TRY to imagine this scene at a television network idea-pitching session:
Antiques show strikes
gold with viewers
Pitchman: OK. Here's the deal. We rent a big warehouse and we get people to drag in all kinds of junk from their attic and garages and then experts tell them how much the junk is worth.
T.V. Exec: Does someone get killed?
Pitchman: No. This isn't fiction. It's real. These would be real people trying to find out how valuable their junk is.
T.V. Exec: And they don't know the cameras are on them, so we catch them doing wild and crazy things?
Pitchman: No. They just wait in long lines until they get their two minutes with an appraiser.
T.V. Exec: Sorry, buddy. This sounds like the dumbest idea since "The Donnie and Marie Show."
And that's what I thought the first few times I tripped over the "Antiques Road Show" and other auction-type programs on television.
Then one day, I notice they were discussing a little antique table that looked a lot like one we have in our house. Suddenly, the show became EXTREMELY interesting. The appraiser described the various details of the table -- which had one wobbly leg and looked like it had been used to prop up an automobile axle -- and then asked the owner if he had any idea how much it is worth.
The guy says, no, it was just something he picked up at a garage sale in Hicksville for five bucks.
"Well, then you did very well," the appraiser smugly says, adding something like, "This is a table that came over on the Mayflower and later was owned by George Washington before it ended up in the White House during the Eisenhower administration and, oh, did I mention the Magna Carta was signed on it? I'd say it would go at auction for about $4 million, except you might lose a couple of bucks because of the wobbly leg."
THE table owner then says something stupid, like, "Wow, that's great! I guess we better not use it as a bird feeder in the back yard anymore!"
He also says he has no plan to sell it but instead will hand it down to his children. Right about then you want to rip the idiot's eyeballs out.
Not sell it? Are you crazy?
Of course, my little table that looks exactly like the Magna Carta table actually turns out be a knockoff of a knockoff of a knockoff and worth about $1.99.
But it doesn't matter. Now I'm hooked on these shows. I can't wait to see the next item up for discussion because I may have the same thing in my house and I may be an instant millionaire.
And that's why these weird antique shows are suddenly the most popular shows on television. They have drama, heart- ache, the thrill of victory, the agony of owning a replica. It is the true American dream: We may have some little piece of junk around the house that turns out to be incredibly valuable.
You really feel for these people who drag their pitiful belongings through the long lines, waiting for the appraiser to give their life either a thumbs up or thumbs down. You cheer for the winners, groan for the losers and hate the guts of anyone who, after finding out he owns a priceless object, announces he plans to keep it.
Listen, I don't care how long that beat-up little vase has been in the family. If I find out it's worth $15,000, it's sold, pal. If that rug covered with dog hair is a rare collectible, it's gone. And that hand-painted porcelain bowl they'll be appraising next week looks an awful lot like the one we've been using as a dog dish. I can't wait.
Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
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