Controversial 90s Series With An X-Files Star Could Never Be Made Today

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

The entertainment landscape of the 90s was a bold time of experimentation, with some shows, like The Real World, establishing new genres, while others, such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, updated a classic format for modern audiences. Most experiments, however, never reached those levels, including the confounding multi-part Fox special, Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, in 1997, which featured The X-Files star Mitch Pileggi.

The series promised to explain how magic acts are performed.

Breaking The Magician’s Code Was A Television Event

The show, which featured a masked magician and a heavily marketed mystery of who it could be, was an immediate hit for the wrong reasons. Corny and overly dramatic, Breaking the Magician’s Code only held together as well as it did thanks to the smooth narration of Mitch Pileggi, Assistant Director Skinner from The X-Files. Even that is being a little generous, as Pileggi did his best with what he was given, but what he had to work with would set social media on fire today.

Quick, Name An Active Magician That’s Not Penn Or Teller

Breaking the Magician’s Code was controversial before it aired, as revealing the real way illusions are performed is, indeed, breaking the magician’s code often resulted in the performer being blackballed from the industry.

That’s why the magician is wearing a mask, though, as it turns out, unless David Copperfield was behind the mask, no one in the general public could tell who it was. The show itself was harmless, with the masked magician performing a trick and then a segment in which it was broken down, explaining step-by-step how the illusion was achieved.

The Secret Of Houdini’s Trunk

That format could be used today with no issues and will likely become a hit on social media. The problem with Breaking the Magician’s Code, or what makes it amusing based on your point of view, is Mitch Pileggi’s overwrought narration that goes from dramatic to leering the scantily clad magician’s assistants all over the set. If you have ever wondered what it would sound like if Assistant Director Skinner got drunk on campus and was hitting on sorority girls, this is the show for you.

For example, when demonstrating Houdini’s famous trunk escape, Mitch Pileggi reacts to the Masked Magician getting an assistant to willingly go into the trunk with, “I wish he’d show us that secret.” Breaking the Magician’s Code is filled with quick comments like that referencing the assistants, and their outfits. Since he’s clearly reading off a script, Pileggi has not been canceled, and everything is tame compared to your average Instagram comments today, but again, it comes off a little weird.

The Real Magic Is How Much A Magician Relies On The Assistants

Yet, and here’s the kicker: by constantly referring to the assistants and directing attention towards them, Pileggi’s narration is, in fact, part of the act. Breaking the Magician’s Code demonstrates that most of the work is done by the women on stage, serving as distractions and talented performers with expert-level timing and coordination. The magician wants the audience to focus on them so that he can move parts around and get props into place, which is what the series is all about.

Pileggi Defended The Show In Interviews

At the time of the show’s airing on Fox, Mitch Pileggi did interviews talking about it, saying that everyone who guessed the Masked Magician was Valentino was completely wrong. As it turns out, the Masked Magician was Valentino, a performer the magic community had pegged from the very first episode, and Pileggi couldn’t come out and say that, but it made his defense of the show come off a little strange.

With a disappointing payoff and the dulcet tones of The X-Files Skinner discussing putting women into trunks, Breaking the Magician’s Code kept coming back.

A Time Capsule That’s No Longer Streaming

Fox aired a special a few years later, in 2002, that revived Breaking the Magician’s Code as a one-off, and then it returned as a series in 2008, and yes, Mitch Pileggi returned each time, missing only a few specials that were instead narrated by broadcaster and game show host, Mark Thompson.

Breaking the Magician’s Code, in 2024, is a fun relic of a distant time; while the leering and comments about the assistants can be a bit much, they, again, fit the performance aspect of the series and aren’t meant to be taken seriously. But it’s just strange enough that today, that part of the program would be a hard sell. Sadly, it’s hard for anyone today to enjoy the show as it’s not streaming anywhere except in some low-res YouTube uploads.

That’s a shame, as everyone needs to hear Assistant Director Skinner’s bad pick-up lines he never got a chance to use on The X-Files.