Know something about antiques? Prove it,” screamed the ad seeking “pickers” for Market Warriors, the long-awaited companion series to PBS’s most popular primetime program, Antiques Roadshow. Though PBS pioneered the concept of reality television with American Family and other cinema verité documentary series, it refrained from adding more reality TV as the genre became a staple of commercial television. But with the coming summer season and beyond, PBS is dipping into the reality game. A trio of unscripted programs — each coproduced by Boston’s WGBH— will premiere within the next year.
An 11-page diatribe from a former Antiques Roadshow appraiser to producing station WGBH provides a look deep inside public television’s most popular national show as Roadshow knockoffs proliferate on cable channels. The issues raised by Gary Sohmers, a Hawaiian shirt-clad, Converse sneaker-wearing pop-culture expert, reveal in particular how intensely the program works to protect its brand. In the case of another appraiser, the Boston station stood its ground with a $900,000 copyright-infringement lawsuit. In response to Sohmers, WGBH is conducting an internal review of his complaints about the Appraisal Event Participation Agreement that all experts sign, though they are not financially compensated for work and must pay their own travel and hotel expenses for multiday shoots nationwide. That contract, Sohmers told Current, “has evolved to be more illogically restrictive over the past several years.” It requires appraisers to inform series Executive Producer Marsha Bemko before they appear in other media, get her written permission to appraise on other shows, limit their public remarks to their areas of expertise, and never present themselves as Roadshow appraisers or let others present themselves as such.
PubTV programmers heard welcome details of a long-awaited spinoff of the hit Antiques Roadshow at the National Educational Telecommunications Association Conference in Kansas City, Oct. 18–20. [The reality-TV casting agent behind Jersey Shore is seeking antiques authorities for the roles. See below.]
John Wilson, PBS program chief, told attendees that the program, with the working title Market Wars, will debut in spring 2012 under the supervision of Roadshow e.p. Marsha Bemko. Wilson said PBS has ordered 20 episodes initially, “at a very effective production cost per hour.”
Programmers have been eager to find a companion show to extend the audience of the Roadshow, which is by far the most-watched PBS series.
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  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.
When Chubb’s Antiques Roadshow rolled into New York City last month, appraiser John Hays hit the jackpot a full day before the doors even opened. This time it wasn’t a rare 18th-century tea table from someone’s dusty attic, but a glowing profile in the New York Times. The headline got it right: “Appraiser Examines a Newfound Treasure: Fame.” Next morning, two members of the Roadshow’s roving tribe, Leigh and Leslie Keno, could be spotted on CBS Saturday Morning explaining to a national audience why a graceful little table with delicate wood inlay was a fake. The Keno twins also have gained their share of fame from the series, garnering everything from appearances on Oprah to a major book deal for Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture, which has raked up a resounding $100,000 in sales, five times the norm for a book on antiques.
WGBH acknowledged that one of the most compelling segments on Antiques Roadshow — the so-called “watermelon sword” appraisal — was faked without its knowledge. The station severed ties late last month with Russ Pritchard III and George Juno, former partners in an antique weaponry dealership who frequently appeared on the series.