One of the more established categories of performing arts in the world, a true pioneer in entertainment, is also one of the unsung heroes on the small screen. Magic is in the air, and on the airwaves, and CW mainstay Masters of Illusion, in particular, has had more lives than any other series in the history of television.
Call it magical.
"Everything from grand illusions, to stage and close-up magic, to comedy magic, to escapes," said featured illusionist Michael Grandinetti, who has performed on the series. "Masters of Illusion is the only show on television that gives audiences a view of all of the various styles of magic from around the world."
Now a staple in the Friday 8 p.m. hour on The CW every summer, Masters of Illusion from Associated Television International, hosted by Dean Cain, is a tour de force reality style featuring some of the most popular magicians, illusionists and escape artists as they entertain you with seemingly unprecedented feats. Astounding! Extraordinary! Stupefying! And family friendly!
"What excites me about Masters of Illusion, and the genre itself, is the broad appeal," said Mark Pedowitz, President of The CW. "We know what we are October through May; we focus on the key demographics. And come the summer we now have a genre, and a series, where families can sit down and watch together, which is not necessarily the norm at present. Masters of Illusion is a show that helps promote our fall schedule and get the word out. It is also very repeatable, and very compatible with Penn & Teller, Whose Line is it Anyway? and MADtv or really anything of our choosing."
A Diverse Option
Aside from the sense of wonderment, and ratings, the immediate advantage Masters of Illusion brings to The CW is the diversity. Unlike the array of comic book superheroes that currently define the network, Masters of Illusion on Friday is an alternative option with a built-in audience on an evening where trying to find a traditional audience might take some magic.
"Obviously, we utilize Masters of Illusion to close the workweek with in the summer, which in itself is no easy feat. But it also has great legs as a utility player on any evening and at any time of the year," noted Pedowitz. "We can utilize it anytime we feel the need."
"I foresee many years ahead for Masters of Illusion, added Pedowitz.
One Show - Two Genres
As combination of two genres, reality and variety, Masters of Illusion was launched by Associated Television International in first-run syndication in 1995.
David McKenzie, President of Associated Television International, always had a fascination in the spectacle of magic. McKenzie, the mastermind behind Masters of Illusion, utilized some of the top people in magic (including David Martin and Gay Blackstone, the widow of Harry Blackstone Jr. and daughter-in-law of The Great Blackstone, Harry Sr.) to help produce the television series and scour the world for the best talent. The plan was to offer the ultimate escape for an audience of any age.
"Where else would you find a grandparent and their grandchild, not to mention the parents," equally mesmerized?," wondered Pedowitz. "That in itself is a real benefit."
McKenzie developed the TV show, hired the talent, designed the stage and had a clear goal in its direction for the cameras to make sure the audience saw the full 360 angles never before allowed without revealing how it's done.
The original host of Masters of Illusion was Harry Blackstone, Jr., and the early positive response led to "The World Magic Awards," hosted "Full House" star Bob Saget for Fox Family Channel in 1999. Former network PAX TV aired the next "World Magic Awards," this time hosted by former "Star Trek: The Next Generation" actor Jonathan Frakes, which led to a full season order for Masters of Illusion, hosted by magician Franz Harary. Additional telecasts of "The World Magic Awards" were hosted by Roger Moore in 2007, Neil Patrick Harris in 2008 and Robert Wagner in 2009.
Neil Patrick Harris, in fact, honed his skills as upcoming host of the Emmy Awards and the Oscars on this very show.
Masters of Illusion continued on MyNetworkTV in the 2009-10 season at a time when the newly formed platform was looking to make its mark, and it joined current home The CW in 2014.
"Every television programmer looks for the one thing that will make channel flippers stop and see what it was that they just saw. And magic, the way we present it with Masters of Illusion, offers that anticipation. Everyone is waiting for the reveal," said Jim Romanovich, President Worldwide Media, Associated Television International. "It's the colors. It's the spectacle. Nobody is talking to you. Nobody is lecturing you. This is pure visual entertainment that is perfect escapism and a natural channel stopper."
"Magicians today pull off special effects in real life," added Robert Russo, President and CEO of RNR Media Consulting. "On "America's Got Talent" magicians are always the standout. Las Vegas, Branson...all the top shows tend to focus on the art of magic. People have a propensity for that kind of action, the excitement, the visual entertainment. This almost is a reality show that really is a reality show, and Masters of Illusion is the perfect showcase for it."
A Timeless Option
Viewers at some point will likely tire of the self-promotional, often staged shenanigans of the docudrama formula. Calling all Kardashians! But, unlike the subcategories of reality that tend to come and go, the inherent advantage of magic is the durability. It has been around since the beginning of time and it shows no signs of slippage anytime soon (including a recent scripted drama on Fox dedicated to the art form called "Houdini & Doyle")."
"The magic genre is also a cost effective programming option," added Russo. "For anyone looking to sell a show, it has solid return on investment. And you are delivering a magic show, which is like a red-flag for the audience to respond to. It doesn't get tired."
"I was introduced to Masters of Illusion through my longtime friend and colleague Gay Blackstone," remembered illusionist Aaron Radatz. "I used to assist Gay and her legendary magician husband Harry Blackstone, Jr. when I was in my late teens. Through Masters of Illusion, the show and the tour, my colleagues and I were able to entertain on a whole new level and see the wonderful benefits that come from that."
A Digital and Social Media Attraction
As the broadcast community ponders the future given the rapid rise of digital consumption, another benefit of Masters of Illusion is the interest outside of the traditional landscape. "The genre of magic is perfectly positioned for this new era of digital consumption, with any trick seen on the show an instant attraction on You Tube or any Internet platform," noted Russo. "When each episode concludes, it is not necessarily over. Viewers often want to revisit and study these illusions and tricks. This is an absolute magnet for repeatability."
In a sea of talent-challenged fame seekers, naked dating, little people, giant people, polygamists, pawn shop owners and just plain oddball families, the magic in magic is the feel good uncertainty. You never know what to expect and it seems as fresh as it was decades earlier.
"There is an immediate element of excitement and adventure in a show like "Masters of Illusion," noted The CW's Pedowitz. "And it seems as fresh and original even in a second -- or third -- airing."
A Live Touring Show
Masters of Illusion, additionally, is one of the world's largest touring magic shows, spun-off from the weekly television series, featuring five or six magicians performing in a lineup every night.
"When Sony picked up the show and began selling it worldwide in off-network, it did so well we decided to develop a live tour and we still tour the country," said Associated Television's Romanovich. "Nobody had done this before. Everything has always been very Vegas-centric and it always been around one person, so we made it about the magicians with a focus on their own specialties. We feature each of them on the stage where the show is the star, and not the individual."
Described as the time honored art of the master illusionist combined with the modern design of the 21st century, Masters of Illusion the live show offers the grand illusions, levitating women, appearances and vanishes, escapes, comedy magic...anything any everything you see on the weekly series -- in one live show.
"Until David McKenzie created it, a magic-themed tour of this magnitude had never been done before," noted Romanovich. "Now other groups are trying to capitalize on the live tour but can't sustain it because David understands the Masters of Illusion brand is the actual star here."
A True Inspiration
"It was incredible to be welcomed into the Masters of Illusion team!," noted magician Bill Cook. "It's a thrill to be part of the only true magic showcase on TV and I'm proud to be considered one of the Masters. Being able to share the stage with performers that I admire was an incredible experience and I hope that I can inspire someone watching at home to pick up a deck of cards and give it a try."
Masters of Illusion is one of those shows that can last forever," said The's CW' Pedowitz. "And that in itself is true magic."