After several weeks of promotion, David Copperfield's "Magic Mondays" on NBC's "Today Show" culminated in a segment where the three top finalists competed head-to-head on live television (click here to watch the segment).
Let me start by praising the three finalists: Kayla Drescher, Jeff Prace and Ben Jackson for making the top three. I agree with Copperfield's assessment that Drescher was the winner - congratulations to her. And I appreciate that Copperfield participated in a segment that promotes our art of magic (as well as his show and brand). But why was the final segment with the top three rather underwhelming and below Copperfield's well known standard of excellence?
As I see it, there were two major problems: 1) the effects were not of the level that would make a huge impact on television, and 2) the staging - which contributed to the lack of sizzle in the tricks - was far less than ideal.
Lack of Magic
As far as the effects, I don't know if the contestants were severely constrained in the tricks that they could submit and perform. The "Today Show's" rule page for video submissions (and subsequent consideration by Copperfield to be in the top three) is no longer up, but my understanding is that contestants had to submit a 90-second video. Of course, magicians can perform stunning magic in that time frame (witness all of the great TV material being performed by Justin Flom, Justin Willman and more), but I wonder if there were rules that I don't know about. Did all tricks have to be close-up? Could contestants use a table? Did the effects have to come out of their pockets? Did the competition bar magic props?
When compared against the amazing and entertaining magic that we experienced on the recent "Penn and Teller: Fool Us" (BBC series), which in a similar manner showcased magic talents, the presentations in the final "Magic Mondays" fell flat. I was previously unfamiliar with Drescher but do know the work of Prace from his DVDs. And I think he has stronger material. I've experienced, enjoyed and appreciated Jackson's routines at magic conventions. I think his close-up opener about a business opportunity (I believe it's a Thom Peterson effect) would have played better on TV than the Dan Harlan/Shawn Farquhar effect.
The staging was far less than ideal. The NBC hosts were separated from the contestants with Copperfield and the trophy standing in-between. As a result, the close-up effects lacked an intimate connection with the hosts. Drescher's effect with bottle caps would have greatly benefitted from the use of a draped table (perhaps justified with a bottle on it to recreate the ambiance of a bar?). In all, the contestants were provided with a challenging and sterile environment that did not allow them to truly shine.
Of course, I would like to see segments like this in the future on national television shows that can present magic in a positive light. And if Copperfield is willing to lend his name to such segments again, I hope that future events are worthy of their association with our greatest entertainer.