A+E (which launched the TV career of Criss Angel) wanted another magic series. Producers Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina (known professionally as Joke and Biagio) wanted to do a reality show about revenge. Andrew Mayne, a magician and illusion inventor, was looking for an unscripted series that could showcase his skills in another way.
Aligning these goals produced a twist on established, but disparate reality genres: “How’d he do that?” street magic, dissonant couples, pranking, and melodrama. The result, Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne, premiering Jan. 13, is a funny revenge show that uses magical hijinks to tell stories and resolve differences while wowing viewers. In the pilot, Mayne helps a wife get back at her husband for reneging on a promise to ditch his motorcycle after they married–by making his beloved bike vanish in mid-air.
“Sometimes you need a third party to hold up a mirror to a relationship,” says Biagio. “We do that with a funhouse mirror.”
Mayne’s brand employs the same misdirection as his magic. He comes across more as an impish guy-next-door than calculating trickster, making his antics–like the video below, where he makes an iPhone photo of someone’s car vanish, then has him turn around to see his car gone for real–even more unexpected. “Then the story becomes about the passersby and how they react to the trick,” says Joke.
Mayne’s style of “shock magic” has been his M.O. since his teens, when he began playing nightclubs and working as a production assistant for David Copperfield. It later informed his work as a performer, bestselling author, TV producer, and illusion inventor for Penn & Teller and David Blaine. But finding a use for his mischief is new.
“I’d starred in two pilots for other networks prior to doing this show with Joke and Biagio,” says Mayne. “In both of those I was playing my magic pranks on unsuspecting people. What really sets this show apart is the story element and using magic to help people get back at someone in a playful way. I’ve always been a prankster. This was the first time I had a purpose! That’s what happens when you work with great storytellers.”
But the need to redefine the image of both performer and show wasn’t so readily apparent. Mayne and his producing partner, Mary Jaras, had honed his initial brand of mischievous magic while producing two cable reality TV pilots in 2007 and 2010 that starred Mayne, but weren’t picked up. (Mayne and Jaras also produced G4 Underground, a 2009 newsmagazine about counterculture starring Morgan Webb, for the now-defunct gaming network G4.)
Then in 2012, Joke and Biagio met with A+E to gauge interest in a show about revenge–specifically, people getting even with folks who’d done them wrong, but in a more playful way. A+E, whose successful street magic show, Criss Angel: Mindfreak, ended in 2010, countered with an interest in revisiting that world.
“We realized what a cool device magic could be in getting even–you’re not ruining lives, but you’re making a point,” says Joke.
Joke and Biagio called Mayne and Jaras, who’d partnered with them in 2009 on a competition reality show they’d developed and eventually sold to a studio, but didn’t air. They knew Mayne’s magic background and seen his performance personality in action in pitch meetings, where he’d occasionally wow executives with impromptu tricks. The quartet spent several months brainstorming concepts and tone for a story-driven magic show and Mayne’s place in it.
“It was a real partnership,” says Jaras. “What was nice about Joke and Biagio was, they didn’t try to take over. They built upon the foundation we had created and respected the unique challenges of magic. Producing magic is different than producing anything else, because you have to show the trick without revealing how it’s done, and maintain the element of surprise. You have to set up a framework in which spontaneity can happen.”
Mayne’s real-life antics inspired some of the magic bits that break up each episode’s main story arc. “The mischievousness came from him,” says Biagio. “He told us a story of how he pranked a childhood friend by putting his bike 20 feet up in a tree.”
Counters Mayne, “That was my friend’s little brother. Whenever he was annoying, I would tell him the tree ate his bike. And there it would be, up in the branches.”
A variant of that trick made it on-camera–with Mayne helpfully “locking” people’s bikes by putting the front wheel through the bike rack bar.
Joke and Biagio wanted a fresh take on magic, which usually focused on the larger-than-life personalities of magicians. And they needed to find a way to work Mayne’s more accessible, subtle presence organically into the stories.
“The task became, how do you use mischief and magic in a positive ways to help someone?” says Mayne. “How does a magic trick get to the source of a problem in a relationship and make it apparent to the person causing it?
“I can play the ‘Showman’ on stage or in front of a big group,” he continues. “But here, most of the scenes involve just me, the person I’m doing the trick for, and the viewer watching at home, so I have to dial that down. It’s about finding the right balance of interacting with the person so as not to put them off, but still remain interesting enough for the viewers to stick around.”
“The difference between this show and what’s been done before is, often the people magicians performed for have been faceless, nameless people,” Mayne adds. “Here, they’re an integral part of the episodes. So it becomes less about my personality filling the whole 30 minutes, and more about the story of what happens to these people.”
“Andrew can be subtle,” says Joke. “He comes across like an everyday dude, that mischievous older brother messing with you. But that asset was more relatable than what you think of as a typical magician. He’s unsuspecting and disarming, then he steels your wallet. It’s in the cutest way possible–but he steals your wallet.”
Biago believes Mayne’s time spent behind the scenes, as a producer and illusion creator, enabled him to reduce his time on-camera in favor of a bigger payoff. “He gets the bigger picture,” says Biagio. “He was never afraid to get out of the way of a story or illusion, as opposed to a performer who needs to suck up every second of screen time.”
There was one minor ego quirk that everyone indulged: Mayne’s determination to use his own tricks. In fact, he created more than 100 new effects for this series. “I’m a magic creator and I don’t want to do other people’s tricks,” Mayne laughs. “These aren’t something you’d see in a magic shop. I actively avoided tricks that had been done before. There are 13 episodes and not a single card trick in the entire series!”