Good Luck Puck, but—what I really think about AGT

Wayne Kawamoto recently wrote an article which commented that he thought the judges on ‘America’s Got Talent’were particularly harsh towards the magicians and wondered if perhaps the format of the show was a great deal of the problem. ‘No shit, Sherlock!’ We have seen a great many pros treated harshly by these judges and I think the basic nature of the show has a huge amount to do with it. I can’t help feeling that the 90 second time limit has a great deal to do with the problems, plus the style and role of the judges.

It used to be customary to talk about how the 20-minute playing time of a sit-com had reduced the attention span of TV viewers. Then we grew accustomed to hearing about the MTV impact on the attention span of an audience. If it was longer than a music video or had less kinetic esthetics than the latest MTV offering, it was too long. Well, things are really crazy now, with 90 seconds considered a suitable way to judge who does or does not have talent!

I’m not even going to get into the question of whether these judges would recognize magic talent if it jumped up and bit them in the rear! What they are doing is constructing a ‘reality’ show using performers as their fodder. As we are becoming sadly aware from the world of politics, judging the net worth of a person through tiny sound/video bites is a very different thing from accurately assessing their actual worth or potential value.

The judges need to be entertaining and act according to their ‘scripted’ character, as the producers want them to. Their comments are part of the scripted direction of the shows; their decisions are designed to move the series along as a commercial success. The performers involved fill in 90-second units of time, and magicians have a particularly tough time achieving any kind of representation of their true talents in the process.

A promotional video that a magician used to send to potential clients used to be his act. How quaint that now seems! Nowadays, if you send a video that runs over three and a half minutes, not only will it not get watched but you run the risk of appearing to be a dinosaur for distributing it! The only thing you can do is construct a series of ‘reveals’ from your show, interspersed with audience response shots to show that the actual show if funny. AGT just wants one easily digestible ‘wow’ moment and then they will decide how they want to present/handle it. Maybe they should rename the show ‘America’s Got Wow.’

There is a whole new breed of performers in Las Vegas who want to be Terry Fator, and why not, Terry is talented and has a highly successful showroom career. There is now a bunch of Vegas shows by people who simply don’t have a 60-minute show to save their lives. They got them by creating a series of 90 second video bites that are as representative of their talents as chalk is to cheese. That is why there are so many empty (and complimentary) seats in their showrooms.

Murray Sawchuck is an immensely likable and recognizable personality, but if you watch his actual stage show in Vegas, compared to those big illusion effects from AGT—hmmmmm, it just ain’t the same. What is needed in a live magic show is pacing, personality, continuity, linkage and the development of an arc in the show. These are certainly not factors in the ‘Wham, Bang, Thank You Man’ world of AGT. You need a little more time to assess the talents of a magician. It is easier to judge a singer with half a song, but only just!

 I really wish well to current semi- finalist Puck and everyone who tries to ‘Reach the Stars’ via a 90 second AGT spot, however there is one dirty little secret that needs to be fully understood. This new breed of talent shows are only interested in discovering talent. As enticing as it might be for name performers like Rudy Coby to appear on a show like AGT, their chances of becoming an ultimate winner are astronomically low. The key to Terry Fator’s success was that no one knew who the hell he was prior to his appearance on the show. That’s just good TV.

Maybe I would be a little better disposed towards reality TV if it was more based on reality, and talent shows if they had a little more respect/regard for talent. Most of these shows started to air when a writers strike threatened to decimate the upcoming season. The lack of substantial talent fees didn’t harm things either. I guess I’m just a bit of a grouch who hankers back to the days of ‘real’ (I guess I should say, old fashioned) variety shows.

~ by Nick Lewin on September 4, 2012.

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