What is it about Antiques Roadshow that has made viewers follow along so loyally for the past 26 years? Is it the surprisingly educational appraisals, the larger-than-life personalities or the thrill of the hunt? After all, in the world of Roadshow, everyone is just one barn cleanout or thrift store haul away from being a millionaire.
Part of the TV show’s enduring allure for viewers certainly comes from wondering what happens after the cameras turn off. Did the older gentleman who learned that the Navajo blanket handed down by his grandmother was a “national treasure” worth up to $500,000 end up cashing out? Has everyone who said “But I’ll never sell it” actually adhered to that mantra? And what is it about the market for collectibles that drove up the value of a Patek Phillippe pocket watch from $250,000 in 2004 to an estimated $3 million today?
Detours, the Antiques Roadshow podcast hosted by Adam Monahan, answers some of these questions. Launched in 2020 as a collaboration between Boston’s GBH and PRX, the podcast began releasing episodes from its third season last week.
Detours tells stories about some of Roadshow’s most valuable and memorable artifacts and characters, including one that never aired on the TV show. In a 2020 episode, Monahan dug into the mystery behind a U.S. flag that allegedly flew on John F. Kennedy’s navy boat, the PT-109. Another episode from season one told the strange but true story of an appraisal of a daguerreotype that prompted a phone call from the FBI.
“We’re looking for stories where something happens,” says Marsha Bemko, longtime Roadshow EP and frequent Detours guest. “We want to cover something that was found on Roadshow but that has more of a story. We want to say ‘Wow, really? Even we can’t believe it.’”
In the first episodes of season three, Detours catches up with a cowboy who took a gamble on what he thought was a red diamond and looks into why a tattered Gale Sayers football jersey appraised for up to $30,000 sold months later for less than $12,000. Later this season, Monahan sits down for a game of Magic: The Gathering in an effort to understand what he calls the “astonishing values” an appraiser assigned to a set of the cards in 2021. Another episode will look at an artifact that Monahan intended to praise on the podcast, only to discover — 10 years after broadcast of its original Roadshow appraisal — that it was a fake.
In many ways, Detours is the baby of Monahan, a Roadshow producer whose enthusiasm for and knowledge of the appraisals that did and didn’t make it onto the TV show have made him a charmingly dorky host. He initially produced and hosted a Roadshow podcast in 2012, but that was more of a labor of love than a smash success. As he told Current in 2016, the podcast struggled to gain traction with Roadshow fans, pulling in only 4,000 listens by the end of 2014. A sporadic publishing schedule and minimal promotion were part of the problem, he said. There was no production budget; Monahan pretty much just threw together a podcast episode when he had some spare time.
But he didn’t give up. He knew that, with the right resources and help, he could make a show that Roadshow fans would adore.
‘Down the Rabbit Hole’
Around 2017, Bemko got wind of GBH’s expanding partnership with PRX and told Monahan they should put the podcast on pause. They’d circle back, she said, but did he have an idea for what he’d do with the show should he get the chance? He dug into the BBC podcast The History Of The World In 100 Objects and came back with his own prototype called Down The Rabbit Hole, which focused on just one item that had been filmed by Roadshow cameras.
In 2018, GBH backed PRX’s merger with Public Radio International, co-producer and distributor of the international newsmagazine The World. GBH’s $10 million investment included funds for an audio production staff that would develop co-productions with GBH and other partners.
Though Monahan now says Down The Rabbit Hole was “obnoxious, with lots of music,” he pitched his idea in a PRX podcast workshop for staff from GBH’s national productions. Afterwards, Nina Porzucki, then GBH’s newly minted managing producer of podcasts, encouraged him to work on it more.
Monahan ended up producing about eight minutes of an episode that looked into the authenticity of the flag said to be from JFK’s PT-109 boat. He presented the clip in a greenlight meeting where GBH’s national production units competed for production dollars.
“They were like, ‘I want to know more!’” Monahan says. “But I was like, ‘You’ve got to pay to find out the rest, because I’m not editing anything more until we know what’s going on here.’”
WGBH and PRX did indeed pay up, giving Monahan enough money to make a pilot and teaming him up with Ian Coss, a professional podcast producer who, interestingly enough, had never seen an episode of Roadshow. “The guy they gave me just so happens to be one of the best,” Monahan says.
“One of my goals with Detours was always to make the podcast … exciting for people who love Roadshow, but that could also be just as interesting and exciting for people like myself that didn’t have that context,” Coss says. The fun part for him has been getting to know Roadshow, which he now sees as “kind of an American treasure,” and all the people who make it.
‘We saw how things should be done’
The partnership went so well that the pilot yielded an order for five additional episodes, production of which started in January 2020. The production team went into the field in February to record location audio. When the COVID pandemic shut the world down a month later, it pivoted to Zoom interviews, saving money budgeted for travel. Detours launched its first season in September 2020.
“Having those additional resources really, really made the podcast,” says Bemko. “Once we had some money and marketers who could devote hours and dollars to it, we saw how things should be done. … There’s a production process for when to release episodes to the public. A huge amount of attention gets paid to the podcast now, and more and more people are listening. And the more people who listen, the more it catches fire.”
“With the old podcast, no one ever asked for a picture with me when we’re out on the road,” Monahan says. “It’s only happened, like, twice now … but I’ll be walking around at a Roadshow stop and our publicist will come over and say, ‘That person over there wants to meet you.’ It’s funny and embarrassing, and then all of the sudden I’m taking a selfie in Colonial Williamsburg.”
Jason Saldanha, chief of business development and content for PRX, says Detours plays into the idea that public media resonates with audiences who value curiosity. “One of the hallmarks of our portfolio … is the idea that examining ‘the process’ immerses listeners in understanding our own lives better — whether that’s the process of how a song is made on a show like Song Exploder or the … history of an object collecting dust on our shelves,” he says. “Those producers have created an audio-first show that expands the universe of Antiques while introducing the show to new, younger and diverse audiences who we hope become longtime supporters.”
Monahan is already working on episodes for the fourth season of Detours, including an episode about naval officer and explorer Richard Byrd. Fact-checking Byrd’s accomplishments led Monahan to a more layered understanding of expedition photos that were appraised on Roadshow a few years ago. He’s also mulling over episodes he could do around Roadshow’s first-ever tour stop in Alaska, scheduled to hit Anchorage in mid-July.