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Magicians Wanted – After Reality TV’s Latest Casualty

Magicians wanted for reality TV show. I still regularly get emails of this kind. I wrote an article two years ago about a current TV show which explains why I don’t apply.

The Magicians (BBC1 1st January 2011)

Magic seems to be hot property at the moment. The new BBC series “The Magicians” set to run for five episodes, “Fooled Us”, a new format staring Penn and Teller (Las Vegas superstars) on Channel 4 as well as a new special from Derren Brown (magic or psychology, you decide).

So is this good for magic? It is really hard to say; the viewing figures for “The Magicians” on Saturday night were nowhere near the heady figures which “Strictly… ” and the “X Factor” attracted. Of course this is to be expected and the numbers may not have peaked yet, as many more people may be encouraged to tune in next week. Is this really what magicians wanted when it comes to TV exposure?

Will people be coaxed into watching because of the highly entertaining new format or because everyone likes to see a car crash once in a while? For those of you who didn’t see this rather tired show, magicians were paired with celebrities to create a series of tricks. The magicien Nice audience eventually voted and the pair with the lowest votes was made to perform a rather tame forfeit.

The idea that you can instantly create performances worthy of a prime time TV slot is misguided. Employing celebrities who have no experience of this type of live television did not help. We saw a valiant effort from a newscaster capable of reading an auto cue at a moment’s notice but unfortunately did not have the skill set needed for interaction with a live studio audience.

Like many performers I have spent years trying to create a solid forty-minute cabaret. It is hard work; it requires a lot of failure and sometimes the mountain that must be climbed feels like a molehill and other times like K2. Something that worked so well yesterday suddenly doesn’t seem so vibrant. In short it takes many years to create a solid, workable, cabaret set.

I found myself watching Barry and Stuart a pair of highly inventive and amusing magicians who sell out shows in Edinburgh every summer wondering why they looked so poor and unfocused. Clearly the magicians wanted to entertain but their normal timing and precision was inevitably lost due to the inclusion of a third person. Although it was charming to watch their attempts to include their celebrity guest they were unable to gain a rapport in such a short time.

It’s not that reality TV is dead, far from it but reality TV feeds off the praise and humiliation of those who think, rightly or wrongly, that they have what it takes. There was no edge to The Magicians. One of the main faults of the show was the performances were neither excellent nor awful and either would have been preferable to the lukewarm, slow paced, middle of the road, presentations which we had to endure.

Even Lenny Henry, the host, appeared to have little of value to say. Due to the lack of any in built drama, integral in the X Factor and the like, Lenny Henry seemed to be attempting to build the hype by continually feigning utter disbelief but it was hardly convincing or effective. This can hardly be what the magicians wanted or conceived.

I think we forget the reason that Matt Cardell could survive the three month X Factor run to become the 2010 winner, was as much down to the ten years leading up to his lucky break as to what happened during the live shows.