A couple of years ago ghost hunting was all the rage, and every cable network had to have it’s own ghost show. Ghosts are still popular, but the latest TV craze are the auction shows. At last count, I’ve come across five new shows on the cable channels, some of which looks suspiciously like each other.
I guess the granddaddy of all of these shows was PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, which started out as a BBC show in 1979. People bring in their treasures to see what they are worth. The prices were often inflated, but the idea that someone might have hidden treasure worth tons of money was quite compelling, and that concept seems to have driven the other shows that followed.
Another oldie-but-goodie was Cash in the Attic. Again, this got its start on BBC, and an American version appears on HGTV. In this show the hosts and appraisers help people go through their homes to look for items to put up for auction, usually with some goal in mind. Various antiques in the home are evaluated, until enough are collected to meet that goal.
I often had a problem with this show. I can understand selling off possessions if one needs to downsize. However, selling off family heirlooms to take a trip to Disney or buy a used car always seemed like squandering those funds.
And that brings us to the new crop of shows…
Pawn Stars is now in its third season, and has been a big hit on the History Channel. The show follows a 24-hour pawn shop in Las Vegas, where people bring in items to either sell or pawn to the shop. Of course, it’s the more unusual items are the ones that make it onto the show. There is also the added drama of when the shop offers much less than the customer thinks it’s worth, all in the name of making sure the shop makes a profit. In addition to the customers and strange items they bring in, much of the show focuses on the interactions of the thuggish Harrison family and their doltish employee, Chumlee.
The Discovery Channel’s answer to Pawn Stars is Oddities. Instead of a pawn shop, it’s the Obscura Antiques and Oddities Shop in Manhattan. Folks bring in their weird things (such as a mummified cat or two-headed calf skull) to be evaluated and sold. As with Pawn Stars, the shop’s goal is to get the item at a price to make a profit, and the viewers never see how much the item actually sold for.
American Pickers on the History Channel turns the concept around a bit. Instead of waiting for folks to bring items to their shop, two “pickers” travel around the country in search of items for their shop. There is the bartering/evaluation aspect, but the show is also about the unusual people they encounter and the strange hordes of items they find.
These shows are more about dickering and evaluation. There are several new ones that actually feature auctions. Auction Kings on Discovery follows the auction house Gallery 63 in Atlanta. Of course, the more unusual items, such as an 180o’s vampire killing kit, are the ones that get highlighted.
Not to be left out, SyFy Channel has Hollywood Treasure. The Profiles in History auction house searches for movie memorabilia and auctions it off. In the last auction were items from Lost in Space, and the witch’s hat worn by the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. The appeal of this show is in seeing items from beloved movies and TV shows, and the huge prices they fetch at auction.
The elements that bind all of these shows are greed, a taste for the unusual or unique, and interaction between strange characters. All of the ones I’ve watched have been entertaining, and each has their own little twist on this formula.