Category: Magic on TV

Why is TV Magic So Unmagical?

Entertainment Weekly writer Brittany Frederick asks why with so much magic on television recently, we are not feeling magical?

She points to the recent spate of shows about our craft such as Criss Angel BeLIEve; Syfy’s Wizard Wars, Close Up Kings, and Troy: Street Magic; The CW’s resurrection of Masters of Illusion and importing of Penn & Teller: Fool Us.   She likes the craft but apparently not the way it is being translated to television sets.  It is tough to disagree with her take.

She points out that Masters of Illusion has been squished from an hour-long show to 30 minutes (including commercials).  The net effect is that “Dean Cain has to go through acts so quickly that you barely have time to let the tricks sink in.”

Ms. Frederick bemoans – again with our wholehearted agreement – the move from logistics of putting on a magic show to the effect in isolation.
“What was so fantastic about Criss Angel BeLIEve when Spike unveiled it in October 2013 was that it was almost about everything but the performance. We got to know Angel a lot better and understand what it was like for him to do these challenging tricks every day. We learned about the history involved with many of his demonstrations. We met his team, and were able to listen in on their discussions about how to make magic happen, whether it was building a prop or finding the perfect location. We saw when things didn’t go according to plan and how they dealt with those situations. These are elements of magic that most TV audiences probably haven’t even thought about.”

Audiences are now taken from appreciating the history of a particular effect and the very real logistical challenges of presenting the trick, to merely asking whether an effect is performed with camera tricks or dodgy editing.

Check out her full article and well-considered opinions here.

Lance Burton Recalls First Time on Tonight Show

Master Magician Lance Burton gained national prominence with his appearance on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson in October 1982.  Mr. Carson was a magician of considerable ability who translated his talents into being the king late night television.  But he never forgot his magic roots or lost his enjoyment of our wonderful craft.

We bring this up because we just read that a new set of Tonight Show DVDs are being released by Time-Life.  The collection is called The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series and part of that collection includes Lance Burton’s appearances on the iconic show.

The article promoting the DVDs has a great interview with Lance Burton.  He talks about how he appeared on Tonight just one week after moving to Los Angeles from Kentucky.  He went on to appear on the show 20 times (10 with Johnny Carson and 10 with Jay Leno).

“I grew up in Louisville and was doing magic shows all through school. When I was 20 in 1980, I entered a contest sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Magicians, won their Gold Medal contest and as a result was booked for two weeks in L.A. to do what’s known as The Magic Show in a theater there … And I somehow got picked after the talent coordinator came to our preview show on Oct. 28, 1981.

“The next day I’m standing next to the stage manager at “The Tonight Show,” and  I see a hand coming toward me. Instinctively, I turned to shake it and I found I was shaking  Johnny Carson’s hand. He was very nice and complimentary … They rearranged to put me on first, ahead of Dick Cavett. They both had interest in magic, and they talked about magic, and me and my act. It really was the greatest launching pad ever for a career in show business. Johnny worked as a magician as a young man, then did comedy and show hosting …  I realized that when Johnny saw me the first time, he saw himself in this Midwestern kid doing sleight of hand really well. I think that was the basis of our relationship: He saw himself.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without Johnny intervening personally. I can trace 15,000 Vegas shows back to that first ‘Tonight Show.'”

Check out the full interview here.

Magician Julie Eng on CBC

Canadian Magician and Inside Magic Favorite Julie Eng teaches a magic trick that we cannot see.

While there is no evidence this is a result of the recent trade war with Canada, it is nonetheless frustrating as all get out.  According to Twitter, Ms. Eng, a treasure of North America and life-long performer, is part of a new program (or programme for our Canadian readers), called The Science Of Magic on CBC’s “The Nature of Things” show.  In fact, if you visit her well-executed website at www.magicienne.com you can see a link and a tease of the show.  We presume that if one (or more) lives in Canada, that one or ones can see Ms. Eng teach what is described as a simple coin magic trick with which one can mystify one’s friends and family.

Except we can’t because we don’t live in Canada and our antenna won’t pick up the CBC in our part of the high desert.  Our antenna is one of the now defunct Radio Shack’s best –  we’ve got that baby high in the air thanks to a cheap tower we picked up at the annual Burning Man trash and treasure after-fest sell-athon.  So, even with all four wings pointed north and standing 32.5 feet above the sandy desert floor, we can’t get CBC and see the trick or Ms. Eng.

