Antique Road Show: Behind the scenes

The Antiques Roadshow team has a challenging mission each time it rolls into a city for taping. It must provide just the right mix of education and entertainment so each of the 7,000 participants walk away with a smile on their face whether they are carrying a piece of trash or treasure in their hands.

Sounds like a lofty goal, but they are proving time and time again that it can be done. Antique Trader had the privilege of witnessing it firsthand when the show – produced by WGBH Boston – rolled into Milwaukee for a taping on July 29.

Milwaukee is one of six U.S. stops on the 11th tour, which will begin airing in January on PBS. Marsha Bemko, executive producer, said each stop on the tour will result in three one-hour segments. During each day-long taping, only 95 appraisals are filmed. That means the appraisers and Roadshow staff have to take as many as 14,000 items and determine which “hidden treasures” deserve air time.

How do they do it? We won’t spoil all the magic but can tell you each and every participant got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the workings of the show.
After waiting hours in a huge, thankfully air-conditioned hall, most were surprised at the intimate setting of the “show floor.” The temporary blue walls were set up in a circle, with the 70 appraisers lining the inside and a taping area in the very center. The area between the two was filled with people waiting in line to see their specialists in 26 different categories.

What was hot in Milwaukee? It depended on the time of day. At 9:30 a.m. the glass line was long, but at noon, the painting and prints lines were even longer. Toys, sports and collectibles saw long queues all day, while the furniture, jewelry and pottery/porcelain appraisers were kept constantly busy.
Did people grumble about waiting in lines? Surprisingly not. It gave them a chance to look around to observe what others had brought and see the “stars” like the Keno brothers, Noel Barrett, David Rago and Arlie Sulka.

It was pleasant to see professionalism abound along each step of the Roadshow journey, from the front door of the Midwest Airlines Center to the appraisal table to the exit area. Every one of the show staff members and 200 volunteers from Milwaukee Public Television was helpful and courteous. The appraisers, who volunteer their time and, as a group, see about 700 people an hour, were friendly and patient as well. It’s not easy to keep thousands of people happy. A woman in line with me thought her clock should be worth thousands. My mother, on the other hand, was giddy when Kathy Bailey told her her Depression sugar and creamer set could be worth $200. Some antique collectors care more for the monetary value of an item, while others are curious but take pleasure in holding onto a treasure for another generation.

At Antiques Roadshow they want every participant – whether they end up on camera or not – to appreciate their antiques. Based on Antique Trader’s experience in Milwaukee, I’d say “Mission accomplished.”