'Dive of Death' Plummets With Viewers

The celebrated illusionist adds another stunt to his resume, as he plans to hang upside down for 60 hours in New York's Central Park before diving to the ground.

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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 26, 2008

Magician David Blaine made audiences disappear with his "Dive of Death" special on ABC.

Only 7.1 million people watched the two-hour show on the first Wednesday of the new TV season. It was his smallest audience ever on ABC, which has been his made-for-TV home for nearly a dozen years. For instance, Blaine's most recent stunt, "Drowned Alive," in which he was submerged in a water-filled globe at New York City's Lincoln Center for more than seven days in May 2006, clocked more than 10 million viewers. And back in '00, when he stood inside a giant block of ice in Times Square for 63 hours, for the ABC special "Frozen in Time," he mesmerized an average of 16 million viewers.

What happened? Blaine blames the president of the United States.

Monday morning, Blaine was hoisted up in the air to hang from a scaffolding-like thinggummy erected at the Wollman Rink in Central Park.

In its original "Dive of Death" announcement, ABC said he would hang upside down, "magically walking on the underside of a wire" with no safety net, five stories in the air, for three days and nights, even while sleeping. "Details of Blaine's heart-stopping plunge at the conclusion of the special are a closely-guarded secret," the network gushed.

Blaine's physician told ABCNews.com that when he first heard the name of the stunt, "It scared the [stuff] out of me." The Web site said the stunt would be "all endurance -- no smoke and mirrors," and the doctor added, "How he does this I'm not 100 percent sure." But reporters and bloggers who headed over to see Upside-Down Man started reporting he was taking 10-minute breaks every hour, during which he stood on a platform and doctors monitored his vital signs. The press did not like this; the bloggers liked it even less.

Nor, they report, did the tourists watching think much of it. They felt cheated. Sure, ABC had said, in passing, that Blaine "will pull himself up to drink liquids and to restore circulation," but no one read that and thought "hourly 10-minute breaks in which he would be standing on a platform."

Entertainment Weekly reported on its Web site that a Dr. Massimo Napolitano, who was asked by the network producer to be a "scientific adviser," held a news conference after one such break in which he explained Blaine needed to be checked every hour.

Blaine's PR firm said he had to take the breaks because urinating from five stories up would put everyone underneath him at risk. The publicists also said even Blaine, magic man that he is, could not pee upside down. According to published reports, they also said Blaine's doctors told him if he didn't get his head above his heart and lower his legs to correct circulation about once an hour, he could die.

You can see why ABC would not emphasize this in its news releases.

Announcing your guy is going to spend 60 hours hanging upside down except for 10-minute potty/doctor breaks every hour so he doesn't die is like announcing you are going to hold your breath for 60 hours and only take one breath every 60 seconds because otherwise you might die.

Even less death-defying, EW reported that when the sun came out, Blaine's harness was lowered so an umbrella man could protect him from harmful rays. Geesh!

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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