On KCET in 1985: 'Penn & Teller Go Public'

KCET is celebrating its 50th anniversary year with a series of stories, reflections, and flashbacks, like this throwback below. For more and to participate in our next 50 years, join us at kcet.org/50.

Penn & Teller, circa 1985"We are just a couple of very eccentric guys who have learned how to do a few cool things."

It was January 1985 when Penn and Teller came to KCET to shoot a show called, "Penn & Teller Go Public." They were basically two unknown magicians whom our station manager, Stephen Kulczycki, happened to see perform in L.A. the previous fall. That is how fast the deal went together. I asked Stephen recently about what he remembered about seeing them and this is what I learned.

[In] late summer/early fall of 1984 my wife and I saw Penn & Teller in a club in Westwood called Dillon's. I went up on stage as the witness to see a close-up performance. Teller ate 100 needles and then swallowed an entire apple. He then swallowed some thread and promptly pulled those 100 sewing needles, now all attached to the thread, out of his mouth. All this occurred 12 inches from my face. It blew my mind. I approached them that night about a simple TV special.

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Penn & Teller Go Public

The first time I saw Penn & Teller was rehearsal evening. I was loading graphics in the production area for another show and was watching these unknown performers on the monitor. They were rehearsing the first routine for the show, "Casey at the Bat." They had put Teller into a strait jacket, hung him upside down and made him perform the routine so they could get the camera angles figured out. They needed to rehearse it more than once, because it was tricky, as you can see in the above video. Each time they wanted to perform it again, Cordelia Stone, the director, had to clear it with Teller, because hanging upside down, took a lot out of him. I was fascinated with it all.

On taping day, I was scheduled to work camera utility, but another engineer became available and I got sent back to my regular job. I still am sorry that I didn't get work it, because it was a great show.

Since we are never far from the next pledge drive, we shot two versions of the show, a 30-minute show and a 45-minute pledge show that eventually aired on PBS. To extend the show, we shot the extra footage of the pair over to our local Mayfair Market (now the Gelson's Market in Silverlake). Penn & Teller had a food fight, right there in the produce aisle. After they shot the program, but before it aired, Penn and Teller went off to New York and then their careers exploded. They became super famous, and of course, it was great to see. I suddenly could say that I knew them when.

"Penn & Teller Go Public" would go on to win an award. Stephen Kulczycki explains:

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting selected it as the U.S. Public Television entry in the European Broadcasters Golden Rose Competition for best light entertainment program in the world, held in Montreux Switzerland in the spring of 1986. In a bizarre process of international voting Penn & Teller Go Public won the competition.
Sometimes the production gods work in your favor. That was definitely the case with "Penn & Teller Go Public." A great show, all these years later.

This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.

About the Author

I am a Broadcaster by day and a blogger by night. I love to paint, cook and travel with my family. I am also the owner of a rescued cat, who rules our lives.
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