The Magician (TV series)
Bixby as Tony Blake.
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||21|
|Running time||60 minutes per episode|
|Production company(s)||Paramount Network Television|
|Distributor||CBS Television Distribution|
|Original run||March 13, 1973 (pilot); October 2, 1973 (regular series) – April 15, 1974|
The Magician is an American television series that ran during the 1973–1974 season. It starred Bill Bixby as stage illusionist Anthony "Tony" Blake, a playboy philanthropist who used his skills to solve difficult crimes as needed. In the series pilot, the character was instead named Anthony Dorian. The name change was due to a conflict with the name of a real life stage magician.
Blake was a professional stage magician who used his skills to solve crimes and help the helpless. Years earlier, Blake had been in prison on a trumped-up espionage charge in an unnamed country in South America. He discovered a way to escape with his cellmate, which began his interest in escapology. The cellmate died and left him a fortune. The escape, presumably followed by exoneration of the false charges that had led to it, led to Blake's pursuit of a career in stage magic, which made him famous. He never forgot his unjust imprisonment, and it motivated him to seek justice for others.
Initially, Blake used his Boeing 737 jetliner as a base of operations; it was outfitted as a mobile residence ("It's like any other mobile home, only faster.") with live-in pilot Jerry Anderson (Jim Watkins). Blake frequently received assistance from acerbic columnist Max Pomeroy, portrayed by Keene Curtis, and his brilliant, wheelchair-using son Dennis (Todd Crespi). Midway through the program's run, the idea of the airplane was dropped and Blake took up residence in a posh apartment at The Magic Castle, a real club devoted to magic acts. At the same time, the supporting cast of the show was replaced with a new, single character, Dominick, a somewhat comical sidekick played by Joseph Sirola. No explanation for the changes was given in the series. Jerry continued to make occasional minor appearances (with Watkins retaining a place in the opening credits) and Tony recruited Jerry and Max together for one further case in the new format.
Magic on the program
The show is noteworthy in that Bixby, a keen amateur magician, insisted on doing all of the magic himself, without any trick photography, although it was not possible for this to be the case in the TV-movie/pilot. He was instructed in these performances by the program's technical advisor, Mark Wilson, who was credited as "magic consultant." Once the format changed to have the hero based in a magic club, Wilson could occasionally be seen on the stage there, as well. In addition to escapes, Bixby performed feats of sleight of hand, mentalism, and stage illusions. After the series' cancellation, Bixby went on to host a string of magic specials on NBC and a series in first-run syndication.
Though it ran only a single season, The Magician was an influence on later series. The show was a favorite of The X-Files creator Chris Carter, who worked it into Special Agent Fox Mulder's "origin" story: a teenaged Mulder was waiting to watch The Magician when his sister Samantha was abducted by mysterious forces.
In the Quantum Leap episode "The Great Spontini", Scott Bakula's character, Dr. Sam Beckett, leaps into an amateur magician in 1974 who aspires to appear on Bill Bixby's The Magician; however, owing to his partial amnesia, Dr. Beckett, at first, can only recall Bixby's connection with The Incredible Hulk, which had not been made at that time.
The Incredible Hulk series featured an episode that paid homage to both The Magician and Bixby's earlier series, My Favorite Martian. In The Incredible Hulk's "My Favorite Magician" episode, Bixby's character became the temporary apprentice to a stage magician played by Bixby's Martian co-star, Ray Walston. Mark Wilson was on hand again as the episode's "magic consultant" as well.
Blake is but one in a long line of magicians who double as detectives. Others include:
- The Great Merlini, created by author Clayton Rawson.
- Norgil the Magician, created by Walter B. Gibson.
- Chandu, a character in radio mysteries who was played on screen by Bela Lugosi.
- Blackstone, the Magic Detective, a 15-minute radio series which had a tie-in with several comic books.
- Mandrake the Magician, a comic strip hero created by Lee Falk. Mandrake appeared in a 12 chapter serial for Columbia studios. A failed TV series pilot starred Anthony Herrera in the title role with Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Lothar. Unlike most crime-solving magicians, Mandrake is sometimes presented as having actual magical powers.
- Alexander Blacke, the hero of the 1986 television series Blacke's Magic, played by Hal Linden.
- Jonathan Creek, starring Alan Davies, was a series produced by the BBC from 1997 to 2010. Creek was a designer of stage illusions who used his expertise to solve impossible crimes.
- Naoko Yamada, played by Yukie Nakama, the main character of the Japanese drama Trick.
- Ace Cooper, the protagonist of the unrelated animated series, The Magician, which aired in the Fox Kids programming block between 1997 and 1998. Cooper was a stage magician in the future who solved crimes with his sidekick, Cosmo.