MacGyver vs. MacGruber: Who Cares?

O.K. So: MacGyver is an episodic action-adventure television series that ran for seven seasons on ABC between 1985 to 1992.  Lee David Zlotoff created the series and Henry Winkler and John Rich were the executive producers.  Winkler, as you’ll recall played the charasmatic 50’s icon-character, Fonzie on Happy Days and Lavern & Shirley.  That being said, I grew up hearing about the resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver, though I rarely watched the show.  I remember that he always managed to fashion something from nothing, like an improvised explosive device to free him from some captivity, or drinking water out of the right indigenous jungle plants – I also know Rirchard Dean Anderson played MacGyver first, in that the television series ran for seven years and ended in 1992 prior to the feature-length movie starring Kurt Russel that screened in 1994.

And for those in the ‘know’: MacGruber is not another big screen version of MacGyver. MacGruber is a parody, starring comedian Will Forte in the title role, began as a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit and subsequently spawned a series of popular Pepsi commercials.  Oh, and this MacGruber in MacGyver’s-clothing has a $10 million dollar budget – must be for all the sh!t they blow up.

My 2 cents: So what we know, according to Relativity Media, who discredits original television series creator Lee David Zlotoff’s claim that they have infringed on copyright, is one side is peeved at the other.  Translation: We want our cut.  That’s where I take pause to contemplate the following quote from the MacGruber camp’s attorney as published on

“There’s a broad right to parody, and in this instance it’s clearly parody,” said Alonzo Wickers, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in First Amendment law. “I don’t think a viewer will believe the ‘MacGyver’ folks authorized this.”  

And it matters that MacGyver’s folks authorized this, how?  It’s a parody so of course we didn’t ask permission! Hoorah!  Obviously they did not give their authorization.  That part, in the wake of the maelstrom of finger pointing, is clear.  If the MacGruber camp had bothered to contact Zlotoff or his camp the answer would have been – NO, because, well we’re about to release our own, non-parody film and we don’t want the competition. Can you imagine MacGyver competing for box office receipts with MacGruber?  In this the era of Family Guy, South Park, and the celebration of male dumbness, explemified in sitcom hits like Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens – toilet humor and ‘foul for the sake of foul’, plus ‘because we can, man’ – well, it’s obvious not even the original MacGyver would fair a chance.  Have you heard, the hollywood ‘they’ have remade the A-team with Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel, among others, for hell and a hand basket.

At any rate, I think the cease and desist court order served to Relativity Media might shed some light on the subject for Mr. Wickers.  So this is really about? Perceptions.  Oh, and money.  If you read between the lines you’ll see that the only reason this is an issue at all is that Lee Zlotoff already had plans for a return to the franchise with another big screen version of the popular character.  Whether he had a script or financing or the inkling of another film is unclear.  You can’t copyright intention any more than you can an idea you have over tequila shots at two in the morning at a bigwigs place with a view of the Hollywood sign.  By coming out with the parody first, Zlotoff believes that his chances for a successful film are damaged and that is what the suit is really about. Chances aka profits.  I’m reminded of the controversy over Wierd Al Yankovic’s parody of Coolio‘s rap hit Gangsta’s Paradise where the rapper took odds because he felt Yankovic’s version of the song discredited the serious nature of his song. In all actuality the publicity over the controversy served both parties, shedding light on the original song released a year prior (1995) while simultaneously showcasing Yankovic’s version (1996) at the same time.  As of the writing of this post, Yankovic’s version on YouTube was posted 7 months ago and has 3,111,426 views and Coolio’s song was posted a year ago and has 2,004,335 hits.  Obviously since some time has gone by since the songs were first released these numbers don’t mean that much over their total life span.  In addition, Dangerous Minds for which Coolio originally wrote the song, grossed nearly $180 million dollars which translates into a large, captive audience for his song.

In the end: With $10 million dollars at stake, Relativity Media isn’t going to take this one laying down.  But then again, a settlement out of court is all too familiar especially when MacGruber hits theaters today.

Bits & Bites: So check this, a clip of Henry Winkler with David Bowie on the Dinah Washington Show – in 1975.

How cool to arrive someplace, enter at the opportune moment to the cheers and hoots of a captive audience to “rescue the day” – here like Fonzie, from a clip from Happy Days.

On a side note, Richard Dean Anderson played ‘bad guy’ in the 1983 film DC Cab.

I think I’ll always confuse Anderson for Kurt Russel in the role of Colonel/Brigadier General/Major General Jack O’Neill (USAF) in the 1994 big screen film version.


About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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2 Responses to MacGyver vs. MacGruber: Who Cares?

  1. Kenny Adler says:

    I was wondering why you think the film failed? It appears from your review that you haven’t watched the film – or you haven’t as of the writing of this article. What are you thoughts on the success of SNL projects in the future?

    • rorydean says:

      I think the film failed for the same reason many of the SNL projects have failed in that what plays well to a television audience on a small scale does not always translate to the big screen. Now more than at any previous time in film history, stories have to reach a broad spectrum of movie goers who are expecting larger than life stories – even from familiar characters they might know on the small screen. I have not watched the film but feel my thoughts and film experience allow me to comment on the ‘concept’ of the film rather than on the specifics. I plan to watch it, probably a rental – and will update my post here.


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