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Published: Tuesday, 7/19/2005

Magical reality: Criss Angel mixes illusion, stunts in new A&E series

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Fans of magic, Fear Factor, and heavy metal - somehow those three things do go together - will likely be drawn to Criss Angel: Mindfreak, a new series hosted by a magician/musician with long black hair, leather garments, and with chains around his neck.

It premieres at 10 p.m. tomorrow on the A&E cable network.

Angel looks as if he'd be Marilyn Manson's in-house magician, and his name brings to mind Kiss rocker Peter Criss, but he's an articulate even soft-spoken guy.

During the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Criss demonstrated his talent by swallowing a shot of wine containing needles. Then he downed some thread before pulling the thread, with needles hanging from it, from his belly button. Gross? Kind of, but pretty fascinating, too.

Criss describes what he does as "blurring the line between mentalism, illusion, and stunts." Tomorrow's premiere will feature Angel being set on fire in one stunt and levitating on Fremont Street in Las Vegas in another.

"A lot of what I do is completely real. A lot of it is completely an illusion," Angel said. "What I try to do is blur the lines between both of them and leave it up to the audience to determine what is what."

Angel said he doesn't fear death, but he also doesn't take irrational risks.

"I spend many years sometimes developing how to actually do this so I don't kill myself, although the danger is always evident," he said. "I have not come across anything that I wanted to do that I couldn't do. Some take longer to figure out how to do safely."

Angel said Mindfreak will carry a disclaimer discouraging viewers from attempting any of his stunts at home.

"There is a strong warning right up top of the show, and in some of the shows. I underscore that with me personally saying the warning."

Angel appears to have a rivalry going with illusionist David Blaine (Angel said Blaine challenged him to a head-to-head contest but now doesn't return his calls), but he said what sets his magic show apart is the way it focuses on his preparation.

"This is the first show that really unveils the secrecy and lets the viewer actually see the process, the trials and tribulations from inception to fruition," Angel said. "It really gets people vested on that emotional level so that when I perform it, whether they love me or hate me, they're connected somehow."

HBO announced that its comedy series Entourage, the best original program on the network these days, has been renewed for a third season, and that Curb Your Enthusiasm returns for a 10-episode fifth season Sept. 25. But fans of the canceled Carnivale should find a new way to spend their time. It won't be back.

"Never have we gotten besieged the way we have been besieged by Carnivale fans for deciding to not go on with the third season of that show," said HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht. "Literally, 50,000 e-mails over a weekend, and I don't mean the first weekend. It is so over the top, not just in terms of the number, but in terms of things that they say and threaten."

Albrecht said if the series hadn't cost about $4 million per episode, it would have returned.

"If Carnivale was a $2 million-an-hour show, we'd keep going with it, " he said. "It's not a big show for foreign [distribution] You just have to say, 'Can I take this money and allocate it in other ways to appeal to that same audience?' Although after reading the e-mails, I'm not sure."

He also said in the original concept for the second-season finale, Brother Justin (Clancy Brown) was more definitively dead, giving the show a greater sense of closure than it ultimately had.

The first dramatized re-creation of the terrorist hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, will air on Discovery Channel on the four-year anniversary of that infamous day.

The Flight That Fought Back, a narrated documentary with approximately 45 minutes of re-created scenes depicting what happened before and during the flight, was produced by London-based Brook Lapping Productions with cooperation from United Airlines and some family members of the Flight 93 passengers and crew.

Flight 93, a Boeing 757 bound for California, was hijacked by terrorists who planned to crash it in Washington. Passengers who found out about previous terrorist attacks that morning disrupted the hijackers and caused the plane to crash in Shanksville, Pa., instead.

Flight 93 passenger Honor Elizabeth Wainio, 27, was head retail manager for the northeast region Discovery Channel stores. Her stepmother, Esther Heymann, and her sister, Sarah Wainio, support the Discovery Channel production. They appeared on a press conference panel Saturday to discuss the program, which executive producer Phil Craig acknowledged may not be embraced by all the families of the 40 people killed in the crash.

Craig said members of 12 families were interviewed for the program and "we've spoken with and met 90 percent of the others, and I'd say of them, 90 percent are on board.

