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Antiques Roadshow Still Going Strong After 14 Seasons

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Aired 6/10/10

Antiques Roadshow is in its 14th season on PBS. We'll talk with the executive producer of the series about its continued success.

TOM FUDGE (Host): I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days. The TV show that's made you wonder what that old armoire in your attic might be worth is coming to San Diego. This Saturday, “Antiques Roadshow” will be filming a new episode at the San Diego Convention Center. “Antiques Roadshow” airs Mondays at 8:00 p.m. on KPBS-TV. And joining me here at KPBS Radio studios is the show’s executive producer Marsha Bemko. And, Marsha, thank you. Welcome to San Diego, and thanks for coming in.

MARSHA BEMKO (Executive Producer, “Antiques Roadshow”): Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

FUDGE: And, listeners, give us a call if you have any questions for the executive producer of the “Antiques Roadshow.” She cannot appraise your item at home, unfortunately, but she can talk about antiques and talk about the program. So if you’re a fan, give us a call at 888-895-5727, 888-895-KPBS. And, Marsha, you’re in town for the taping of another episode of “Antiques Roadshow” this weekend. How does a taping work? How would you explain that to people who are just used to seeing the finished product?

BEMKO: Okay, here’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to produce an event where we’re going to see 5,000 to 6,000 objects – I mean, 5,000 to 6,000 people, each with 2 objects. Do the math, 10,00 to 12,000 objects. And we’re actually going to do even better than one episode. We’re going to make three episodes of television from San Diego. People who’ll come to us with their item are going to find out what it’s worth, when it was made, what it was used for, any other questions they might have to ask our experts. And we’re going to tape some of them, the stories we think are worth sharing.

FUDGE: So people come in with their stuff and then they talk to one of your experts and then the expert comes back to you or somebody else and says, hey, this person’s got a really interesting thing, let’s put them on the TV show.

BEMKO: Yes. And for those who are going to be considered for taping, the one thing—and I get asked this a lot—is that most people coming up to the table will learn what they have and the appraiser tells them right away what they have. For those that the appraiser’s excited about what they’re seeing, the expert will say, I’m not going to tell you anything, do you mind waiting for a producer? So when you see a Roadshow guest on Roadshow, they’re learning the information for the first time, no fake reactions in there.

FUDGE: Okay, so if you go in and the person says, yeah, it’s worth a hundred bucks, well, you’re not going to be on the show.

BEMKO: Well, maybe. It’s not about value for us. We’re very jaded producers so I have turned down a $200,000 object because the guest knew everything, we’ve seen things like it. It wasn’t going to be a very good television moment or a teaching moment. So it’s not always about the value. Got a good story, we don’t care what it’s worth.

FUDGE: In terms of the popularity of this show, how popular is "Antiques Roadshow," whether you want to talk about its ratings or how it compares to other shows on Public TV. It’s a very successful show, right?

BEMKO: Thank goodness. Yes, we are a very successful show. We have almost 10 million viewers a week. Now that is – makes us the most popular primetime series on PBS by far, and, frankly, any show on any network would be very glad to have that number of people watching every week.

FUDGE: You know, I’m a great admirer of producers who can, over the course of many years, continue to make a show about a certain subject that continues to be interesting. “Car Talk” is one example. I mean, how many questions, right, isn’t there a limited number of questions you can ask about cars? And yet “Car Talk” continues to be interesting, and "Antiques Roadshow" continues to be interesting. What is it about the show and your approach to it that keeps it new and keeps it fresh?

BEMKO: I think it appeals on so many levels. And when you’re learning about great antiques, by the way, it’s one object. Really great things are rare and they’re one of a kind. So even our experts on the show are learning at every event and they’ve been in the business for decades. And it – I’ll tell you, I am still asked questions that after doing this show – the show’s been on the air, we’re celebrating our 15th anniversary, I’ve been with the show for 11 years, I am asked questions in every event I do, in every city, that I haven’t been asked yet before. It’s a relatively new field of study. And some people just want to watch the show so that they make sure they don’t put something out in their yard sale that’s worth a lot of money and then undersell it.

