Criss Angel Gives Us Something To 'Believe' In With New TV Series
October 8th, 2013 12:15pm EDT
We live in a cynical society. We question everything, from the nightly news to the most basic acts of human kindness. Believing in something - embracing something in the moment without reservation - just doesn't happen that often anymore. But Criss Angel, with his new Spike TV series appropriately titled Criss Angel BeLIEve, has something to say about that.
BeLIEve - which shares its name with Criss's jaw-dropping live show at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas - is eleven weeks of the internationally renowned illusionist bringing eleven major demonstrations to television audiences. It's his triumphant return to the medium since Criss Angel Mindfreak ended three years ago. It's the first weekly magic series on TV since then. It's bringing back an art form that most people don't understand the half of.
Most importantly, though, it's a show that will inspire you to believe. Not blindly - sadly, no one has actual magic powers yet, though if anyone did it would be Criss Angel - but it will compel you to forgo the cynicism, openly enjoy the experience of magic, and understand what makes it possible.
Before tonight's sneak preview, BFTV had the opportunity to sit down with Criss and explore what makes BeLIEve the must-see television event of the fall.
It was the success of Criss's live show, that motivated him to come back to the airwaves. "We had really achieved an amazing success story with this show. It's the number-one best selling magic show in the world, it's all original stuff and people are really enjoying the show," he told us. "The show is doing amazing, and so I figured now is the time."
"I missed TV," he added. "It's a different medium. What you do live doesn't work on TV, and what you do on TV doesn't work for a live audience. It's just a different animal."
Not only is it a different animal, but it can be a beast. Even if you don't know magic, consider what we do know about television: a one-hour series is about forty-five minutes long after you remove the commercials. Criss might not have any lines to learn, but he and his team have to condense one major demonstration from conception to execution, as well as a few smaller ones, for each installment of BeLIEve.
How do you slim down an act that took three weeks into less than forty-five minutes? How do you accurately capture the eyebrow-arching, breath-holding insanity of things like a blind high-wire walk sixty feet in the air within that time frame? And that's not even going into everything it takes physically and mentally to do the deed - just what's necessary to get it on the air. Good TV is a hard thing to do, and even moreso when you're showcasing the unbelievable.
So how did he pull it off in spades?
For Criss, it was about finding the right team, starting with the network. "I chose Spike because Spike, I think, has the right sensibility for where I wanted to go," he explained. "I don't want to do a repeat performance of Mindfreak. I did that. It was the longest running show for magic in the history of television and it's the most watched Internet clip by leaps and bounds out there. And that's a tribute to the unsung heroes that are my team. They help perpetuate all those wonderful things that have happened to me and the brand.
"Spike has a different sensibility and it really spoke out of the same voice of where I wanted to go. Sharon Levy, who is the woman who technically signed me there, we're from Long Island, we're from the same town pretty much, and we just saw eye to eye on what the vision of the show and what I wanted to do," he continued. "She supported it and they've continued to support it. This has to be the number one most focused show for the network. The marketing that they're doing - the dollars that they're spending - is really unprecedented. I'm honored and flattered and want to make sure that we come out and it's just a killer series."
He also took it upon himself to refine and improve what he was bringing to the table. "With this show, I have a 60,000 square foot warehouse that we fabricate, we stage, we edit, we shoot, we do everything," he told us. "I'm able to do things at a level that I could never do in the past. It's much more sophisticated and it's just at a whole other level, as far as the magic. I feel pretty confident that this is without a question my best work, and it's something that has never been seen in the world of magic on television as far as a series, and there's demonstrations that no one has ever seen before."
You can check out a teaser for the series below.
BeLIEve has stacked the proverbial deck, relying on Criss's remarkable ability to make magic universally accessible. There are the major demonstrations that will appeal to those looking to be stunned, but also smaller illusions for those whose interest might run a little more low-key. And both fans of magic and those who have never seen a magic trick in their lives will be able to connect with the series, as it gives audiences a glimpse into the process of what it takes to be a world-class illusionist, with explanations along the way. It's not just about astounding you, though it certainly will do that; it's also about helping you grasp what you can't believe you just saw.
That includes more than just how the demonstration is done. It also means how many people have to work together to make it happen, from Criss's inner circle to the crew you'll never see on screen. "There's a lot of them quite honestly," Criss told us. "Here in the live show BeLIEve, we have over sixty people that work the show, from backstage to onstage with this amazing cast. There's a lot of people that are helping facilitate this spectacular experience that the audience has here.
"On my television side, between the physical crew that works at my warehouse to the television team to the editors, there's probably another sixty people working there," he continued. "I'm one person and no one man wins a war. It takes an army. And I really feel blessed to have the very best army in magic for live performance as well as television. I think that's really another reason why I've been so fortunate to have the success I have, because I've been able to surround myself with really insanely talented people."
It also means showing us that being a magician is far removed from the pop-culture images of magic wands, appearing rabbits, and even the 'cool' personas that so many try to put on. It's demanding, draining, and - like the disclaimer in front of BeLIEve says - it can get you killed. Another thing that makes Criss the right person to represent magic on television is that he'll openly discuss the challenges of his profession.
"I work on average, right now, about eighteen to twenty-one hours a day," he explained. "I started this morning about 7:30. It's probably 11:30 [at night]. I've got to go home and watch an episode to give notes on that, I have a conference call with China after that, and I have to be up about five in the morning to jump on a plane to go to Indiana tomorrow morning - and then fly back and do the [live] show."
