Category: Magic on TV

Penn & Teller: Fool Us and Masters of Illusion Renewed for 2015

According to Variety, the CW has ordered another season of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and “Masters of Illusion” for 2015.

That is great news for magic fans and portends great things for the future of our great art.

Fool Us originally aired ITV in the UK in 2011.  The production team edited those episodes and repackaged the shows for the CW’s US broadcast this year.

The series received consistently great ratings and – if you asked us – it was a no-brainer for the network to order a new season.

That’s good news but even better news is that they will need to shoot new shows to meet the CW’s order. Penn Jillette promised if renewed, they would film in the US and with US magicians. We have no doubt he will keep his promise.

“Masters of Illusion” had some fantastic acts in this year’s episodes. We do not know if they will need to tape additional acts to meet the renewal order but will report as soon as we hear.

This is great news indeed.

Mirror Online Asks Readers to Choose Best TV Magician

The Mirror Online (UK), looking to build excitement for the launch of the fourth series of Dynamo: Mission Impossible, is asking readers to vote for their favorite TV magician.

You should head over to the site and make your choice from:
Darcy Oake
David Blaine
Derren Brown
David Copperfield
Dynamo
Paul Daniels
Penn & Teller
Tommy Cooper
Troy

There is no space for a write-in vote but they do have clips from the nominees – including our inspiration, Tommy Cooper. (Unfortunately, the sound goes out near the end of the clip but it is still a joy to watch).

Click here to link to the poling site. We don’t know if it will allow you to vote more than once but perhaps that is a concern for us Chicago natives. The rest of the world likely never considers stuffing the ballot box.

Salon Author Decries Houdini Industrial Complex

Online magazine Salon has posted an article marveling at Houdini’s current cache with the public.

We read it a couple of times because we were not sure what the author hoped to express.

Its hook is the recent Potter and Potter auction of Houdini memorabilia and the History Channel’s miniseries, Houdini.

The author interviewed magician, writer and president of Potter and Potter Gabe Fajuri, Houdini historian extraordinaire and author of Wild About Harry, the definitive Houdini blog, John Cox and Lisa Cousins, Houdini-lover and outstanding librarian The Magic Castle’s William J. Larson Memorial Library, among other super-Houdini fans. She seemed to have an agenda and was seeking quotes to support her thesis that magicians are male, hide their secrets for no good reason and that there exists a “Houdini Industrial Complex.”

She writes, “[b]ut there is one irritating thing about Houdiniana today that also dates back to his life: the code of secrecy mystifying his tricks.”

Irritating? Why Irritating? Irritating to whom?

“It’s time to end the reflex of keeping these tricks secret—perpetrated most forcefully among the small group of magicians and magic collectors that in my darker moments I call the Houdini Industrial Complex.”

She admits that she admires – or at least a part of her admires – the commitment to keep magic’s secrets secret. “But part of me believes that it misses the point entirely. In the twenty-first century, it’s not how Houdini did it that matters. It’s who he was.”

We agree that Houdini’s mystique and staying power is due to his personality and star quality.  But he was  also someone who kept secrets. Audiences came to see him perform escapes and magic not provide lectures on how to open a pair of handcuffs or the best way to make elephants vanish.

Presumably, if we agreed with the author and would just expose our secrets, people would like us more. We learned long ago this logic does not work.  “C’mon tell us how you did it.” None of the relationships we thought we could enhance by exposing our magic secrets actually grew stronger.

But, even if we did publish our secrets, the authors says we would still be outsiders.

“Besides outliers like David Blaine, magicians are no longer part of the mainstream cultural conversation. And unlike burlesque, a twentieth century pop culture fad that has reinvented itself by using the language of gender studies, magic, with its largely male population, doesn’t really appeal to women.”

This is the first time we have heard that magic does not appeal to women. Our recent, very unscientific poling of magic audiences has confirmed that those in attendance were just about equally divided between the two main genders.

