SyFy’s new hit competition Wizard Wars is like Chopped for magicians. Participants are given items to create an illusion with, then have their work judged by a panel including magic icons Penn and Teller.
Like many great ideas, the concept for SyFy competition Wizard Wars had humble beginnings. Vegas-based magician Rick Lax was having some fun with friends at a restaurant.
“After shows, a group of five or six magicians would go get some cheeseburgers and bring an item we wanted to do a trick with,” Lax said. “We’d just pass it around the table. Sometimes a really good trick would come out of it, sometimes we’d get nothing. But it was always really fun to do and really fun to watch.”
The more Lax thought about it, the more he realized there was an audience interested in the creative process behind magic tricks. About three years ago, Lax and YouTube magic sensation Justin Flom started turning their dinner table game into what would become Wizard Wars. The first competition actually took place in Lax’s apartment.
“We went to the dollar store and picked out four items for each team,” Lax said. “We put it up on YouTube, and people noticed it.”
Among those people were A. Smith and Co. Productions, the company responsible for shows such as American Ninja Warrior and Kitchen Nightmares. It wasn’t until they contacted Lax that he realized just what he had in Wizard Wars. Flom’s huge base of YouTube followers was also a huge help. He’s been called the magician for the MTV Generation, and uses the latest technology to do it. In addition to being a YouTube star, some of his tricks include phones and Instagram. The videos ended up being an elevator pitch Lax and Flom didn’t even realize they were making to TV networks.
“I didn’t have any Hollywood connections, I had an idea,” Lax said. “Before, so much of it was who you knew. Now, you don’t have to know anyone. This all happened because Justin has so many followers and he’s so good at producing videos.”
Now the apartment-born competition has all the budget and production advantages of being on a major cable network. SyFy is reaping the rewards as well. The first airings of Wizard Wars have gone over a million viewers, and the replays have done the same.
“It’s a validation of what Justin and I always knew,” Lax said. “Magic is interesting when it’s presented right. People that don’t like it have seen the wrong magician. They saw it on a cruise ship somewhere and they hated it. That’s not what this is.”
One of the biggest divides between old school magicians and this new generation is how far behind the scenes to go. There are some magicians who don’t think any elements of the creative process should be revealed. Penn and Teller received that same criticism at the beginning of their careers.
“Everyone was up in arms when they started,” Lax said. “When they give something away, it’s just the setup. Immediately after that they do an amazing trick. I think it’s OK to teach a basic principle of magic to get people interested. We pull the curtain back a little, but we never whisk it away completely.”