Marietta's Lucas Till is the new 'MacGyver' 2016 debuting on CBS Sept. 23

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Monday, September 19, 2016

In the rebooted 2016 version of "MacGyver," it takes only two minutes and change in the first episode for MacGyver to whip out his signature Swiss Army Knife - for security clearance at a party.

Soon, he's creating extra-powerful magnets to block electrical signals, using plaster dust to help bypass a biometric reader and taking a paper clip to unlock handcuffs.

CBS is bringing back "MacGyver" after a nearly quarter century, the show returning Friday at 8 p.m.. The original starring Richard Dean Anderson was a mid-level performer for ABC from 1985 to 1992 but in a much less competitive environment. For perspective, the show consistently drew an audience size that only the likes of "The Walking Dead" or "The Big Bang Theory" could match today.

"Saturday Night Live" cast member Will Forte brought the show back into the public consciousness with his sketch "MacGruber," which aired multiple times from 2007 to 2010. MacGruber, with guests such as Betty White, Charles Barkley and Anderson himself, he would consistently get distracted and fail to diffuse the bomb every time. Better yet, since July, Netflix has made all seven original seasons available for subscribers.

The CBS "MacGyver" has kept the spirit of the original using a younger version of Angus MacGyver, played by Marietta's own Lucas Till, doing pretty much the same thing: stopping bad guys on behalf of the U.S. government using his knack for science and turning every-day objects into get-out-of-trouble tools.

The narration remains on point. In danger at one juncture in the opening episode, MacGyver utters, "DIY - or die."

Till, 26 - who has played Miley Cyrus' love interest in "Hannah Montana: The Movie" and Havok in the "X Men" films - said his father John  "freaked out" when he found out his son got the role. John Till, a parachutist who works at Dobbins Air Reserve Base as the state safety director for the Georgia Army National Guard, watched "MacGyver" obsessively as a young man.

John said in a separate interview that he would try to replicate some of MacGyver's tricks: "He's creating stuff I grew up doing going in my dad's shop and finding stuff. I had to go and see if what he did was accurate. My brother used to call me MacGyver whenever I tried to piecemeal stuff together."

"My dad was MacGyver," Till said. "He still is. I remember how he would hijack my school projects. When I was like eight, I was supposed to create a picture with macaroni and Popsicle sticks. My teacher said, 'Wow. That plane is really good!' I had to give credit to my dad. He designed it. I colored it in."

CBS even set up a recent screening of the pilot for 300 troops and their families at Dobbin not far from Till's home. "It was just phenomenal," said John, who believes the whole "MacGyver" construct still works even in 2016. (The closest cousin to "MacGyver" after the show ended was USA's "Burn Notice" from 2007 to 2013, courtesy of Jeffrey Donovan's sardonic spy Michael Weston.)

His son began acting and modeling in fifth grade. He signed with agent Joy Pervis, who has also repped Raven-Symone and Dakota Fanning. In 2005, he nabbed a role as the young Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" before graduating Kell High School in 2008.

His dad said his son has not allowed Hollywood to get to his head. He feels the recent Tim McGraw song "Humble and Kind" "fits my son like a tee," he said. "When he gets stressed, he doesn't show it a lot."

Indeed, on set during the sixth episode shot at the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth earlier this month where a decades-old Georgia train was being used for a present-day Germany train, Till appeared humble and kind as well as a bit tired from the rigor of his role.

"I think this show will reward those who loved the original as well," said Till, "but I don't think it will alienate people new to it."

The original pilot of the reboot didn't please CBS executives earlier this year. The only thing they liked was the chemistry between Till and former "CSI" star George Eads. So those two actors stayed, two executive producers departed and a whole new supporting cast came in. CBS hired Peter Lenkov, executive producer for the successful reboot of CBS's "Hawaii Five O," to channel MacGyver and save the show.

In the reboot, MacGyver is a war veteran with an M.I.T. degree who works for the fictional Department of External Services, a powerful secret government group that uses the cover of a banal government think tank.

"The Rising" -- Angus "Mac" MacGyver (Lucas Till) chasing after a plane at Cobb County International Airport (pretending to be a SF private plane airport) on the series premiere of the new drama MACGYVER, Friday, Sept. 23 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Lucas Till, George Eads, Sandrine Holt, Justin Hires and Tristin Mays star. Pictured: Lucas Till Photo: Guy D'Alema/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Lenkov spruced up the new "MacGyver" with modern music and choreography, sometimes using shaky camera work straight from a "Bourne" movie. And in the spirit of fellow CBS crime dramas "Scorpion" and 'Hawaii Five-O," "MacGyver" is more an ensemble cast as opposed to the lone wolf set up of the original.

The producer placed greater emphasis on the interplay between Till and veteran actor Eads, who spent 15 years and 335 episodes as Nick Stokes on CBS"s "CSI." Eads plays MacGyver's colleague Jack who has the physical and gun-shooting skills to back up MacGyver when he is in peril - which is often.

George Eads during his time on "CSI" as Nick Stokes. CREDIT: CBS

Eads is also comedy relief. "My character gives things levity," Eads said, after he head butted a bad guy on a train. "He can be the zinger guy. He's that dog that's good to hunt with."

Till and Eads, off camera, have gone hunting together and often hang out together between takes instead of retreating to their trailers. "George is a mentor to Lucas," Lenkov said, "on camera and off."

The show includes an empathetic boss Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt) and a data analyst Riley Davis (Tristan Mays), who offers technical support. "You hack computers," MacGyver tells Riley. "I hack everything else." MacGyver even has a childhood friend and roommate (played by Clark Atlanta graduate Justin Hires, fresh off CBS's failed effort to reboot "Rush Hour") who has no idea what he really does for a living.

Metro Atlanta plays cities and countries domestic and foreign every week. The opening episode features a shoot out in the Fairlie-Poplar district of downtown Atlanta that pretends to be San Francisco. Eagle-eyed Atlantans should be able to catch DeKalb Avenue and Krog Street Tunnel as well. And MacGyver and his team try to stop a plane at Cobb County International Airport.

"I was surprised by the diversity of landscapes," Lenkov said.

Henry Winkler earlier this year in Atlanta. CREDIT: Jeffrey Stepakoff

Henry Winkler, best known as the Fonz on "Happy Days," helped create the original "MacGyver" and is an executive producer of this version as well. "He's provided a couple of notes which I thought were great," Lenkov said. "We talk regularly. He's very supportive. He gave us a lot of insight into the character and mindset and themes of the original. He also likes that we're torchbearers, keeping it alive. Hopefully, somebody 30 years from now will have an easier time bringing it back and making it relevant for that time."

Another homage to the original MacGyver: Till's mullet-esque hair. His shapely do, as Till noted, falls short of being a true mullet. But it evokes the image.

Richard Dean Anderson in the opening credits of the original "MacGyver" and the new MacGyver Lucas Till. CREDIT: ABC (left), CBS (right)


"MacGyver," 8 p.m. Fridays, starting September 23, 2016, CBS

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.