Perhaps the author is noting there are few female magicians. That is a valid point but we do not believe it can be attributed to a so-called Houdini Industrial Complex, the tendency of magicians to keep secrets or even the eccentric manner in which one magic library catalogs its volumes.

“The library at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, archivist Lisa Cousins explains, uses its own ‘eccentric cataloging system—not Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress’—and is closed to non-magicians. (She rushed to say that it allowed researchers.)”

We did study the Dewey Decimal system in the 1970s and agree that it is unfit for effectively cataloging an entire library of magic books. All of the books would have the same number, 793.8. In fact, the author could go to just about any public library and use that secret number to find troves of books that told her secrets to many effects.

It was nice to see Ms. Cousins quoted in the article but wonder if the author bothered to ask her questions about women in magic – a field Ms. Cousins knows well.

Could a magician perform tricks that he or she has exposed before performing? Sure. Would anyone go to see that magician?

A ventriloquist could do his or her routine without a figure and not hide the fact that he or she was speaking in a different voice.  We probably wouldn’t pay to see it though.

Part of the essence of magic is mystery. Mystery separates what we do from what one might see on a cooking show or at a craft class.

We are not sure what the author hoped to accomplish by her article. We hope she finds satisfaction in its publication and future success with other articles. And maybe it is us – it probably is – but we did not get her point. We think magic is doing fine and do not see a reason to change what has been working for hundreds of years. Again, that’s just us.

Houdini Breaks Records for History Channel

The Wrap – an industry journal – reports the great news that the History Channel’s Houdini was the most-watched cable miniseries premier in 2014 with 3.7 million viewers.

That’s good news for the show but even better: 1.2 million of the viewers were between the ages of 18-49 years old – the “Money Demo.”

That’s probably even better news for future Houdini projects — it proves the Master Magician has legs.

 

Houdini Miniseries Gets Good Reviews in the Trades

The Hollywood Reporter‘s review of the History Channel’s Houdini miniseries is a mixed change bag.

They have high praise for Adrien Brody and his “dynamic performance” that “brings Harry Houdini’s illusions to life.” “History’s Houdini miniseries is a curious carousel of the magician’s life, guided by a frizzy-haired, exuberant and bulked-up Adrien Brody.”

The series is adapted from the controversial 1976 book, Houdini: A Mind in Chains: A Psychoanalytic Portrait and apparently uses some deft editing and camera work to take viewers inside the great magician’s psyche and secrets. The result is a surrealistic weaving of “psychological elements, zooming camerawork, frenetic editing, a modern soundtrack and some well-placed animation to illustrate how Houdini’s tricks worked.”

Boo. Hiss.

Viewers will have a chance to see Houdini’s Vanishing Elephant and the Chinese Water Torture Cell but we are hoping the secrets to these two great effects are not revealed.

“The miniseries nails the most important thing: spectacle. Edel’s refreshingly dynamic direction and Brody’s buoyant performance allow Houdini’s tricks to retain their wonder, even for the jaded modern viewer. That’s a magical feat indeed.”

We are looking forward to its premiere on Monday, September 1st and 2nd at 9 p.m. We will close our eyes when they get to the scary parts or expose tricks though.

Adrien Brody on Exposure of Houdini’s Escapes for Mini-Series

Newspaper writers have their lingo just like magicians.

In the same way magicians use shorthand to describe actions like “loading,” “culling,” “palming” and “cold reading a hot number,” newspaper people describe their practice of leaving the most important part of an article for later paragraphs as “burying the lead.”

When we first read of this practice, we thought it was an environmental faux pas because in our brain, we interpreted “lead” as “lead” and not “leed.” Apparently, “lead” was on our mind and in our crib’s shiny, gnawable paint as a child.

The New York Times puff piece on Adrien Brody and his performance as Harry Houdini in the upcoming History Channel mini-series, Houdini buried the lead big time.