"A few people didn't want to have anything to do with it just because they just don't want to have anything to do with anything [relating to that day]," he said. "I think there will be some people who don't like it because their family member isn't highlighted, but when you're a filmmaker, you have to balance all sorts of things.

"It is a work of entertainment. It is a film that needs a big audience. It's also a work, I hope, of integrity and power that would move and inspire people."

Craig said the filmmakers tried to select a range of people, including some of the passengers who became famous in death and those who still remain less well known. "Through that, we hope to honor the 40," he said.

Sarah Wainio said she wanted the story of her sister and others on the flight to be shared.

"I want people to be put on that plane," she said. "We have been dealing with it and thinking about it and imagining what happened that day for four years now, but the public might not always be thinking about it I'm grateful that this project is going on."

Heymann said she always expected a film of some sort would be made, and because her stepdaughter enjoyed working for Discovery Communications, "it sort of felt like something my daughter would have been involved in had she been here.

"To say it's been tastefully done sounds, of course, extreme because of how horrible it is, but I don't think it could be handled any better."

A short preview shown to journalists attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour included scenes of the passengers aboard Flight 93 after the hijacking making phone calls to loved ones and reading from a Bible.

Craig said the voices that drive the film are those of the interviewees, predominantly friends and family of the passengers and crew.

"There are some dialogue scenes on the plane, 90 percent of these are based on tape evidence and the memories of people who spoke to people on the flight," he said. "We have invented a few lines of dialogue that's been based on consultation with people who knew them."

A federal law enforcement officer is shown talking to other passengers about hostage-taking in "a very small scene," Craig said, because his parents believed it was the kind of conversation he would have had.

Craig cautioned against calling the film "definitive" because such an account cannot be made until the full cockpit recordings are made public following the trial of accused terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

Since work began in earnest on The Flight That Fought Back a year ago, Craig said the intention was always to be up front about the re-created scenes. "When we don't know something, we'll say we don't know it," he said after the press conference, "and when we do know something, we'll say why we know it."

Discovery Channel's program isn't the only TV project about Flight 93. A&E Network announced in April that it will make an original movie for the 2005-06 TV season that also will re-create the events on board.

A&E has become a muddled mess, a mishmosh of mostly reality lowbrow series ( "Growing Up Gotti ") and middlebrow movies ( "Faith of My Fathers ") with an occasional quality drama ( "MI-5 ") thrown in here and there.

Next up: Taking a cue from NBC's "Behind the Camera " TV movies, A&E will produce films about the making of "Psycho " and "Saturday Night Live. "

On the reality front, A&E will air a five-part series about men with girlfriends who are considering the priesthood called "God or the Girl? " "Dallas SWAT " is "Cops " with a SWAT team. "Jackpot Diaries " trails instant millionaires and what happens after they cash their winning checks. "Rollergirls " follows a team of women who participate in Roller Derby.

While A&E continues to traffic in a lot of junky programming, BBC America is recovering from its over-reliance on British reality imports and is moving back toward its drama-centric roots.

The network previewed two upcoming series that look worthwhile. "Bodies " (9 p.m. Sept. 29) was described by the British press as a darker "ER " as it chronicles the politics, malpractice and black humor inside an English hospital.

The daring "Viva Blackpool " (10 p.m. Oct. 23) isn't intimidated by the failure of "Cop Rock " as its characters sing along with famous tunes ( "Viva Las Vegas, " "These Boots Were Made for Walking ") in a casino-set mystery-thriller.

When "Viva Blackpool " aired in England, the title was simply "Blackpool, " but BBC America programming executive Kathryn Mitchell added "Viva " to the title because she was worried "that people would think it was a thriller about some sort of lake of death. "

The Parents Television Council has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over the f-word airing in the lyrics of a tape-delayed Who performance during ABC's broadcast of Live 8. ABC's new reality show "Brat Camp " had a winning debut Wednesday that was watched by 10.4 million viewers. Don't hold your breath waiting for that third season of Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show. " Chappelle's creative partner has parted company with the network, according to USA Today. NBC has ordered "The Book of Daniel " for midseason. This drama follows an Episcopalian minister (Aidan Quinn) who's on prescription pills and is the only one who sees and hears Jesus (Garret Dillahunt). Steve Guttenberg will play a mayoral candidate and Charisma Carpenter ( "Angel ") will be a young stepmother in season two of UPN's "Veronica Mars. "

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.



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