Is karma kicking Angel? Perhaps


So here’s an ironic, “If a tree falls in the woods” coda to a tale of magic.

In May, I wrote of how Luxor headliner Criss Angel’s taping of a new series for cable’s Spike network, um, borrowed heavily from an original illusion Riviera magician Jan Rouven performs in his show.

The first dose of what some might call karma came when daggers that were supposed to fall upon the “Bed of Death” gummed up in front of cameras and Fremont Street onlookers while Angel filmed the illusion.

Now, Bitter Irony No. 2 comes in the ratings, or lack of them, for Angel’s Spike series “Believe.” The first episode drew about 950,000 live and same-day viewers, compared with 4.3 million for “Sons of Anarchy” that night.

Subsequent episodes haven’t even ranked high enough for “TV by the Numbers” to list it in the top 100 shows of Tuesday nights. On Oct. 29 it was trumped by “Naked Vegas” as well as “Paw Patrol.”

Those ratings don’t count reruns or delayed viewings on DVRs or the Web. Rouven himself was one of those who was letting “Believe” episodes stack up in his DVR. So he was pretty sure, but not positive, the daggers illusion hadn’t aired yet.

“It is a positive thing for me,” Rouven says, “because if not so many people watch it they won’t say, ‘Jan stole it from Criss Angel because he had it in a big, huge TV special.’  ”

Angel is already on the end of more finger-pointing from the magic fraternity (where, I must digress, I have never seen more “frenemies” who simultaneously support and backstab one another).

Cirque du Soleil, still the nominal producer of the live “Believe” at Luxor, relayed an update from Angel’s camp that he must have shoulder surgery in January to deal with a persistent injury.

In February and March, Angel will offer a limited- engagement replacement show without Cirque’s involvement. Angel will perform in it on a limited basis.

The show has not been officially announced, but is promoted on his agency’s website as “WymZkal,” subtitled “World’s Greatest Magicians.” Magicians on social media already are pointing out the similarity of the promotional artwork to a touring show called “The Illusionists.”

“The Illusionists” packages seven magicians by specialty. They include Las Vegans Dan Sperry as “The Anti-Conjurer,” Jeff Hobson as “The Trickster” and Kevin James as “The Inventor.”

“I think it’s a remarkable similarity and coincidence that we have probably the most successful world-touring magic show and seven of the greatest illusionists in the world, and suddenly (Angel) does,” producer Simon Painter says.

“The Illusionists” is a big hit in Europe, playing to 30,000 or more people a week and generating a one-hour TV special. It’s a great break for Hobson and James, who have toiled as journeymen in many a Las Vegas show without a proper break as headliners.

All three, in fact, used to perform in Las Vegas producer Dick Feeney’s “The World’s Greatest Magic Show,” which could be an argument that “WymZkal” is basically a public-domain idea.

“I can’t stop somebody from making another multimagician magic show. There have been plenty before and there will be plenty after,” Painter says.

If “WymZkal” sticks with the near-identical advertising imagery, Painter’s best legal objection might be based on the laws of product confusion.

“It’s a wonderful poster,” Painter says of his marketing. “It’s not really billing the people as stars, but as characters.”

But “WymZkal” hasn’t opened yet to invite comparison, and Painter says the more immediate U.S. goal for his show is Broadway, not Las Vegas.

“I sort of believe that the good guys win,” Painter says. “I actually do think, especially today, with social media and people responding so quickly online, there is nowhere to hide anymore.”

Unless, maybe, on a cable show no one watches?

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.