If any proof was needed of “Antiques Roadshow’s” cult status, the two sisters were it. Dressed in matching black T-shirts with rhinestone letters spelling out “Roadshow Diva,” they were just two of the 6,000 lucky ticket holders who showed up at Cobo Center in June when the award-winning PBS series stopped in Motown.
Detroit was the first stop on the show’s 2013 summer tour. According to executive producer Marsha Bemko, almost 29,000 enthusiasts sent requests for the 3,000 pairs of tickets given out at each location. Stops produce as many as three hourlong shows — Detroit’s first will air 8 p.m. Monday on WTVS-TV (Channel 56). Last summer was its first time within city limits.
WDIV-TV (Channel 4) newscaster Devin Scillian and his wife, Corey, were among the many hopefuls who showed up to check out their treasures. While they didn’t have any new clothes made up for the event, both admit to being regular viewers. “We’ve been fans forever,” Devin said. “It’s been a Monday night ritual for years.”
Most of the tickets were drawn as part of a lottery system, but Corey and Devin obtained theirs from Pewabic Pottery, which was given 10 promotional tickets. Devin collects vintage haberdashery; Corey, a potter, is on Pewabic’s board of directors, and, not surprisingly, collects pottery and other items. “The deal was if you were going to take a pair of tickets, one of the items you brought had to be from the Pewabic collection,” she explained. Her choice: a futuristic piece of pottery they had long been curious about. The Scillians also brought a piece of Tiffin glass, a vintage Dopp kit and a Santos, a small, religious statue that once belonged to Corey’s mom.
Long road to TV
The highly scripted process includes waiting in a general admission line before heading to an open “triage” area where seven generalists assign ticket holders to one of 24 specialty areas and more waits. “We tell people to wear comfortable clothing,” said show publicist Kate Hathaway. “It can be a long day.” That’s true both for the guests and the appraisers, who arrive as early as 6:30 a.m. and often work until final taping at 7:30 or 8 p.m.
People can bring two items, and everyone who comes is assured of an appraisal. Larger pieces of furniture are preselected and brought in ahead of time. Producers look for good stories, interesting history and usually prefer people who don’t know too much about their items. “Part of what we look for is that dialogue between an appraiser and a guest,” explained Hathaway. “If it’s too one-sided either way, it doesn’t make for good TV.”
The Scillians’ appraisal turned out to be one of the few times Devin wouldn’t be seen on television. After passing through triage, they were ushered to the pottery and porcelain section, where New Jersey appraiser David Rago looked at their Pewabic piece. “Can I be blunt with you?” he asked. “If you hadn’t told me it was Pewabic, I wouldn’t have known. It’s not really true to their style.” Probably an experimental or student piece, it dated to about 1935-1945, he thought. “The shape’s not there and the Persian blue is atypical,” he added. His verdict? “Maybe $500 … on a good day,” he reported, adding, “Pewabic’s sexiest stuff can be tied directly to Mary Stratton.” The Scillians’ other items also appraised at $500 or less; none were valuable enough to attract a producer’s eye.
Appraisers who find something interesting pitch it to a producer. Guests who make the cut are taken to the green room, where there’s another wait before taping. About 90 appraisals — a mix of formal, casual and web-only — are ultimately taped.
Overall, Motown didn’t disappoint, said Bemko, who shared two of the top finds in anticipation of the show’s airing. “There was a wealth of material,” including a 1964 passport that once belonged to Marvin Gaye, found tucked into an album bought at an area estate sale for 50 cents. Its insurance value? $20,000. “The interesting thing about passport signatures is that you can be pretty sure they’re authentic,” she said, adding that even hard-core antiques enthusiasts might not have thought about passports as a collecting category. Gaye’s passport is given top billing and is one of the first things seen in the second Detroit episode, she says. “We want a sense of place,” she added. “I love when things anchor us to a city.”
Bemko said that six-figure items can be hard to find, but not in Detroit. “Wealth congregates, even in cities that are suffering to get back on their financial legs,” she explained. “Even in bust cycles, people hang on to what’s precious.” Another Motown treasure: an original “Wizard of Oz” script with notes, brought in by the Cowardly Lion’s great-grandson, who found it in a closet. Insurance value: $150,000.
Bemko looks for big-ticket items, trash to treasure stories, history and lots of human emotion. “I’m a TV producer. … I want to see people who are excited or disappointed when they see what they have.” She never worries that they’ll run out of locations or discoveries. “Think of all those people we didn’t see. … We could come to Detroit five more times.”
Of course, not everyone likes what they hear, said Hathaway, who traveled to Detroit with Bemko from the show’s Boston home base. “One of our appraisers jokes that he’s going to write a book called ‘Grandma Lied.’ The best part, despite some inevitable disappointment, is traveling the country and meeting people.”
Custom T-shirts, Keno brothers’ groupies and the long lines that often snake around exhibition halls are all in a day’s work, according to Hathaway. “We get a lot of specially made T-shirts,” she admitted. “Some really go all out.” It’s part of the fun, she says, both for the people who show up and for the 8 million viewers who tune in each week.
Good news or bad, the fortunate ticket holders who waited in line and got a first-hand taste of the show seemed to agree. Many stopped at the feedback booth after their appraisals to tell their stories. Taking it all in stride was Mary Anne Britton, who had left her house in Brighton at 5 a.m. and expected to be at Cobo until about 7:30 that night. A frequent Detroit Public TV volunteer, she had manned the door most of the day, shepherding people to the right appraisal areas and helping out where needed. Her feet hurt after a long day of standing, she said, but she wouldn’t have missed the “Roadshow’s” stop in Detroit. “I had fun meeting a whole bunch of happy people,” echoing the sentiments of many in the crowd. “I’m just so geeked to be here.”
8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, Feb. 10
WTVS-TV (Channel 56)
Did you know?
Did you know?
■$1,500,000 is the highest appraisal value ever recorded. (pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/201104A36.html)
■Almost 1,300,000 appraisals have been conducted. The first show was taped in 1996 in a Concord, Mass., school gym.
■No last names are used on the show, only first names
■A Seymour Card Table, ca. 1794, was a top yard sale find in 1997. The table was purchased at a garage sale for $25. Leigh and Leslie Keno estimated its value at $200,000 to $250,000; it later sold at auction for more than half a million dollars.
■ A copy of the book “The History of Magic,” with an inscription from the owner’s old college roommate, Jim Morrison of the Doors, was appraised for $8,000 to $10,000 in Baton Rouge, La.
■ Someone runs around with an oil can during taping for squeaky wheels. “Imagine what they do to our audio,” publicist Kate Hathaway says.
■ The show works with more than 140 appraisers; about 70 are on hand per show. Local appraisers David McCarron and Bob DuMouchelle have been regular contributors.
Khristi Zimmeth writes the Trash or Treasure? column for Homestyle. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.