FUDGE: 888-895-KPBS. We’ve got a call from Edward in Bonita. Edward, go ahead. You’re on with Marsha Bemko.

EDWARD (Caller, Bonita): Hello.

FUDGE: Hello, Edward, you there?

EDWARD: Thank you for taking my call.

FUDGE: All right, go ahead.

EDWARD: I – My parents collected antiques in the 1940s in Vermont, and my dad was in the missile project where we would travel around to those areas. And I have a lot of antiques but a couple of them that I don’t know where to go with, is one of them is a clock and it’s actually – it sits, I think, over a fireplace or something, and it has wooden gears with an iron weight.

BEMKO: Hmm.

EDWARD: And all the gears in it are wooden and I’ve taken it to several clock people and they just don’t know. They – One guy said it’s either a Seth or something like that. And the other thing is an 1863 Springfield Civil War musket with the powder horn and the scabbard and the bayonet. And these are things that my parents collected along with, you know, man, just all kinds of clocks and things but these are the two most compelling things that I don’t know what to – how to get a value or an age on.

FUDGE: Well, are you coming to "Antiques Roadshow” on Saturday? Are you going to go to the convention center?

EDWARD: You know, I just heard about it right now and I was pretty excited about it because I thought well maybe I can take a couple items over there and they could give me some idea of, you know, at least what direction to go to find out. The clock’s been sitting in the attic for 40 years.

BEMKO: Well, let me answer two questions. First of all, we ticket the event and tickets are out for the event, so if you don’t have a ticket for the event, unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to enter. So many more people want to come than we can see. But I want to answer your question about what to do for – if I have a question about things I own, and I’m going to answer it rather than just about your things, something that will apply to everybody in your audience – in the listening audience here. And that is, is that if you’re uncertain about what you have, it really depends what do you want to do with the items? Do you want an appraisal for insurance or do you want to sell the item? And that’s what makes – part of what makes antiques so tricky. There is an expert out there who knows something about – what I think you’re describing is a mantle clock with wooden gears. And I’m – And what it is, is you just haven’t asked the right person for the kind of information that you’re looking for. The big cautionary tale for everyone out there is that if you’re thinking about selling your object—and, by the way, most people coming to a Roadshow are not thinking about that, people keep their things—but if you are, that the person who gives you the appraisal is not interested in buying it. And a good, ethical expert won’t do both.

FUDGE: It’s interesting that you say most of the people who come to "Antiques Roadshow" are really not interested in selling their stuff, and this is worth explaining because when we watch the show, and the appraiser says, yes, this is worth $10,000 and the person says, oh, my God… That doesn’t mean they’re going to go out and go on eBay right away and try to sell it.

BEMKO: And, frankly, if it’s worth $10,000 there are better ways to sell it than probably online. You want to do a little better. I think that – but that’s a whole ‘nother question. We know, because I wanted to produce a show that followed people’s stories about what they did with the objects after they came to "Antiques Roadshow,” so we did some research. No matter what it is worth, most people, whether it’s worth $250,000 or $250.00, do not sell their items. And we can tell you exceptions. There are exceptions to that rule. But most people don’t part with it. And remember this, a fair price for a dealer to pay to somebody is about half of what he can sell it for. That’s retail. If you sell something at auction, there’s a seller’s premium to selling unless you have, you know, something worth extraordinary value where you can make a great deal. There’s always a cost to sell. After you sell your object, guess what? You can’t afford to buy it back. So people think really long and hard before they let go of those treasures.

FUDGE: And this must be especially true if this is something that is a family heirloom.

BEMKO: Especially so. And, more often, when we do see sales, they are yard sale finds that people don’t have the same sentimental value for. Although, again, I could tell you there are exceptions to that rule. People have needed money and they have done it but it’s not a common thing.

FUDGE: And Marsha Bemko is executive producer of the PBS series "Antiques Roadshow" and she and her team are going to be at the San Diego Convention Center this Sunday to look at what people bring in. If you have a question for her, you can call us at 888-895-5727. I know there are a lot of fans of this show out there, so give us a call if you have a question or comment. Let’s go to Ashley in Ocean Beach. Ashley, you’re on the show.

