The longest-running program nominated for an Emmy this year, “Antiques Roadshow,” proves that when it comes to garnering TV Academy affection, the PBS reality program is as good as new — and perhaps even more popular than it ever has been.
“Antiques,” which begins its 17th season Stateside this summer after delivering its 10th nominee for reality series — “We’re the Susan Lucci of reality television,” jokes host Mark Walberg of the series, which has yet to win — continues to attract a steady fan base of approximately 10 million viewers per week, most of whom are not aficionados of antiques.
“People expect it to be a grandma and grandpa show or a hardcore collectors show, but you don’t have know a thing about antiques to love it,” says Walberg of the series, which travels to six different cities across America each season, enabling regular folk to angle for a chance to stand in line for a market appraisal of whatever prized family heirloom or dusted-off relic they’ve pulled from their upstairs attic. (In each city, as many as 30,000 people apply for the 6,000 tickets.)
“I have young people, old people, parents, kids coming up to me all the time telling me how much they love the show,” says Walberg, who has been with “Antiques” for eight seasons. “I have celebrities and journalists wanting to get onto the show. The show truly cuts across all boundaries. People just dig the idea that they might have something that’s really, really valuable.”
While there are no official numbers to crunch, Walberg estimates that 99% of the participants on the show, which originated as a British TV series in the 1970s and later got a facelift on American soil, choose not to sell their objects even if it turns out they’re in possession of an extremely valuable antique.
“These objects are people’s lives,” he says. “Most people adore the object because it’s theirs.”
According to supervising producer Sam Farrell, the show is as much about American identity as it is about the objects, which have ranged from a Babe Ruth baseball to an original Civil War uniform.
“Every object is connected to somebody’s relationship to this country,” says Farrell. “There is an infinite number of fascinating objects out there that come with an interesting story that relates to a family or an important event. The show is compelling because it’s entertaining, and it’s also got that element of surprise. People love the possibility that the object could be worth nothing or it could be worth a fortune. That interest doesn’t go away. It’s a very successful concept.”
While other reality series often rely on plotline manipulation for added dramatic effect, “Antiques” is an “honest show,” says exec producer Marsha Bemko.
“It’s smart reality television with good, honest researched stories, and I think that accounts for its appeal,” she says. “This is a real show about real people like you and me, and I think people really appreciate that.”
While Bemko is genuinely “honored” to be among the short list of programs nominated, she’s also hoping this is the year “Antiques” gets its due.
“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” she laughs good-naturedly. “I’m really hoping this year we hear our name.”
For Walberg, there is no price one could possibly put on a long overdue Emmy win for “Antiques.”
“If we do win an Emmy,” he says, “nobody’s selling it, that I can tell you.”
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