TV Continues To Cash In On Pawn Show Popularity

In It's Worth What? host Cedric "The Entertainer" asks contestants to guess at the prices of found objects. i i

In It's Worth What? host Cedric "The Entertainer" asks contestants to guess at the prices of found objects. Tessa Viles/NBC hide caption

itoggle caption Tessa Viles/NBC
In It's Worth What? host Cedric "The Entertainer" asks contestants to guess at the prices of found objects.

In It's Worth What? host Cedric "The Entertainer" asks contestants to guess at the prices of found objects.

Tessa Viles/NBC

What happens when you cross CBS's The Price is Right with PBS's Antiques Roadshow?

You get NBC's It's Worth What? a game show in which contestants are asked to guess the value of objects found anywhere from your neighbor's attic to international museums.

It's Worth What? is the latest in more than a dozen shows that deal with antiques or junk (depending on how you spin it). It also represents the beginning of a cable craze crossing over to broadcast — and the trend isn't over yet.

Fox's Buried Treasure is set to debut in August, when it will join an already-robust list of TV antique shows, including American Pickers, Auction Hunters, Auctioneers, Auction Kings, Auction Packed, Cash & Cari and What the Sell. (Yikes, someone call the pun police.)

Still, antiques aren't a new attraction on TV. PBS first introduced Antiques Roadshow back in 1997, but that never caused this much of a craze.

To some degree, you can blame the current hype on Pawn Stars, the Las Vegas pawnshop reality show that became a huge hit for the History Channel a few years back. Just like a vintage Rolex, Pawn Stars inspired knockoffs, like truTV's Hardcore Pawn — perhaps the worst pun yet.

Until the ratings say otherwise, copycat shows will keep turning up. And very few entries in this antique category fail.

The inexhaustible supply must be striking a deep chord among viewers, especially as the country struggles through recession. Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that what really resonates during tough times are images of average Americans dusting off items in the forgotten corners of their homes and discovering they've got hidden value.

But there's a cruel irony at play here. The types of businesses depicted in these programs traffic in people's financial problems, not prosperity. Take pawnshops, for instance. On TV they may look like fun places to trade in undiscovered treasure, but have you been in one of these stores lately? During a recession they're filled with debtors selling more mundane objects. And as for shows like Storage Wars and Storage Hunters, many of those lockers become open for raiding only after some poor soul has been forced to default on his or her personal belongings.

These shows project a fantasy on the back of a nightmare, the kind of hardships that are too depressing for reality TV. But transforming trash into cash — now that's an alchemy well-suited to this economy.

Correction July 14, 2011

The audio and a previous Web version of this story incorrectly said that Antiques Roadshow was introduced in 1979. It was actually in 1997.

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