ASHLEY (Caller, Ocean Beach): Hi. Thank you so much for calling – taking my call. I’ve been a huge fan of the show for years, madly, madly crushing on the Keno brothers, as I’m sure many people are. But my question is, Ms. Bemko, how do you guys feel as producers giving away free tickets for your show that people are taking these free tickets and reselling them for hundreds of dollars for the pair?

BEMKO: Well…

ASHLEY: And I’ll take my answer off the air.

FUDGE: Thanks, Ashley.

BEMKO: Thank you for asking the question that I’m glad someone has asked. We are so against it. The only people who are allowed to take any financial – are Public Television stations and that community, which we give a portion, some tickets to, to pledge for financial support to Public Television. Anybody else who’s selling them online is selling them because it’s illegal to do it. They’re selling a pack of gum which comes with tickets. We will stop these sales every time we can, and we do. We go on and we invalidate those tickets and we notify the seller that the tickets are no longer good and so, therefore, they better not sell them to somebody. It is against the law, it is against how we feel, it is against the spirit of the – of what we do here for Public Television. This is a community service, a public service to your community. We’re giving you free information with a free ticket and we do all we can to police it. Unfortunately, we can’t get the online seller, who does a lot of this, to cooperate and police it for us but we police it ourselves. So thank you for asking. If you’re out there selling your tickets, boo-hoo on you.

FUDGE: Well…

BEMKO: Wow. What else is there to say after that?

FUDGE: …what more – what more can I say? Tell the story of how "Antiques Roadshow" began. It’s an interesting story. I think it started in England.

BEMKO: It sure did. It started in England over 30 years ago. And there is now a retired vice president at WGBH, who went over to – it was one of his favorite shows. He was in England often for business and he came back to this country and said, let’s make an hour of "Antiques Roadshow.” Well, some support came in and they decided to make a season of Roadshow, and I wasn’t there for that first season. I haven’t been with the show all 15 years. And what they will tell you, those who were, was about like when they were in Concord, Massachusetts, and our show’s based out of Boston, Massachusetts, when people were calling their aunts and uncles and sisters and brothers to come to the show because there weren’t enough attendees to make enough television.

FUDGE: Umm-hmm.

BEMKO: Then the show aired, and season two. And in season two, we went to Los Angeles and the police threatened to shut down the freeway when over 10,000 people showed up. All we needed to do was introduce this country to this show and it’s as popular as it is in England. They have – that show will – continues to be one of their top programs there, and I imagine a long life for this show as well in this country.

FUDGE: How did you come to the show?

BEMKO: An interesting question. I came to the show – I’ve been doing, you know, news and documentary work for many, many years and I had come to the show in the re – now executive producer who’s moved on to do other things asked me to come. And, frankly, I said no to her the first three times. I had young children and I didn’t want to travel all summer while they were at overnight camp. I have a husband I like. So, you know, I wanted to stay home. And – But she convinced me to do it, and here I am 11 years later and, boy, am I glad she did.

FUDGE: Was that an interest of yours going in? Had you been into antiques or jewelry or painting, something like that?

BEMKO: Always dabbler. You know, I would always be out there looking like some people might look if you want one little piece or if you’re looking for an old painting or something, a dabbler. Now, unless it’s a mattress or a piece of upholstered furniture, I’m going old before I go shop new. So, you know, it took a little convincing but it is the best and most fun show I’ve ever worked on.

FUDGE: Let’s take a call from Adrian in San Diego. Adrian, you’re on with – Adrian is no longer there. So we will go to Nicole, who is in La Mesa. Nicole, you’re on with the executive producer of "Antiques Roadshow."

NICOLE (Caller, La Mesa): Hi. My name – Oh, you already know my name. I’m – I’ve been watching the show since I was like 15, and all my friends think I’m weird. But I am going to volunteer on Saturday because, of course, I couldn’t get tickets, so I found a way to get in anyway. And I’m trying to decide what to bring. I have a couple different options. I have a doll that was my grandmother’s and I’m bringing that for sure. Then I’m trying to decide between – I have like stacks of postcards from like 1901. Some are political, some are, you know, funny. And then I have, you know, a couple pieces of jewelry. And I’m just not to bring for my second.

