Move Over Antiques Roadshow – Pawn Stars Have Arrived

While I’m still waiting for them to pull out a set of Roycroft candlesticks, a Grueby vase or a Stickley rocker, two new shows on the History Channel have got me watching television on Monday nights.

Breaking out of their crusty mold, the producers at the History Channel have a pair of unexpected hits on their hands – along with more than 7 million new viewers. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, a pair of treasure hunters scouring Midwest barns and basements on American Pickers, are a couple of road warriors looking to buy a rusty bicycle or gasoline station sign for a hundred bucks and flip it for a fifty dollar profit. Working out of their Antique Archaelogy shop in LeClaire, Iowa, these likable buddies aren’t afraid to get dirty as they dig their finds out of weeds and cobwebs. “I like ‘man’ antiques,” Mike declares.

More often than not, their greatest challenge is not in finding something they want – from advertising memorabilia to motorbikes – but in getting the owner to part with it.

American Pickers quickly became the #1 new series in the 25-54 age group with 3.2 million viewers and has already been renewed for a second round. Mike and Frank spent most of their first season driving the backroads of Illinois and Iowa – Grant Wood country – before dipping down into the South for a change of scenery. The best part of the show are the negotiating sessions, as they struggle to break the ice with a reluctant collector. Their modest profits (“Picked for $50, Sold for $75”) leaves me wondering how they paid for their motel rooms, food and fuel and still had anything to show for their time on the road. But, hey, its fun to watch….

Out in Las Vegas, pawn shop owner Rick Harrison, his father and son take a different approach: they let the sellers bring the merchandise to them. As the camera rolls, the Pawn Stars evaluate everything from Rolex watches and a Civil War wooden leg to guns, coins, airplane propellers and an 18th century diving helmet.

And, boy, are they ruthless.

Rick can stand by and listen as an appraiser explains to the owner how his antique musket could be worth $15,000 at auction – then offers him $3500 for it. Take it or leave it. Unlike Mike and Frank back in the Midwest, Rick and his family stick to the Golden Rule of Negotiations: never fall in love with anything.

“Everything has a story,” Rick declares. “And a price. I just have to get it at the right price.”

But in their own way, the three generations of Pawn Stars are every bit as likeable as Frank and Mike. I credit it to their brutal honesty. No beating around the bush here. “Okay, so what do you want for it?” is their standard opening line.

And it has paid off. Not only have they transformed a small pawn shop into a multi-million dollar business, but they have become the History Channel’s #1 show.

American Pickers vs. Pawn Stars, Las Vegas vs. Iowa, pawn shops vs. barns: its a study in contrasts – and worth some of your time on a Monday night.

– bj