PBS again taps viewer curiosity about old things

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A spin-off of Antiques Roadshow, PBS’s most popular series, will visit memorable guests from past installments and guide viewers through the ins and outs of the antiques market.

Antiques Roadshow FYI debuts early in 2005 as a half-hour weekly magazine program. PBS will pair it with another new half-hour series to be announced next month.

PBS announced the new Roadshow series July 8 [2004] during the Television Critics Association summer press tour. The network also announced a three-part history series, Guns, Germs and Steel, to be made with Lion Television and National Geographic Television.

Antiques Roadshow FYI will answer “whatever happened to” questions about former Roadshow guests, provide expert advice to collectors and tell inside stories of the antiques world — mysteries of valuable antiques that have disappeared or tales of their discovery. “We’re going to give our viewers little mysteries,” said Marsha Bemko, e.p. of both series. Missing artifacts and other puzzlers are popular topics in magazines for antiques buffs, she points out.

Bemko initially proposed a show that collected stories of past Roadshow guests and the antiques they presented on the show. But, in researching a pilot, she quickly discovered that most guests hold on to their valued items, she said. “We do have stories to tell, but we don’t have as many as I’d thought.” So Bemko married her idea with an earlier concept for an antiques magazine series that she put aside when corporate funding tightened.

Bemko is determined that her spin-off won’t be formulaic: each show will include up to six segments and, with the exception of the guest updates, the recurring features won’t run in every episode of the 26-week season. Segments already piloted feature appraisers’ tips on caring for collectibles, how-to’s on buying and selling, field guides to the big antiques fairs, and stories of “missing masterpieces.”

Lara Spencer, a Good Morning America correspondent who hosts Antiques Roadshow, will also host the spin-off, but Bemko will hire a correspondent for the segments. Spencer has other big commitments this fall: She is co-hosting The Insider, Paramount’s Entertainment Tonight spin-off debuting in September, and is expecting a child in October, Bemko said.

Geography as destiny

PBS also announced production of a three-part series based on Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book by Jared Diamond. The noted UCLA professor with expertise in biology, geography, physiology and ecology will describe the forces that determined success or failure for a number of past civilizations.

“This series takes Jared Diamond’s key insight — geography as destiny — and explores it through images of science, history and discovery around the world,” said Michael Rosenfeld, e.p. for National Geographic Television and Film. “It is 13,000 years of history condensed into an amazing three hours of television.”

The widescreen history series produced by Britain’s Lion Television will take viewers to five continents. PBS acquired exclusive domestic broadcast rights and plans to air the series next summer or fall.

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