FUDGE: Well, I like the postcards, I’ll just say that. But, Marsha, go ahead.

BEMKO: I always start with – This is true for any of the listeners out there. Start with something you’re curious about. You have a unique opportunity to be in the room with the country – 75 of the country’s top experts. Do something you can’t Google. So if you can easily look up the postcards, and I don’t know the nature of your postcards, then I – Jewelry, generally you need a jeweler to help you but there’s probably a good jeweler, local jeweler, in your community as well. I say when you go through that house, bring two items that aren’t easy for you to go look up because this is the chance to talk to the people who know this stuff.

FUDGE: You’re coming to San Diego—well, you’re in San Diego already—going to be doing a taping on Sunday. In a typical season of "Antiques Roadshow," how many cities do you visit to tape the show?

BEMKO: We visit six cities, so this is the first of six. We make 3 episodes of television from each city. There will be enough wonderful things that walk into San Diego, the event, that we’ll be able to talk about.

FUDGE: Just curious, what are the other cities this year you’re going to?

BEMKO: Where are we going, right? I have to do it from memory. All right, San – I have to say them like in order.

FUDGE: Well, do the best you can.

BEMKO: San Diego, Billings, Miami Beach, Biloxi, Des Moines, D.C.

FUDGE: You’re going to Billings, Montana?

BEMKO: We are going to Billings, Montana.

FUDGE: I thought Montana was one of those states you couldn’t go to.

BEMKO: You are – have a great memory. I am impressed with that. It is one of those states we can’t go to, which is always that big hunk of country up there, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. We’re doing it in a special venue. We need about a hundred – 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of space. This is not a typical venue. We’re able to work around this. Our event producer is able to work around it. We can only do one of those a season. It’s much harder on the event staff. But we figured it out, we want to get up to that area of the country, and we’ll be up there, we’re going to get there.

FUDGE: And the problem with those big western states in the past, it’s been no convention center big enough?

BEMKO: That’s as boring as it is. No convention center, no venue big enough that had that 80,000 to one – 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of space and a dividing wall. So we can’t do it in an airplane hangar. We need a wall that helps us control sound.

FUDGE: Let’s go to Patti in Imperial Beach. Patti, you’re on the show.

PATTI (Caller, Imperial Beach): Yes, hi. I have a question about this doll bed and I was told that it was made by a 14-year-old slave boy in Sandersville, Georgia. And it came out of a mansion there where, actually, my father grew up. But, you know, his father’s grandfather’s great-grandfather all lived there, and General Sherman stayed at the house. And so there’s a number of these little beds there and so they don’t need it back and I was wondering, gosh, should I keep it? Should I find out what it’s worth? Or should I just go ahead and donate it to a museum?

BEMKO: You know, it’s hard to answer that question because I don’t know whether or not – what position you’re in and what you want to do or – But I think probably the first thing, unless you’re 100% sure about that provenance, is to have someone look at it and make sure that that is – that bed is as old as you think it is. That would be a start. Now, let’s confirm that it’s made by the person unless you have evidence of that.

FUDGE: And, Patti, thank you. Thank you very much. And what I’m about to say is not a comment on Patti’s doll here but there must be people who come in with stories like that where your expert looks at it and says, no, no, it was, you know, someone bought this at JCPenney 20 years ago. Do you put those stories on the air? Because they can be a little bit embarrassing.

BEMKO: We are, I hope, skilled at letting our guests hear disappointing information in a way that is as gentle as possible, and we do it all the time. That is – Especially on age. You will constantly hear our guests have an oral history, which is famously flawed…

FUDGE: For sure, yeah.

BEMKO: It’s just an oral history. Their claims, an object was in the family for a couple of generations longer than the piece is old. But as a rule, hearing that kind of thing helps families put things together and so they’re not hostile to that kind of information. It’s more like, oh, so it really is from a couple hundred years later and it’s not Massachusetts, it’s from Connecticut, and suddenly they start to put together little pieces that help them make sense of that object’s journey, which reveals something about their family, often.

FUDGE: Is there a part of the country that is really good for antiques?

