be back, perhaps in a different form, in the new series.

“They could be different,” he said. “They don’t have necessarily be the same characters, but I wanted to use characters that did multiple episodes and bring them back. That was a way to bridge the original show and this.”

That includes regularly sprinkling the show with Easter eggs – including actors and locales from the original, but used differently. “It just reminds the audience, and mostly the people that know the original show, are reminded that it’s got a soul, and that the soul is those twelve seasons of that original show,” Lenkov said. “We’re not ignoring the fact that it existed, we’re honoring it, and, in fact, this show really is just keeping the torch alive for that version.”

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Lenkov’s second rule of remakes: Dive even deeper into the characters that fans love. Most procedural dramas from the 1970s and 1980s were light on character development. But as TV has changed, viewers want to feel more invested in a show’s main players.

“If you watched the show over the course of the twelve years- and that’s a long time for a show to be on the air- the one thing, the takeaway from all those years of watching the show is you didn’t really get to know much about the characters,” Lenkov said. “You knew that they were cops. You knew that they worked in Hawaii. You knew that Jack Lord ran a task force, but you didn’t know much else.”

Lenkov said the one thing he thought he could bring to the franchise was a better understanding of who McGarrett was, and who Danny was. “The secret, or what made me think that this version was the right way to go was really trying to look at what was missing from the original show, and the one piece was, I think, the character work,” he said.

MacGyver

The cast of “MacGyver”

CBS

For “MacGyver,” Lenkov went back to the same playbook. Last year’s pilot didn’t include many “touchstones connecting it to the original show,” Lenkov said. For his remake, ” I really wanted to root it, and I wanted to keep the soul. I wanted to feel like this show’s carrying the torch of MacGyver. This thing, it exists. Even though it’s a reboot it really is honoring that original show.”

Lenkov said he made sure to include “MacGyver” fan favorite details to his version. “Things like the leather jacket,” he said. “I wanted things that were really iconic about that original show to be in our version. I didn’t want people to forget that we knew that show was such a beloved franchise.”

The showrunner even made sure that anyone he hired on the “MacGyver” writing staff was a true fan of the original. “I want people to come in pumped, and knowing that part of our job is honoring the fact that this thing was on the air for seven years, and there’s going to be a percentage of the audience that’s going to be watching saying, ‘Don’t destroy my favorite show,'” Lenkov said.

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But just as he did with “Hawaii Five-O,” Lenkov is also expanding the show’s universe and exploring more of the characters. That’s why George Eads, as former CIA agent Jack Dalton, has a much more pronounced role opposite Lucas Till (MacGyver).

“MacGyver was somebody who almost is like a cerebral super hero, but he was a one-man show,” Lenkov said. “I think it’s hard to do those kind of shows nowadays, because I think you want to have characters interact with each other.”

Viewers will also learn more about the origins of the show’s Phoenix Foundation. He also promises that MacGyver’s famed ability to improvise his way out of anything – often with just bubblegum and a paperclip – is still a big part of the show.

“The secret sauce is what MacGyver does, and I’m hoping that becomes a thing where people the next day are talking about, ‘Can you believe he did that?” he said. “I think the characters are different, and the original show, it was very plot-driven. Nowadays, we have to really look at why people are tuning in. They’re tuning in for the characters.”

Hawaii Five-O

Daniel Dae Kim and Peter Lenkov

CBS

Lenkov admits the idea of remaking classic shows is now in his blood. The producer even has a few more on his wishlist: “Magnum P.I.” (which he’d like to do after “Hawaii Five-O” ends, following the same succession that took place on CBS in the early 1980s) and “Miami Vice.”

“Am I going to be called ‘the reboot guy’? Yeah, probably. Is that bad? Maybe for some people. It’s not bad for me,” Lenkov said. “I can’t let my ego get in the way. If I can get just one person to say, ‘You know what? I love the original, and I love your version. They’re not competing in any way, and all you’re doing is honoring it,’ that’s all I care about.”

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