The article discusses Mr. Brody’s love of magic – he was a performer as a child and young man before winning an Oscar® for his role in The Pianist at the age of 26 – his idolization of Houdini and his (Mr. Brody’s) matted “hat hair,” his enjoyment of green drinks and his pride in being bruised by Jackie Chan. Great stuff and fun to read.

But it is not until the next to last paragraph (or “graph” in newspaper talk) that we learn his beef with the series.

Regardless of whether “Houdini” is a hit, Mr. Brody said he is proud of the work he did in the mini-series. He does have one quibble, though. The History Channel decided to disclose the secret methods Houdini used to escape. “I acquiesced because it’s all available online,” he said. “But a magician never reveals his tricks.”

We were excited about the series – and still are – but don’t buy the rationale for exposing secrets used by Houdini and folks performing today.

“I acquiesced because it’s all available online” does not cut the low-cal condiment with us. There are a lot of things that are available online but fortunately – because we hate scenes of brutality, murder, torture, emotional abuse and shaming – the fact that those things are on-line does not mean they are appropriate to be seen or to be shown.

“But a magician never reveals his tricks,” Mr Brody says.

But he did.

Houdini wouldn’t have.

History’s Houdini premieres Sept. 1 at 9 p.m. ET.

Penn & Teller’s Fool Us Soars in Ratings

Penn & Teller’s Fool Us hit a series high with last night’s episode – according to the industry trade publication Variety.

The show seems to be catching on with American audiences and we have our fingers crossed that the CW network will develop a second season, set in the United States. Penn has been discussing the possibility on his weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, but has been very sketchy about whether the CW will pick up the series for a new round.

We hope the ratings boost proves to the folks at the CW to develop the show here with American magicians. We will keep you up-to-date on any developments.

Penn & Teller’s Fool Us Television Show Starts Tonight!

Penn & Teller’s Fool Us appears in the United States starting tonight. We are excited. We usually hate Wednesdays which we call “hump day” because it was when we were usually forced to visit our hunchback great aunt. Now we have a reason to love Wednesdays.

Fool Us was a big hit in the UK last year and it is our understanding its US run will consist of 9 episodes from that series. If folks here enjoy it as much as they did over there, Penn & Teller say the network may launch the show for American audiences with more American magicians.

In an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Penn gives fans of the show hope of a US version:

We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here, but if U.S. audiences like this, and the ratings justify it, the CW tells us we’ll do a second American season — with American magicians. Although there are wonderful, wonderful magicians in the U.K., there quite simply better ones — and more of them — in the U.S.A. It’s simply that America is a bigger country with more magicians out there. That’s all it is.

Penn, Teller and all real magicians enjoy being fooled. We echo Penn’s declaration except for the part about his mom:

Those that fooled us, fooled the pants off us! It was the exact feeling I had when my mom did the first magic trick for me when I was 6! I got that same feeling with this show. It’s a feeling of your whole world being discombobulated for a moment. It’s just glorious!

The show’s premise is simple. A magician comes on, performs a trick and if he or she fools Penn & Teller then he or she wins. If they can figure out how the trick was done, he or she loses.

We appreciated how Penn & Teller took great care to make sure they did not expose methods but provided just enough information to the contestant to confirm that they knew the secret.

Our favorite performers of the series were Piff the Magic Dragon and Shawn Farquhar. Piff makes us laugh no matter what he says. Shawn blows our mind no matter what he does. We were blown away by his card effect and hope it is in the series shown here in the US.

So now you know where we will be tonight. We have a flat screen television viewable from our kitchen in our apartment next to the bakery for dog treats here in West Hollywood. True, it is not our television but in the apartment across the alley but we bought a remote on eBay that works and know for a fact that the young couple who live there will be out tonight. We will be perched on our kitchen counter watching – and if our neighbors have left their windows open, listening.

Read a great interview with Penn about the show in The Sun-Times here.

