Dear cable TV execs,
Please give all of those of us who are antique dealers an authentic reality TV show that properly reflects the job and life of an antique dealer, picker, auctioneer, etc. – dealers everywhere and the viewing public in general will thank you. Or at least give Danielle Colby-Cushman (from American Pickers) her own show.
I just watched the latest episode of Cash & Cari last night. I watch it because it deals with antiques, and that’s what I do. I also watch it because I’m a masochistic fool, hell bent on raising my blood pressure to death-defying levels. It usually works. By the end of an episode I’m red in the face and am usually yelling obscenities at the TV set. But Cash & Cari is not unique, it’s just the worst. The only show that is entertaining, funny, informative and a half-way decent example of real life is Pawn Stars.
But it isn’t all Cari’s fault, nor is it Mike and Frank’s fault on American Pickers, it’s the fault of the TV execs and directors who think that their finished product is representative of an industry that generates billions (literally) in revenue each year.
Show us the reality. In a recent episode the guys on American Pickers point at a place (ooh, ooh) and pull in, camera view switches to view of van pulling into driveway, guys go to door, guy in shirt comes out, listens to their little spiel, looks at their paper and then crumples it up and starts ranting and screaming. Yeah, OK. That’s how it works. In reality the guy may have done that, but they they said something to him like, “Hey, wanna be on TV, you’re cool in your whole derelict chic shirtless image.” He says, OK. Signs the release to appear and then they go back and start filming in the van and front yard again, and then he answers the door and does his best (and probably only) acting job of his life.
That isn’t reality. Isn’t reality what you were going for? Or is it just cheaper to produce a show with non-actors in it about antique, rather than paying actual trained actors?
And if a camera man can get to the far reaches of a barn without moving massive amounts of chairs, then Cari Cucksey should just be able to follow him. Stop wasting our time, we’re wearing out our Tivo’s FF button. And the stunts like the recent episode of American Pickers where the firefighters had to break into a barn….yawn. I’m not watching these shows to see staged scenes that don’t really happen in this business. You just get a crowbar and open the door, that’s it.
It would also be nice to have a show to watch that didn’t pull punches, but rather landed some on the appropriate parties. In a recent episode of Pawn Stars, owner Rick tells a guy that wants $300 (instead of Rick’s offered $200) for a military uniform: hey get your own pawn shop, pay 20 people, built a clientele, pay for marketing, insurance, etc., then you can get $300 out of it.
I do realize that these shows need to be edited, you can’t have an episode of Pickers that lasts for 6 hours (which is often how long it takes to go through a house or barn, make deals, load trucks, etc.) but the antique business is not all great deals and happy times. Instead of showing us your characters being scared of pet emus, show us them covered in sweat and grime from digging in piles of stuff in a house of an 87 year old woman who has 24 cats and then leaving smelling like cat piss, covered in the dust of years of dried critter feces, empty handed because they couldn’t come to a deal.
Some recurring non-reality moments in recent antique related shows.
- Camera shots of pickers pulling into driveways, walking to doors, first contact with sellers, etc.
- Auctioneers taking anything on consignment regardless of value or seller’s desired price – especially with no reserve.
- Spending an entire day looking through buildings and then buying two small items.
- Constant optimism and graciousness towards sellers.
- “Stumbling”upon eccentric and quirky sellers (every week) who have cool stuff and want to sell it cheap. Due in part to these shows, more and more calls result in having to deal with an upper middle-class housewife who just saw some of her personal belongings on American Pickers and thinks she should be able to get the same amount.
- Having a signed agreement to sell items for a particular price prior to arriving at a residence. Every wonder why Mike and Frank on American Pickers usually have problems buying things and then they “pop” all over something and “break the ice” and then the seller starts selling everything? A little reminder about the agreement about having to sell stuff for a certain price is a nice push for sellers on that show, but doesn’t happen in real life.
- “Calling an expert” about everything. Antique dealers are usually on their own. In the time it takes to find an “expert,” that seller can go two blocks down and sell the item to an expert, or call another antique store….and they do. The time to buy something is when it’s in front of you.
- Looking everything up. Real dealers use their brains, not iPads. Auctioneers sell thousands of items per week, the vast majority of which they do not research.
- Walking away from deals. When faced with a mountain of valuable, salable antiques, and a seller who doesn’t give a shit about them, you don’t buy three little items, at least without asking about the buying the whole shebang.
Some reality that is NOT shown on TV:
- We rip people off. Not always, but that is generally how antique dealers are viewed by would-be sellers of personal old stuff. Most calls involve a seller who is at best skeptical and wary of antique dealers and at worst raving mad and delusional. There are laws in place that prevent dealers from offering too low of a price, when they know something is valuable. But if the seller sets the price, then it’s perfectly legal for a dealer to give the seller their $20 asking price for a $75,000 Tiffany lamp. Here’s an article about some common scams to avoid when buying/selling antiques.
- Dealers don’t always buy things. Every call is not a buy. We receive multiple daily calls and emails about values of antiques, yet most people do not want to pay for appraisals. Going out to a residence on a call often means leaving empty handed and dealing with some grumpy, stinky, dirty people and many times the “antiques” that were mentioned in the calls are anything but antique and far from valuable.
- We don’t all have cute tattooed assistants. Some of us do, but not most…sorry, this is not an instant benefit of becoming an antique dealer.
- Sometimes we have to buy everything. Sure that box of gold jewelry is awesome in the dead lady’s bedroom, but her family wants rid of everything, including the garbage bags full of dirty adult diapers in the basement. Being an antique dealer often involves a lot of other stuff, like clearing out entire houses, sometimes most of which is garbage, just to get the good stuff.
- Sometimes we lose money, sometimes lots of money. Sure we have years of knowledge, books, the internet on our phones and the ability to call someone for prices if we aren’t sure….but usually we can’t use a magic pause button that freezes the seller while we check something that we might not have extensive knowledge about. If we made windfalls off every time, all antique dealers would drive around in Porches. Number of dealers that I know of that drive a Porsche….one.
- We don’t all have 5 grunts with us on calls. We wish we did, but usually we don’t know whether a call is going to require workers to help. We can call our employees to come help, but often the loading is done by ourselves.
- We don’t say “we could sell it for more online” (good one Cari). A lot of the time our customers are other dealers who specialize in something. If you can sell something for more online, that’s normal, an estate sale is not retail. Nor is eBay. That item might sell for more on eBay than it does at an estate sale in little Podunk town, but it will also sell for more at an auction, and more than that at a high end antique store, and more still at a specialist auction in New York. “We could sell it for more online” is just stupid. Besides, you’re telling someone that who plans on doing exactly that.
- Most antique dealers are not likable characters or charismatic. But, there are lot of “characters” out there that are more dynamic that many of those featured on the current cable lineups. A 75 year old dealer who gave up on dreams and hope of monumental success three decades ago buying and selling crap just because he always has for the past 40 years is more believable than a 40 year old guy who pitches a show for a cable network.
- All sellers are not interesting, many are scary. Get stuck in a basement looking at old homemade porn while the guy from Silence of the Lambs (rub the lotion on the skin guy) talks about how his father made films of him, and you could only wish that you were on a reality show with a crew following you to clown museums.
So in closing, please visit the websites, message boards and forums that your networks created to compliment the shows that you produced. Read all of the comments. Learn from your mistakes. And make a show that is both entertaining and real.
If anyone has more real/unreal examples from current “reality” shows about antiques, please feel free to share.