We do get stations from Salt Lake City and Boise but they have very little in the way of magic programming.  In our native Michigan, we could watch the CBC on channel 99 so we could see Hockey Night in Canada and The Big Comfy Couch but not anymore.

Ms. Eng knows magic from her years of training and heritage as a member of a magic family.  (Her father had a magic shop in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada)).  She performs for thousands of private functions, festivals, conventions and special events around the globe – but none apparently in Mystic Hollow, California.  We checked our TV Guide (it came by mail on Thursday) and there was no mention of the CBC listings.  We put a bookmark for the Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune entries for each night of the coming week and sighed.

But Ms. Eng is more than a magician available to millions through the considerable broadcasting power of the CBC.  She is one of the founding organizers of two unique community outreach programs, My Magic Hands and Senior Sorcery.  She took part in Magicana’s productions, a theatrical show, Piff Paff Poof which was designed specifically to introduce the experience of the theatre to young families.

Incidentally, Piff, Paff Poof was our favorite trick featuring diaper pins throughout our career.  We were known world- over for our expert handling of the technically undemanding four-second effect.  We milked it for a full 15-minute bit by having everyone in the audience inspect the pins before and after the trick.  As our career went on, the audience numbers decreased; making the inspection part of the illusion much shorter.

Ms. Eng is frequently seen in the U.S. and beloved by audiences for her energy and innovation.  We’ve seen her perform live and named her an Inside Magic Favorite based on her live performance.  Under new FTC rules, a magic website cannot proclaim a person a “Favorite” or “Our Favorite” based on video, radio description, telegraph communication, shadow puppets or any non-live performance.  We suppose this is in reaction to YouTube’s popularity but we abide by the rules under which we are honored to publish.

So, the bottom line at the end of the day, when it comes down to brass tacks and the real root of things, we like Julie Eng very much and are very frustrated that we cannot see her new episode just because we don’t live in Canada.

[Update]  A reader from Luxemburg – a country that is not in Canada – has written to tell us that one can configure one’s computer to make it appear that one is in Canada and thereby watch programs to be broadcast only in Canada.

While we appreciate the tip, we cannot countenance breaking the FCC laws to see a show – even Ms. Eng’s show.  We become very paranoid when it comes to FCC regulations.  They have vans that drive all around cities looking for people breaking the law.

Our Uncle Taffy (also a magician at one time until his huffing of roughing fluid (he called it “aromatherapy”) rendered him less effective) who used to broadcast golf tournaments with his walkie-talkie, and later a HAM radio set.  The FCC nailed him and almost took away his walkie-talkie and HAM set until they determined neither was powered and he was just talking to himself about an imaginary golf game featuring cartoon characters from the pre-talkie era of Hollywood.  He would have long commentary about Betty Boop going head-to-head with Inky the Clown at Augusta’s famed Amen Corner.  The family thought it was a good habit and kept him off the public buses but the FCC had another view.

Uncle Taffy managed to kick his “aromatherapy” habit and now performs Three Card Monte for friends at his halfway house in Iowa.

We take no chances.

If you are fortunate enough to live in Canada, be sure to watch Ms. Eng tonight on the CBC.  You can tell us about it but don’t send us videotapes (VHS or Betamax) because that seems illegal too and our videotape machine (also from Radio Shack) won’t play tapes anymore because the heads need to be demagnetized and the store no longer sells the demagnetizer cassette.

David Blaine Confusion

David Blaine – Not Adam Rodriguez!

There are stories that we just must cover.  They are so compelling, so moving that we would do our reader (or on a good week, readers) real harm if we failed to report.

This is not one of those stories.  This is the type of story that we cover because we are either paid to include it in our global news syndicate or urged to cover by some of the younger staff members working for minimum wage and discounted access to the vending machines in our headquarter double-wide structure located in the high desert of California.

So this article is for young Natasha; our newest unpaid intern (an “untern”).  Tasha received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia and has previously written for major publications found on magazine racks throughout the English-speaking world.  She was nominated for the prestigious Mena Non-Fiction Writing Award in 2015 and is currently completing her master’s thesis on the syntactical structure of modern languages.

