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Reality TV finding friends in Vegas

If you’re doing an afternoon magic show these days, which would you rather have? Expensive white tigers or face time on national TV?

It’s a leading question. Dirk Arthur seems to be hanging tough at the Tropicana with his 15 exotic critters. But Nathan Burton, Arthur’s afternoon competitor, is moving from the V Theater to a larger room at the Flamingo in April, and still credits his fortunes to “America’s Got Talent.”

Burton’s TV time in 2006 fell right in the early, most vulnerable months of the live venture. “I feel like I got a free ‘Get out of jail’ card,” he says. “It took me a year to figure out how to really sell tickets and (the show) gave me the freedom to learn.”

Now comes news that Penn Jillette will compete on “Dancing with the Stars.” It’s hardly the same thing. Jillette isn’t trying to get established; he’s already a ubiquitous presence in show business, and his motives undoubtedly run deeper than leading ballroom dance buffs to Penn & Teller’s offbeat, highbrow humor.

Still Penn & Teller have 1,470 seats up for sale each night, and there’s a lot of clutter to cut through. Las Vegas performers are finding willing accomplices in reality TV and breaking down the relative isolation that once surrounded casino shows.

It wasn’t so far back that the fame of Siegfried & Roy — or more recently, Danny Gans — almost started and stopped at the city limits. You didn’t see them much on TV. But once your plane landed, the collective clatter from billboards to cabdriver shouted that they were what you needed to see.

Even now, comedian Carrot Top (Scott Thompson) finds he’s famous for reasons people can’t quite fathom. “Sometimes they come to my show and they don’t know what they’re getting into,” he says.

Carrot Top’s situation is complicated by the fact that his TV commercials have been seen by more people than his live show. “People know the name: ‘I just thought you were Carrot Top and you were just famous,’ ” he says.

Guess what? Carrot Top recently taped a reality show pilot now being considered by the A&E cable channel. “This would give me a chance to show some folks, ‘Hey, he’s actually got a (live) show.’ “

The long-term gain of a reality show is “not really selling tickets, but really just keeping the oil in the machine,” he says. “Trying to keep the Carrot Top brand out there and keep people aware of what I do.”

“When they’re in their hotel room flipping through the magazine, there’s what, 100 shows?” Burton notes. “Once you get below the top three or four guys, it’s a free for all. That’s where (TV) helps sell tickets. For some reason, if you go on television, you’re something special.”

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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