As any women who ever asked her mid-1990s hairstylist for “The Rachel” haircut knows all too well, television has the power to inspire its viewers. And not just in terms of beauty and fashion trends, but in an intellectual capacity as well. Just as the CSI franchise has increased the interest in forensic careers and Breaking Bad inspired a new generation of would-be scientists, MacGyver did the same for engineering in its 1980s heyday. After all, who wouldn’t want to know how to escape from the clutches of a couple of mob guys with nothing more than a fire hose and a trusty Swiss army knife?
“I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences because of MacGyver,’” says Lee Zlotoff, the show’s creator. Which gave the folks at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering an idea: If there’s no current on-screen hero encouraging the next wave of great engineers, why not create one? And why not make this MacGyver a missus?
That’s the idea behind “The Next MacGyver” project, an online competition aimed squarely at engineering television’s next great problem-solver. The process is simple: Entrants (which can be a team of people) must submit a handful of key details about the proposed series—including a title, logline, pilot episode synopsis, and description of the “new” Mrs. MacGyver—by May 1, 2015. From there, the competition’s crack team of judges will whittle the competition down to their 12 favorite ideas, whose creators will square off this summer in a pitching event, with five winners emerging victorious.
"We’re not looking to reboot the MacGyver franchise or bring back guys with mullets," state the contest's creators. "We are asking: 'Can you out-MacGyver MacGyver?' Can you imagine that next female hero that will inspire a generation of young women to see themselves as engineers?" In addition to USC and Zlotoff, the National Academy of Engineering and The MacGyver Foundation are the contest's main partners.
While there’s no guarantee that the proposed show will get made, “The Next MacGyver” crew will prep its winners to find success as best they can, both with a $5000 prize and by pairing them with two mentors—one engineer who specializes in the field in which the imagined protagonist operates and one veteran Hollywood producer. Producers Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Fringe), Lori McCreary (Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman), Clayton Krueger (3001: The Final Odyssey), and CSI creator Anthony Zuiker are among the pros who have already signed on as mentors.
Now they just need The Next MacGyver (feathered hair optional).