She works here at Inside Magic for the invaluable exposure to real journalism.  We think she lives near the Inside Magic double-wide and claims to not be bothered by the exhausting hours, poor air circulation, incessant emotional berating and inappropriate overtures by our senior staff.  She is either a very dedicated cub reporter looking to learn or setting us up for some sort of employment lawsuit.

But this was her story suggestion.

TV Guide Reports: David Blaine Looks Like Criminal Minds’ Star, Adam Rodriguez.

Adam Rodriguez – Not David Blaine!

The latest edition of The TV Guide reports that Criminal Minds featured performer Adam Rodriguez “has been mistaken for [magician David Blaine] more than once, like the time when he was at a Yankee game and someone asked Rodriguez to take a photo — and then threw in a lame joke for good measure.

“The guy I’m taking the picture with is going, ‘Hey, don’t disappear on me or anything,’ and I’m like, ‘Alright, I won’t,'” Rodriguez tells TVGuide.com. “And then he said something else alluding to magic and I go, ‘Who do you think I am?’ And he goes, ‘You’re the magician guy! David Blaine!’ And I’m like, ‘No!’ And his friends are going, ‘No! He’s on that show CSI: Miami!'”

You can read about other instances of confusion between the magician and Mr. Rodriguez at The TV Guide’s website here.

Magician David Blaine’s Newest Special Scares Us

Magician David Blaine’s latest special was indeed special.

We avoid venturing into controversial waters like Trump v. Clinton, Brexit, Paper v. Plastic, or roughing fluid versus spray.  So, it would make sense that we would avoid jumping into the metaphorical above-ground pool of debate surrounding the issues related to Mr. Blaine’s latest special.  There is nothing to be gained by our belly-flop into the tepid, three-foot deep waters of that construct.  And like the real, temporary, plastic and poorly constructed entertainment device that typifies most above-ground pools, the debate will likely lead to heartbreak, a soaked lawn, unsightly bruising and possible e-coli infection.

Nonetheless, we feel obligated to say something.

Inside Magic places the safety of magicians and their audiences above almost all – except for profit from questionable “dating” website advertisements that make up our monthly cash-flow.  We were concerned by Mr. Blaine’s demonstration of the Bullet Catch trick and his regurgitation of frogs.

We were concerned for his own safety, obviously.  Catching a 22 caliber bullet in your mouth is dangerous – even if you are surrounded by technical and medical experts.  But we were even more concerned by the thought of viewers who either couldn’t or didn’t read his disclaimer, attempting to perform the same effect sans preparation, safety teams or sobriety.

Depending on the count and who is counting, a dozen or more well-practiced magicians have died performing the illusion of the Bullet Catch.  We do not know if there is a way of counting how many magician or lay folks have died or been injured attempting to do the real thing.  If it is a number greater than or equal to one, it is too many for us.

We fully agree that Mr. Blaine cannot be held responsible for the actions of the unprepared audience member who tries to duplicate or better his stunt.  But still, why put the idea in the heads of the very small percentage of our global community who have access to a gun, a mouth guard and video camera?

It made for great television and we were on the edge of our seats – our cat has a hairball issue and we refuse to sit back fully in any chair in the mobile home unless there is sufficient light to see that the coast is clear.  Even though we were watching a recorded event being replayed through our TiVo, we were still anxious.

We thought the show was produced with aplomb and slick as all get-out.  Even though there was a great reliance on camera and editing, it still entertained us to the point that the mobile home now smells of burnt microwave popcorn because we could not leave our TV set – and we don’t even have a microwave or popcorn.

Mr. Blaine told Australian reporters that his performance was to counter “America’s dangerous obsession with guns.”  He said he hoped “the risky feat might ‘demotivate’ his countrymen to think twice about turning weapons on each other.”

He wanted to bring the reality of gun violence home.  “I’d like this to be something for people, when they watch it, they really experience how dangerous and how scary it actually is and maybe in some strange way it would demotivate people from firing guns on other people,” Mr. Blaine said, adding with a laugh, “hopefully, they won’t think I’m invincible and just shoot me when I’m not ready.”

As for bringing frogs up from his stomach, we suppose that is not as big a risk for copy-cat performers.  It was an interesting effect and not one yet available on the internet magic stores.  If folks try to duplicate or outdo Mr. Blaine by swallowing amphibians and puking them up into rich people’s champagne flutes, we probably don’t mind. PETA may have concerns for the frogs and the rich people might not want their fine goblets converted into aquariums but those are two constituencies that fail to read Inside Magic that regularly; so we don’t mind offending them.

