Women compose just 37 percent of prime-time TV characters, and according to a study by USC Professor Stacy Smith, just 21.1 percent of characters in science and technology careers are women. The character of a female engineer is the most rare of them all.
To help bridge this gap in representation, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering, in collaboration with Lee Zlotoff, creator of the TV series MacGyver, are launching a worldwide crowdsourcing competition called “The Next MacGyver.”
Sponsored by the United Engineering Foundation, the project is seeking ideas for a scripted television show featuring the leading role of a female engineer.
Five winners will have an opportunity to be paired with top Hollywood mentors who will help them develop both the protagonist and an engaging script for the pilot. The goal is to develop viable concept packages for pitching to a network or distributor and create a TV series that inspires young women to consider the pursuit of path toward engineering.
“We could not be more pleased to have some of Hollywood’s top talent donating their time to help develop compelling women engineer characters and, hopefully, bring them to life on screen,” said NAE President C.D. Mote Jr.
The long-running MacGyver series, launched 30 years ago on ABC, followed the adventures of resourceful government agent Angus MacGyver, who deftly used his engineering skills in life or death situations, often with duct tape and a 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.
“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,’” Zlotoff said.
Diversity an ingredient for innovation
A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse showed a decrease to just 19 percent in the number of U.S. women pursuing engineering bachelor degrees between 2004-2014.
“When you see an engineer or a tech person on a TV show or movies, something like 90 percent of them are male,” President Barack Obama has said. “So if you never see you in that position, it’s hard to imagine, well, that’s something I should be doing.”
Added USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos: “The new face of engineering is not that of Dilbert in the cartoons. It is the face of bright women and men spanning societal, racial and ethnic divides. In this view, diversity is not a political slogan, it is an essential ingredient for innovation.”
The mentors who will be paired with the finalists are Clayton Krueger of Scott Free Productions (3001: The Final Odyssey); Lori McCreary, CEO and founder of Revelations Entertainment (Madam Secretary); Roberto Orci, writer and producer (Scorpion, Sleepy Hollow, Hawaii Five-O); and Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CSI franchise.