Can Dynamo save magic on TV?

23:22, Jun 18 2013

I've uncovered plenty of interesting facts while researching blog posts over the years, but perhaps nothing has surprised me as much as this: magician David Copperfield - former boyfriend of supermodel Claudia Schiffer-first appeared on television in 1977, and since then his TV specials have enjoyed 20 wins from 38 nominations at the Emmy Awards.

Copperfield was a force of nature for televised magic in the 1980s, releasing a new special every year (except 1982), complete with corny titles like The Vanishing Airplane and The Bermuda Triangle. I can remember seeing plenty of them as a kid. But since 1995, the star magician has only released one televised special.

It's not just Copperfield. Aside from a couple of specials, pervasive illusionists Penn & Teller moved away from magic and into scepticism with fantastic show Bulls**t! (cancelled in 2010), tried their hand on Discovery with Tell A Lie, and had a reality contest, Fool Us, cancelled last year in the UK. Meanwhile, street magician-turned-television star Criss Angel found his hit show, Mindfreak, cancelled in 2010 as well.

So I ask you: what happened to magic shows on television?

I've been asking myself this question for a couple of weeks, ever since noticing Dynamo: Magician Impossible was joining Tuesday night's schedule (One, 7.30pm). Dynamo is the first magic-based television show to air in prime time, at least on our major free-to-air channels, that I can recall airing since I started this blog back in 2010. And given how many magic shows I can remember catching on the box as a kid, I have to wonder why.

I have a couple of theories.


First, I think we're too cynical to enjoy magic on television any more. Magic shows require a suspension of disbelief that many viewers, particularly older viewers, just can't be bothered with; we can't help but watch a magic trick on TV and spend the whole time wondering how it works, rather than just enjoy the wonder of it all.

Alternatively, is it possible discerning viewers consider that knowledge is power, and that effects our enjoyment of magic on television? When a magician does a trick, it's possible we feel like magicians are holding that knowledge over us, looking down at us, and we don't like that.

Lastly, magic also has a reputation problem. When you think about a magic show, what do you think about? If you're like me, you're imagining dry ice, excessive feather usage, tuxedoes, eighties-style synthesiser music and lots of corny posturing for dramatic emphasis. You might even be thinking about Gob on Arrested Development.

Dynamo: Magician Impossible couldn't be lumped in with those old-fashioned illusionists. In fact, Dynamo was actually pretty cool, hanging out with Misfits star Robert Sheehan and hip-hop singer Trey Songz as he performed an array of tricks that ranged from wondrous - the bank card trick was pretty awesome, while I'm still not entirely sure how he made a card jump out of a pack - to cliché. I'm pretty sure I've seen a dozen variations of the coin-in-a-bottle trick.

But no matter how cool Dynamo might be, magic undeniably has a bad reputation. A lack of interesting or entertaining shows has made magic seem old-fashioned, and combined with films like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (which basically spent two hours pointing out how ridiculous magic is) this cost it a spot in the regular television lineup.

I reckon Dynamo: Magician Impossible is a step in the right direction. Dynamo is a magician for the YouTube generation and his show had enough pop culture nous to keep a youthful audience entertained (even if I'm pretty sure TV One's core audience doesn't have any idea who Tinie Tempah is).

But I still couldn't help myself from speculating on how Dynamo was performing his tricks. And I don't think Dynamo: Magician Impossible is enough to bring magic back from the brink of extinction, at least on television. It might be entertaining in the moment, but this isn't some kind of saviour for magic.

Did you watch Dynamo: Magician Impossible last night? What did you think? And why do you think there aren't any magic shows on television anymore?

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