BEMKO: Well, I’m sure our experts would answer that in one way. As far as taping the show, I will say that there are parts of our country where wealth has accumulated so that we will see objects that are more valuable in certain areas of the country than others. That being said, one of my most favorite stories from "Antiques Roadshow" is an object that’s worth $300 to $500. So it really isn’t about that value, so we will – But, yes, there are areas of the country where wealth is concentrated and we see more.

FUDGE: Can you tell us that story? About the $300 item?

BEMKO: Yeah, you betcha. It’s Kathy Bailey, who’s one of our great experts who works with us. And a woman brought – she does glass for us on the show. And a woman brought in a baptismal dish and it was a glass – and this is on our website, by the way. You can go watch this appraisal, just go to PBS.org/antiques and look up Kathy Bailey. And she – all the kids in the family, all the grandkids—I can’t remember entirely the generations of family who were – used this baptismal to be baptized. And so Kathy tells her it is a lovely baptismal dish except that, and then she flips it over, perfect timing, it is the base for a punchbowl. And sure enough, whoa, we all have a good laugh.

FUDGE: Uh-huh.

BEMKO: The guest is a good sport with it. If they ever find – By the way, it could be quite a valuable thing if they ever find the punchbowl to go with that base. But, boy, were they surprised. And I imagine they may still be using the bowl, the stand, as a baptismal bowl, who knows?

FUDGE: And…

BEMKO: It worked that way.

FUDGE: And why not?

BEMKO: Yeah.

FUDGE: Well, we have a couple more minutes here. Let’s go to Arlene in Mission Hills. Arlene, go ahead.

ARLENE (Caller, Mission Hills): Yes, thank you, Tom. I wanted to inquire when you were promoting the show early on and tickets for it, most of the promotions were if – to bring in big pieces of furniture and I – my friend got the same impression. I said are you going to call in for tickets, and she said they only want big pieces of furniture.

BEMKO: Well, I am sorry that our messaging apparently did not do a good job. It left you a little confused. That promo that you saw, the promotional effort, asked you to do one of two – both things if you wanted to or one thing: register for tickets and send us your furniture, not or. Send us photos of your furniture so that we could select in advance to move the 10 or so pieces that we move into the convention center. So I apologize if, in fact, that messaging was confusing and we’ll work on that for next year.

FUDGE: You have how many people coming to the convention center?

BEMKO: Well, we have between 5,000 and 6,000 people are going to show up…

FUDGE: Okay.

BEMKO: …Saturday.

FUDGE: Might be quite a traffic jam, especially if you have lots of trucks with lots of things in them.

BEMKO: Well, the tickets are timed, by the way, so they are timed every hour between eight and five o’clock so that, in fact, you’re not going to stand in line all day because everybody shows up in the morning. And, hopefully, we do a good job of keeping that crowd moving.

FUDGE: I was going to ask you one more question but I think Victoria might be able to ask it for me. Victoria is in University Heights, go ahead.

VICTORIA (Caller, University Heights): Thank you. Yes, I’m excited even though I won’t be going. I was wondering in the community usually you’ll go out and you’ll interview somebody of historical collecting event, and I was wondering how you did that. And my second one was when exactly is this going to air?

FUDGE: Well, we’re short on time so maybe answer the second question.

BEMKO: This will air sometime after January when the season begins airing and before May, and we will figure that out in the fall. And you can look on the website, KPBS’ website or ours to find out those air dates as soon as we know them.

FUDGE: And Marsha Bemko is executive producer of the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.” "Antiques Roadshow" is filming a new episode in San Diego this Saturday downtown. I think I’ve been saying Sunday but it’s actually…

BEMKO: Saturday.

FUDGE: …Saturday.

BEMKO: Yeah.

FUDGE: At the downtown convention center, and you can catch "Antiques Roadshow" Mondays at 8:00 p.m. on KPBS-TV. Marsha, thank you very much for coming in.

BEMKO: Thank you for having me.

FUDGE: And thanks very much to all of you who listened. And thanks for – to those who called in. If you’d like to hear this segment again or make a comment on something you’ve heard on These Days, go to KPBS.org/thesedays. I’m Tom Fudge, and stay with us as These Days continues.

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