With an insane ability to turn random things like wine and lamp cords into tools, "MacGyver" inspired a generation of men to become tinkerers.
Now, it just might be Mimi's turn to spark a generation of women.
Beth Keser, a principal engineer at Qualcomm in San Diego, sure hopes so. Keser was among five winners selected this week by a coalition that's trying to get a female version of "MacGyver" on TV in hopes of boosting the number of women who pursue science and engineering careers. The National Academy of Engineering, USC Viterbi School of Engineering and a couple of other groups put on the competition.
Inspired by friends and acquaintances, Keser devised a plot centered on Mimi, a successful tech entrepreneur about 30 years old who's making a second career as an expert witness. Mimi would use science and tech to assist attorneys on a new case each week. An underground hacking group would serve as Mimi's overarching adversary.
She'd lean on friends in science, law and Silicon Valley for advice.
"The stereotype of an engineer is someone working alone in a cubicle, in a lab, but it's really about teamwork, people coming together," Keser said.
Keser wanted to a show that would change people's attitudes toward women, so that the women in tech would feel that they can be promoted.
"The only way that's going to change is if people doing the promoting look at their internal bias," Keser said in an interview. "Using media and entertainment can make a big impact."
This week, she was elated to come away a winner after presenting to judges, including "MacGyver" creator Lee Zlotoff, at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. Now comes the tough part. Like the four other winners, she will partner with mentors to create a pilot script and pitch the show concept to studios in the coming months.
Keser grew up Rochester, N.Y., where friends' fathers worked at companies like Kodak. She wanted to do the same and went on to earn a doctorate degree in materials science and engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her new dream involves seeing her two young, computer-programming, Lego-playing daughters join a workforce in which 50% of engineers are women.
Keser's mentors Tracy Mercer and Lori McCreary, from the production company behind CBS show "Madam Secretary," will help her make Mimi and perhaps that dream a reality.
Information about other winners is available at http://thenextmacgyver.com/finalists.html.