Penn & Teller Show You The Importance of Show Chemistry

Penn & Teller Show You The Importance of Show Chemistry

by Tracy Johnson

Everyone talks about show chemistry, that undefinable trait that is more felt than described. Experts say that chemistry can’t be forced. It just happens.

Chemistry is critical to a show’s success, but most broadcasters misunderstand what chemistry is-and isn’t.

The PD for a station with a high-performing morning show recently informed me that a change was likely coming, telling me:

The cast just doesn’t get along. They’re constantly fighting, and they never hang out together off the air. The show is doing well, but it’s just bad chemistry.

My response: “What does that have to do with how the show sounds?”.  Spending personal time together is no more important on the air than a football team having dinner together on Wednesday night. This PD is missing the point of what show chemistry actually is.

Show Chemistry

Chemistry is the union of multiple elements that together produces something new, different and better. That requires complementary parts, each playing an important role with an understanding of how each contributes to the whole.


That’s more about respect than personal compatibility. Penn & Teller have performed together for more than 40 years, and have never really gotten along. Penn explains:

Teller and I never got along. We never had a cuddly friendship. It’s a very cold, calculated relationship where we thought we do better stuff together than we do separately. Respect lasts longer than affection.

They have little in common, and as a result, little to share in their personal lives. Teller says:

Opposites — I don’t know if ‘attract’ is exactly the right word, but opposites do sometimes complement.

Aha. That’s the secret. Complementary pieces that create magic when together.

But Isn’t Chemistry Important?

It’d be great if everyone got along and all was smooth on and off the air, but that should not be the basis for casting a show. Strong shows are full of personalities that have a clearly defined role and perform within it.

Of course, if they really can’t stand one another and aren’t able to overcome personal issues, a change may be unavoidable. That bitterness will find it’s way on the air.


Personalities must rise above interpersonal issues. That’s at the heart of a For The Show commitment. Don’t allow ego and personality quirks to disrupt performance.

And to PD’s: Part of your role is that of counselor, keeping talent focused on the bigger picture. Entertainment isn’t always pretty behind the scenes. It’s often messy.

Great shows come together because they understand how to blend the elements into a new product. They may not love one another, but they know they need one another. That’s chemistry

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