Magician Andrew Mayne Gets Great Press

Today’s edition of The Sun gives well-deserved coverage to Inside Magic Favorite Andrew Mayne and his new show Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne,

Mr. Mayne is an accomplished performer and prolific inventor of great effects.  The Sun gives us some insight into the self-effacing magician that is rarely the fodder of a typical feature piece about a network star.  It is refreshing to read.

But what about the show’s title?  Shouldn’t all magicians be beloved and trusted without question?  Why would a magician want to begin with the premise that he is untrustworthy?

“I liked the idea of using magic to do something ­different. In this case, instead of just watching me do ­something really cool, you get to see me use magic to help people get revenge on ­someone they love or to ­convey a ­pertinent ­message.”

We admit that our recent search of the internets shows there are no other “revenge magicians.”

(Here is a tip from your family-friendly editor, do not do a search using the words “revenge” and “trick” or “perform” if you are at work or have any concern that humanity is quickly sliding down a well-oiled slope towards a society where one would not want to saunter without first donning a hazmat suit and mega-dosing amoxicillin).

His approach is different than others who claim to be Street Magicians.  

“I can’t just ask someone for a ring, I have to convince them to give it to a stranger.”

That is a little tougher than confronting drunk groups of 20-somethings with a camera crew along to capture the moment.

(Editor: we assume the writer meant that the magician doing the confronting had a camera crew in tow as he confronted the drunken group of young people, not that the magician looked for the unique configuration — rarely seen on today’s city streets — of publicly intoxicated folks matching the show’s focus demographic who happen to also have a camera crew (presumably not similarly intoxicated) in their midst).

The Sun reporter asked Mr. Mayne if his impromptu audiences “see through him” on occasion.

“I think people see through me all the time!”

“I have had times when I do something like making a phone vanish – I then walk away thinking they are still standing there.

“Then someone will run up behind me and grab me and tackle me! They don’t know how it works but they know I had done something to them.”

His goal is not to prove himself superior to those he encounters.  

Yes, his reputation precedes him and, as seen in some of the clips on YouTube, some folks run the other way when they see him coming.

“On the whole, I think many know that I am a pretty nice guy and if I get hold of them, they are going to have fun.”

Check out Mr. Mayne’s website here: http://andrewmayne.com.

David Blaine: The Next Last Greatest Magician in the World?

Magician and endurance maven David Blaine takes to the air this evening in the United States through ABC television to ask Real or Magic?  He is joined in this endeavor by Will Smith, Olivia Wilde, Woody Allen, Stephen Hawking and other celebrities who, we are informed, will react to his tricks.

We like David Blaine and believe he has done much to revitalize our wonderful craft and feel badly that we want him to be different than the way he is.  He is not Doug Henning or David Copperfield or Harry Blackstone Jr. but he is very talented and, in his own way, charismatic and captivating.

Still, we miss Doug Henning performing the Water Torture Tank live on national television.  We miss David Copperfield’s well produced escapes and illusions performed on tape but with the assurance the home audience was seeing the events unfold in real time without camera tricks.  We miss Harry Blackstone Jr. for many, many reasons; not the least of which was his wonderful persona – so serious and light-hearted at the same time and able to convince even the most jaded teenager that he could really perform magic.

But David Blaine is bringing magic to the audience of the times where camera trickery is expected and even celebrated.  Attention spans are short and expectations are high.   Each generation of magic faces a similar challenge.  Jim Steinmeyer’s outstanding book, The Last Greatest Magician in the World tells of Howard Thurston making the transition from vaudeville to the traveling, full-evening show and the ultimate demise of that elaborate show type.  We know of Thurston today because he survived and conquered the new formats and met his audience where they sat.  They were no longer in vaudeville halls watching one of eight shows in a day’s time.  They came to see a full-length show and he had the props and chops to show them what they wanted to see – year after year.

We like David Blaine and wish him the best with his newest take on a classic art.  If there is anyone that can again move magic in a new direction, it is David Blaine.