We wish Mr. Blaine continued success but hope his viewers heed his warnings and intended message – a gun fired into your mouth can kill you.

Criss Angel Tears into UFC Competitor

Magician and Las Vegas Star Criss Angel tore asunder UFC strawweight fighter Paige VanZant as part of his upcoming October 12th television special.

We are not being metaphorical or figurative.  The images of the physical tearing of this petite powerhouse is startling and not appropriate for those with a faint constitution.  How intense are the images? A UFC website cautions its readers “WARNING: It gets a little graphic, but hey, it’s all fake, right?”  This from a site that must assume its readers are used to a full-color display of gore and body fluid.  We watched the tease video because we felt obliged to protect the sensitive eye(s) our loyal reader – we’re working on rebuilding our audience numbers.  We should not have been eating baked ziti at the time, though.  Perhaps it was the warm, flat red Kool-Aid or the bumpy ride over city streets, but our sensitive stomach did not react well to the imagery; neither did the Uber driver to what she saw in the back seat and the back of the seats of her otherwise spotless and odorless Prius.

Ms. VanZant has apparently done well in the UFC (like “KFC” but with people instead of poultry, we think) and is said to have a devastating kick attack.  Nonetheless, she weighs just 115 pounds and stands just under five foot four inches tall.  We can tell you from the video that she has a very flat stomach, straight spine and some sort of anemia in her abdomen.  She is brave and tough and has proven her ability by fighting competitors in the UFC as well as the perhaps more formidable Dancing with the Stars.

Criss Angel’s Trick’d Up will appear on A&E at 9:00 pm on Wednesday, October 12th.  We are told he will perform 30 illusions and will be joined by celebrity guests (in addition to Ms. VanZant) including: Gary Oldman, Paris Jackson, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, “Blackish” star Miles Brown, Latino pop superstar Belinda, DJ Steve Aoki, and UFC stars Frank Mir, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture.

You can check out the teaser video showing the vivisection of Ms. VanZant here.  It is very graphic and not suited for young people (under 30), older people (35 and up) or folks eating baked ziti in the back of a Prius.

Houdini & Doyle Trailer

We love Houdini and all things Houdini.  So, when we saw the new trailer for Fox Television’s new series Houdini & Doyle, we got giddy – or giddier.  We understand Fox purchased ten episodes so far and plans to launch this spring.  The trailer looks great even with the obligatory and historically inaccurate axe to the Water Torture Cell scene that has been with us since Tony Curtis.

You can check out the trailer here.

Fox has launched a webpage to promote the series with some great interviews, pretty pictures and a pithy exposition of the series.

Inspired by true events, HOUDINI & DOYLE draws heavily on the rich history of the period. Two great men of the 20th Century – Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – grudgingly join forces with New Scotland Yard to investigate unsolved and inexplicable crimes with a supernatural slant.

Ironically, “Supernatural Slant” was the name of our dance routine that catapulted us to national prominence in 1979-1980.  Some no doubt recall our participation in the syndicated television contest series, “Dance Your Booty.”  It was through that show that we learned the important lessons of show business:

  1. Get your money upfront.
  2. Trust no one, ever.
  3. Follow “Dry Clean Only” recommendations – especially for tuxedos.
  4. Stretch before performing.

You can visit the Fox website or for the definitive, straight dope, check out the number one source for all things Houdini, John Cox’ incredible website, Wild About Harry here.

Joshua Jay Fools Penn & Teller & Us

We readily admit we are the lowest of the low.  We are a hypocrite of the first order.  That’s generally true but most painfully evident in our behavior last week.

It started out innocently.  We were catching up on our TiVo of Penn & Teller’s Fool Us.  We enjoy that show and are happy to hear they have been signed for a second season with the CW here in the US.  The show makes us smile and as our little reward back to the producers, writers, directors and stars of the show, we do not fast forward through the advertisements.  We are gracious in that way.

Like most viewers of the show, we take delight not only in seeing great magic but the interesting way Penn attempts to describe what he and Teller believe was the secret at work.  They use vague code words and make reference to great magicians from history to convey the message that they know the know-how.  There is no exposure but for those of us in on the craft, we know whether a magician has been foiled in his or her attempt to fool Penn & Teller.

