The sizzle turned to fizzle for this antiques dealer’s shot at reality TV

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melanie thomasWe’re all familiar with the unique lifestyle that comes with being an antiques dealer: Working when most “normal” people are off, our friends and family thinking we’re rolling in money and having nothing but fun. And in the name of fun, we get to deal with John Q. Public, that special, demanding, quirky, rude, talkative, unwashed client who just won’t go away. You know the one I’m talking about.   

But every once in a while, something so extraordinary happens, it begs noting.

While perusing a dozen or so new e-mails, one jumped out. The writer had read one of my articles about life as a dealer (alas, a piece I wrote for another venue, not Antique Trader), who identified herself as an employee of a television production company. Apparently, she liked what she read and had done a bit of “due diligence” on me.

I think that means she found our website and perhaps my Facebook page, as I’m unsure what Hollywood types consider “due diligence.”

Anyway, they were looking for women who made their living dealing in antiques, pawn shops and/or picking, (sound familiar?) and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in making a video of myself, a sort of “tryout” for their new series, which was still in the planning stages.

Moi?

 $10 & Under

 

My immediate reaction was, “Yeah, right.” But then I conducted my own due diligence. This woman was on the up and up. Indeed, their company was currently producing not one, not two, but three different reality shows, one of them airing during prime time on a major network, vs. a cable channel buried so far back you had to wonder if anyone watched.

That’s when the sweating started.

To put this in perspective, a bit of background is in order. At my wedding 18 years ago, the photographer complained that I was the worst bride he’d ever had, meaning I was camera shy — heinously, horrendously, hideously camera shy. His assistant jerked me into appropriate “bridal poses” while I gnashed my teeth and begged him to hurry up and take the picture. Then the whole loathsome process would repeat itself until finally, an eternity later, the dirge came to an end.

Because the camera and I are not close friends, the idea of making a video knitted my stomach into a stitch so tight I couldn’t eat for three days.

How could I do it? How could I not?

Think about it. The potential publicity for our store was incredible and free, sort of. The only cost would be my nerves and peace of mind. How much is that worth, really?

We’d have to be willing to close down the store to set up their “shoots” on any given day. We’d have to do this for two, maybe three days each week while the show was in production.

That’s if they liked me.

I could do this, I thought. I have experience with public speaking, conducting seminars to audiences numbering in the hundreds. I’m an adjunct professor at a local college, for Pete’s sake, and I lecture for hours at a time from my carefully laid-out lesson plans. Surely, I can work from a script and talk for a few minutes. Heck, people have paid me to write their scripts!

This will be a walk in the park — no better yet, a cake walk. Cake is what I need. Yes, and make it chocolate.

So with pounding heart and trickling perspiration, I agreed to the shoot.

Soon, much too soon, a cameraman arrived. I wasn’t supposed to work from a script, he said. There was no teleprompter. This was reality TV after all, and I was supposed to just talk about myself, our store, anything I wanted. “They” wanted to get a feel for what I was about, how I looked, talked, my persona.

The problem is, I don’t ad-lib very well. I needed my lesson plans. I wanted a script. And there was this big, black ugly thing in my face with alternating green and red lights.

The room swayed and the floor moved. Was that an earthquake? When did that elephant sit down on my chest? Could I really faint from hyperventilating?

The cameraman was patient.

“Why don’t you just walk around the store, point to different things and talk about them?” he suggested. 

I did. But I walked too fast and kept turning my back to the camera.

“They want to see your facial expressions,” he cautioned. “Try to always face the camera.”

I tried. I really did. But some things are easier said than done.

Two hours later, we had about two minutes of useful video. Both of us were done in. Somewhere, a vodka tonic was calling my name.

The cameraman was kind enough to show me the final, edited version of the clip before sending it on to Los Angeles.

“What’s with my eyelids?” I asked him.

“You’re a slow blinker. Sometimes people with big eyes have that problem,” he explained.

Whoever heard of a slow blinker? Not sure I wanted to know that about myself. Anyway, the clip was sent and to date, nothing. Nada. Silence.

I’m probably too old, too pudgy, too short, too something for reality TV. But that’s OK, because at least now I know how Susan Lucci felt 16 or 17 times.

And it really is “a privilege just to be nominated.”

Melanie C. Thomas has nearly 20 years of experience researching, buying and selling military memorabilia. She and her husband run Arsenal of the Alleghenys, a Civil War artifact shop in Gettysburg, Pa.

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