It’s clearly not about production values, as a hand-held camera follows four magicians around the interior of your standard-issue Las Vegas apartment.
And the concept is familiar, too, at least if you ever watch the Food Network’s “Chopped.” The magicians are split into teams and given random items from a dollar store — chopsticks, a plastic orange — that they use to create illusions and perform them in front of hypercritical judges.
But “Wizard Wars” has the potential to bring good news on two fronts.
First, with Penn &Teller signing on to boost marquee value, the low-fi 11 minutes you can find on YouTube turned into a bigger-budget hour for cable’s Syfy channel. The original air date of March 4 was pushed back last week to an undetermined future date. But it still dangles the hope of reality-TV glory for guys who are named Justin Flom and Shimshi, not Penn or Teller.
Better still, the first hour suggests “Wizard Wars” could elevate magic as a whole.
Any airtime for magicians reminds the rest of the world to care. A similar TV contest, “Penn &Teller: Fool Us,” first aired in the United Kingdom but has been picked up by The CW to run in May. The contest’s breakout favorite, Piff the Magic Dragon, is now part of “Vegas Nocturne” at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
The “Fool Us” contestants step up to perform tricks they hope Penn &Teller can’t figure out. Those can be “routines they have practiced years and years,” says Rick Lax, the Las Vegas magician and writer behind “Wizard Wars.”
The twist for “Wars” is the magicians are “creating brand-new magic routines from random props we have forced on them,” Lax says.
The idea forces innovation, “and I was surprised how good some of the innovation was,” says Lax, who writes about magic as well as working for the online vendor Penguin Magic.
One of the competitors “figured out a way to make a postcard disappear from inside a bottle of soda that completely fooled me and everyone else,” Lax says. “Sometimes people work years and years for tricks. … With these two items forced upon him, that he could do it in such a short period of time is incredible.”
Las Vegas magic shows tend to repackage a lot of “classics” or dress up the same tricks with different jokes.
“When you can create with anything and you have all the time in the world, you’re going to fall into these old habits and patterns,” Lax says.
Even David Copperfield — who is slowly adding new material but has delayed an official relaunch — described an innovative bit involving cellphones as “torture” to develop.
If “Wizard Wars” takes off, we may wish it would have come along sooner.
"We would have a lot more magic if people had forced this upon themselves,” Lax says.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at email@example.com or 702-383-0288.