Joshua Jay is a great magician.  We feel like we have watched him grow over the years; likely because we have.  He began performing in utero and has ascended the lofty limbs of the magic forest with aplomb.  (Sorry for the last sentence.  We farm out parts of our articles to off-shore content creator mills and they a great at maximizing word count – that’s how they’re paid – but struggle with metaphors in our language).

Mr. Jay performed an effect that blew us – and Penn & Teller – away.  We could describe the effect in great detail but won’t because that is evidence of our hypocrisy.  Our father always said, “there’s no sin in beating yourself up, but always know your safe word.”  We’re not sure he intended that sage advice for revealing one’s foibles on the internet but it fits and thus we happily appropriate it for our writing herein.  (Another off-shore sentence beginning at the word “that”).

You can check out a YouTube clip of his performance here.

Penn & Teller were fooled by the trick.  After all, how could anyone have a spectator think of a card and then produce the card as the only printed one in an otherwise blank deck.  Penn & Teller offered their solution but Mr. Jay denied what we assumed had to be the secret.  Granted, we did not see him perform the sleight but figured there could be no other explanation.  We, and Penn & Teller, took him at his word.  If he said he did not use the sleight, he did not.

That left us to engage in behavior that we find contemptible and boorish.

We replayed the video of his routine more than two or three times.

We live alone here in West Hollywood while we await our family’s move to California.  We have fully paid-up subscriptions to the prominent magic magazines, surf the web for news and tricks, sometimes go for walks along Santa Monica Boulevard and visit The Magic Castle.  Those activities can be accomplished in a few hours each and so that leaves us with roughly 14 hours times 7 days a week times 30 or 31 days each month to sit, stand or lie down while eating or sleeping.

We watched the video incessantly for a solid 24 hour period.  We used the slow motion button to analyze every move, every nuance of Mr. Jay’s performance.  We were frustrated by some of the camera angles and cuts but those were not Mr. Jay’s doing.

The proof of a bad motive is often the corrupt results, said the inventor of the modern day Capri Pants.  Once again, lessons from the world of fashion instructs the world of professional magic.  (Other examples include the cape, pockets and the classic pop-up tie).

Precisely one day after beginning our analysis of the Jay Tape, we came to the conclusion that Mr. Jay did not perform the accused sleight.  We also concluded he must have accomplished the miracle by some other method.  We have no idea how he performed the effect.  We love that feeling.

Yes, we are embarrassed to say we used our access to modern technology to discern the secret but we failed.  It was a wonderful lesson learned.  The feeling of being truly amazed was the reason we got into magic.  The attempt to figure out the trick only diminished that sense of wonder.  Congratulations to Mr. Jay for fooling Penn & Teller and us so completely.  It was fantastic.

UK Magician Damien O’Brien: “Old Skool David Blaine”

The Mirror newspaper asked UK Magician Damien O’Brien about his influences and he responded, without irony, “Give me old skool David Blaine any day of the week.”

Mr. O’Brien is one of the stars on BBC Three’s new magic-oriented show Killer Magic.

The six-part series begins tonight at sports a new theme each week.  The young magicians then try to make new effects and impress their colleagues and celebrities.

Mr. O’Brien described himself for The Mirror, “I’m a little bit flashy, a little bit cocky. I like to do visual magic. I like to put magic in people’s hands. I want people to be the stars of the trick. I don’t like to give them any suspicions that let people think that I’m cheating… which I am.”

He describes David Blaine as being one of his major influences.  “I grew up watching David Blaine. I loved his approach doing it close up with regular items. I like the idea of doing things close up and any time with anything.”

We probably will not be able to see the show until it is released on DVD or on the internet but look forward to checking it out.

Jennifer Lawrence Loves Close-Up Magic

We knew we liked Jennifer Lawrence for some reason.  Yes, she is a big star and in that movie about hungry kids fighting each other and watching TV or something.

But more importantly, she was outed yesterday as a lover of close-up magic.

According to ABC News Elizabeth Banks spilled the beans in an MTV interview:
“She loves close-up magic,” Banks told MTV. “That’s just a thing about her. She’s like obsessed with David Blaine.”

The reporter asked Banks if Lawrence, 24, could perform magic, and once again, her response was classic.

“She can’t do any magic,” Banks said of Lawrence. “Except entrancing nations to fall in love with her. But she really enjoys magic tricks.”
We’re not making this up.  You check it for yourself and see here.