This is part 2 of a 4 part series exploring the lessons I learned from performing on the season premiere of the hit The CW Network series Penn & Teller: Fool Us.Part 1 is available here.
When I first heard the concept of “Fool Us” — I hated it. It sounded like a show that emphasized everything that was wrong with magic, and that was going to embarrass the performers who were desperate enough to be a part of it.
Adding to that initial unease was some of Penn & Teller’s history with TV. As good as their live work is, what makes their live show phenomenal does not translate easily to mass market TV, and the projects they’ve been involved with on TV have been mixed (from brilliant early turns on Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with David Letterman; to the awfulness of “Off the Deep End” and “Celebrity Apprentice:” they have 1,475 seats a night to fill, and that means needing to drive awareness through outlets that are not always equal to their tremendous talents). Based only on its log line, this looked like bad reality TV that was more about creating attention than delivering quality.
Boy, was I wrong.
A premise that sounded horrible was executed with total class in a way that respected the performers that participated and attracted top talent eager to be involved. It has become one of the premiere showcases for great magic on television, while wildly outperforming its ratings expectations.
The “Fool Us” gimmick was a clever hook to drive attention to the show, but it quickly became clear that the producers were far more interested in providing a great magic show than in grabbing attention through conflict-driven reality TV. If anything, and Penn has noted this on his podcast, the “Fool Us” aspect ensures to the audience at home that what they are watching is real magic done live; in the words of The CW’s press materials, it is magic done without “camera tricks, secret edits or helpful camera cuts.”
The show reveals a deep love for magic, and a care that it be shown at the highest level and in the best possible light.
As soon as I realized that, watching season 2 of the show from my home, I wanted in; and I wanted in badly.
I had two choices:
I chose option 2, and went about figuring out the best way to get my work in front of the right people, without simply throwing it into the black hole of an anonymous submission.
Magic is a small community. Someone involved in the show (I’m being vague here so they don’t get overrun with requests), happened to be a Facebook friend of mine. “Facebook friend” is the best description — we had interacted some when I was a teenager via email and online forums, but we had never met personally and had never had a conversation online in at least a decade.
I sent him a polite Facebook message, complimenting the whole Fool Us team on the great work they were doing on the show; and asking if they were open to receiving video from acts that might not already be on their radar — and who would be the best person to contact. I nervously hit send, and waited.
Three days later I got the email address of the talent producer attached to the show. I wrote to this person to find out what they needed — what was their timeline, what kind of material were they looking for. At that point, we were into the process of booking the show.
It happened only because I was crystal clear about what I wanted, and I was ready to ask for it (both in the sense of being willing to reach out, but also in the sense of having worked to have something of value for the other party).
But it all began by choosing to be proactive rather than reactive.
Next up: The hard work that comes after getting your foot in the door.
Tune into The CW network on Wednesday, July 13 at 8p to watch Nathan’s performance on the Season 3 Premiere of Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
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