"For me, right now it's really about a lot of different projects that are going on," he added. "For me to really be able to do them at the level that they need to be done, at least for me, because I don't want to put anything out that I'm not proud of, it's a full time job - but it's really like ten jobs that are full-time."
"I have a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. I go through a lot every day. I'm exhausted. I'm tired," he conceded. "But I think what really gives me the most satisfaction is two things. One, being able to affect people and see that they get happiness out of something I love doing and somehow they connect to it, which is wonderful. Seeing people that see what I do and somehow it makes them feel good, it makes them look forward, it makes them have a better outlook.
"The other thing is, it's a very difficult process," he said. "When I get done with a project that I busted my ass, that I lost sleep, that I cried, that I may be in the hospital because I hurt myself doing it - when I go through that really insane difficult time, because it was so difficult, the rewards are usually the greatest. I feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense of self-worth, a sense of a job well done that if it were easy, it wouldn't have the same meaning. The harder I work, the more rewarding it is.
"For me, ego-wise, when this TV series comes out and I'm watching it on television, I will feel a sense of accomplishment, because I see how much work, how much energy [went into it]. I will feel proud and like I just did something that maybe no one has ever done in my field."
Therein lies what sets BeLIEve apart from anything else in its genre. Where other magic series are purely about the trick, or revealing the secret, this runs much deeper. For every fantastic happening, there's a story about the discipline and passion it requires. And then there's the third part - making the audience believe. Correcting perhaps the biggest misconception about the art form. It's not about the deception. We know that we're being fooled. The point is that, even in spite of that knowledge, we get to see something amazing, and what that makes us feel. It's not believing the lie; it's believing in the moment.
"I think the purest form of magic is the magic of emotion," Criss reflected. "I think when you see me do these demonstrations, there's a bigger message than just a trick, an enigma, an escape. it's about looking at a situation and seeing the impossibility of it, yet somehow, some way, I make it possible. And I think people walk away feeling empowered, feeling good, feeling positive about what they see. I think my success comes not only from doing things that we haven't seen before in the world of magic, but it's more about the magic of emotion. how you feel when you watch it. as opposed to how the trick is done."
Connecting with people is something that Criss is committed to both on and off-stage. When he's not performing, Criss is passionate about his charity work, particularly as it relates to children. He works with a number of charitable organizations, while also maintaining his own, the BELIEVE Charitable Foundation, which he funds completely himself so that everything raised goes directly to children who are underprivileged or terminally ill. Giving back is something that's driven him since well before he became a superstar.
"If I was ever going to be blessed with that success I wanted to try to do something meaningful with it," he explained. "I felt like I've been put here for a purpose, and my purpose is to try to put the spotlight on others that don't have a spotlight. That are going through such a challenging time in their life. They're dealing with real issues like life and death.
"The most important thing in life is to love your own life, and to value it and to love other people, because you live in a better spirit. Right now, if you go online, there's so many people that hate on everybody. You've been blessed with your health and you have time on this earth - why would you spend it trying to put down somebody else, when you could do such wonderful positive things with your life and make a difference?" he questioned. "For me, as I get older, I look at life differently and I look at kids and people that are in need differently. I feel the need to try to do the right thing. If I make a difference in one person's life, then it's been worth it."
You can find more information on the BELIEVE Foundation via his website (crissangel.com).
Also through his site, Criss is making a concerted effort to introduce magic into young lives, with an entire subsection including free trick demonstrations that he personally teaches. "Magic has changed my life and magic is a wonderful art form. i was so moved by magic and what it meant to me growing up that I wanted to try to put that out there for kids," he explained. "i want to give people that experience. Because when you're doing magic, you're learning how to forward think, you're learning eye and hand coordination, dexterity, speaking in front of an audience. These are all different tools that will help you better your life. Magic allowed me to do that. i want to give other people that."
Add all these things up and it's not hard to fathom why BeLIEve is a series unlike any other, and why Criss Angel has risen to the heights that he has. Underneath the astounding tricks and the TV production glitz, This is magic that is not simply epic in terms of the illusions, but epic in how it gives the home audience an inside look into how it's crafted, the heart and determination and discipline that it requires, and what it can move inside of us.
So while Criss is thrilled for the official premiere of BeLIEve next week, he's already satisfied no matter what ultimately happens. "I feel very proud about the product that we're putting forth in this series. I feel that we have succeeded already," he told us. "I think now it's about, I've been blessed to have an amazing, probably the largest fan base in the world of magic. I think I have like five and a half million people that follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. It's all about now, what do the Loyals think? Are they going to be receptive to it? Are they going to dig it? Because I've changed. I've grown. I've had to evolve and transform.
"I'm going to be curious to see how it's received by the public," he said. "But I think when something is really good, it doesn't matter what the package is. I really stand behind it, and ultimately the public will decide whether I do another season or I don't, and I leave it in their hands."
Criss Angel BeLIEve has its preview tonight at 11 PM ET/PT, with the premiere next Tuesday, October 15 at the same time; be sure to visit the official show site at spike.com. You can also keep up with Criss at his official website (crissangel.com) and by following him on Twitter (@crissangel).
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Spike TV