When I heard that NBC had hired Uri Geller to be a judge on its magic competition show, “Phenomenon,” I knew the perfect person to review it: James Randi. He joined me this afternoon to talk about the show, give kudos to Criss Angel for the way he handled his role as a judge, and reveal a couple of things about the not-so-stupendous tricks that were performed.
By the way, words like “trick,” “magic,” and “magician” have been banned by NBC from use during the show — they’re playing up the supernatural garbage to a sickening extent. If they keep it up, Randi says he’ll use YouTube to expose even more of the methods behind their tricks.
In the words of Toronto Star columnist Vinay Menon, “Why is Uri Geller about to appear on our television sets this evening? Shouldn’t this widely discredited ‘master of the paranormal’ have vanished like a magician’s rabbit 30 years ago?”
Speaking of which, I had Randi tell the story again of how he helped Johnny Carson show up Geller on a 1973 “Tonight Show” appearance by making sure that Geller and his cronies couldn’t get access to the spoons and other props before they were used on the show. Needless to say, Geller was unable to do a thing once the cameras were rolling.
Ironically, Randi says he already knows who’s going to win the competition: an Israeli guy named Guy Bavli, who will be featured on “Phenomenon” next week.
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The biggest problem with “Phenomenon” is that it’s too over-produced, in the style of so many other primetime competition shows. In this case, it comes off as both slick and cheap at the same time, much like Fox’s lame attempt earlier this year to find a hot new movie director with “On The Lot.”
That explains the presence of such geniuses as Carmen Electra, Rachel Hunter, and the could-he-be-more-of-a-stereotype Ross The Intern from “The Tonight Show.” As my wife pointed out, they’ve actually found people who don’t even qualify for the D-list of celebrities. It’s fair to say to say they’re not exactly adding a skeptical perspective to the proceedings.
It’s clear that the magicians and mentalists on “Phenomenon” have worked professionally at various levels of the showbiz ladder, and they know that nothing they’re doing is even remotely supernatural. It’s all well-rehearsed and, in many cases, the tricks have been done better by other, more famous performers. Even Criss Angel pointed this out, when he said to the guy with the nail gun “I’ve done that trick with a real gun” and credited Banachek for creating one of the mentalism illusions that another contestant did.
And yet, NBC keeps promoting this as something other than magic. That’s why they play up Geller’s lame little tricks (as Randi points out, he only has three tricks in his entire arsenal) and allow him to spew his ludicrous mysticism. At least two of last night’s performers insisted they “don’t know” where their powers come from. Of course they do — from copying more talented magicians!