Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Reality Check is a Deadline feature series covering the players, programs and trends in reality television.
During the last 12 of its 18 years on the air, Antiques Roadshow has been nominated 11 times in the Outstanding Reality Program Category (including “reality” TV’s former Emmy categories, Non-Fiction Program/Series). The exception was 2004: the year the Outstanding Reality Program category was introduced, Roadshow was a no-show on the nominees list. (Another sedate PBS series, Colonial House, made the list then, and the win went to Queer Eye).
In 2014, could Roadshow finally find an Emmy in its attic? Marsha Bemko, series executive producer since 1999, hopes so. “We’re the granddaddy of a genre,” she tells Deadline. “I sort of feel like Cinderella”. But Bemko adds it’s better to lose than not be invited to the party at all. “I will be devastated not to get the 12th nomination —I’ll go ahead and say that on the record,” she admits.
Beth Hoppe, PBS chief programming executive and general manager, audience programming, was more cavalier about a win. “We value awards . . . but we don’t live and die by them,” Hoppe says. “We are very proud of Antiques Roadshow, proud of the producers, but it probably wouldn’t make a huge difference if we won. Win or not, Hoppe says, “we solidly stand behind ” the show.
While offering no opinion on Roadshow’s potential for a 2014 win, Primetime Emmy Awards chairman Bob Boden calls the show “a favorite with Emmy voters. I think what it represents to the viewer is also what it represents to the voting pool. It’s a good mix of information and personality and a little bit of a travelogue”.
Emmy 2014 introduces a split between “structured” and “unstructured” reality categories. Roadshow’s signature format — expert appraisers helping ordinary folks discover the worth of their keepsakes — lands the program squarely in the “structured” category. Still, anytime a category expands, it allows more programs a shot, Bemko says.
Before 2004, Bemko recalls Roadshow competing with documentary-style programs including Bravo’s celebrated Inside the Actors Studio. “I always felt at a disadvantage — they were narrative programs, and it seemed like that carried more weight,” says Bemko. “But if you’ve done both —and I have— you know it’s just different kinds of challenges. In reality, frankly, you can’t reshoot,” she adds. “You have to work with what you’ve got. I’ve got a six-figure shoot day here. I can’t go back and do pickups”.
Bemko believes Roadshow, based on the British series, has more in common with American Idol than with most PBS nonfiction fare. “We’re not competition, but the skills are very similar,” she observes. “We have a vast cattle call to see what’s good. The same kinds of mechanics are in place”.
In 2012, Roadshow’s producer, public TV station WGBH in Boston, tried a Roadshow spinoff with a competitive edge, Market Warriors, presented by Roadshow host Mark Walberg. It only lasted a season, fraught with controversy when host Fred Willard was dropped after being accused of a lewd act in an adult movie theater (Walberg stepped in to host). Hoppe said PBS found it could do “as well or better” holding the audience with a Roadshow re-run after each fresh installment instead of the new program. “Market Warriors did well, it actually skewed a little bit younger than Roadshow (but) it didn’t feel unique enough,” Hoppe said. “When you are watching Antiques Roadshow, that is a PBS show and there is no question about it. We sort of stuck with the gold standard”.
Charges of fraud have dogged newer “treasure hunt” shows — most notably A&E’s Storage Wars, sued in 2012 by fired cast member Dave Hester for allegedly staging some of its storage locker finds. “The one thing you can be sure about Roadshow is everything happens when it happens, exactly as it happens,” Bemko asserts. “We’re not pre-scripting anything, not setting anything up. In fact, if a person presenting an antique seeks a pre-appraisal or even calls the show beforehand to talk about at item “you’ll be disqualified from taping. We really are clean, like a journalist would run it”.
That’s not to say the TV audience sees it all, Bemko acknowledges. During a shooting day on the road, “we see between 5 and 6,000 people and appraise between 10 and 12,000 objects. We tape 70 to 80 appraisals, and another 20 or so for the web. You can see 10 to 12,000 objects in some cities and not see a six-figure object”. Most “antiques” seen, she says, are worth less than $100.
Audiences love a big find, but they love a fake even more. “It’s disappointing for the owner, but frankly they are the best teachers we have,” Bemko says “Audience members are enjoying the lesson, or happy it’s not them — I’m not sure. They always ask for more fakes”.