Some people get their thrills watching bone-jarring, sweat-soaked WWE matches or crazy daredevils skydiving from the edge of space. Others love a good edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger where you’re clenching your fists waiting to find out who committed the crime or pulled off the caper. Then there are the millions of viewers who get their adrenaline fix by watching a show about … antiques.
Now entering its 17th season, the PBS staple Antiques Roadshow has somehow managed to make watching people getting their old stuff appraised completely riveting TV. The 10-time Emmy nominee is described as “part adventure, part history lesson, and part treasure hunt,” and that sounds about right to us.
Antiques Roadshow Executive Producer Marsha Bemko simply calls it, “Smart reality TV.” No gimmicks, no scripts—just everyday people bringing in their belongings, hoping to discover that they’re in possession of something that’s worth a small fortune. It’s not just about the money though; learning the history and story behind the objects and the people can be fascinating in its own right.
SSN spoke with Bemko, who is currently on tour filming the new season, about the demands of the show, the esteem of the Emmys and her pick for the Antiques Roadshow’s most memorable guest.
SSN: You’re no stranger to Emmy nominations. What does it mean to you, ten years later, to still get that kind of recognition?
Bemko: We’ve gotten 10 nominations, and always a bridesmaid, never a bride. When we got the call that we were nominated for the first time, I didn’t sleep at all. I was so honored and thrilled and stunned. Years have gone by and I vote, of course. I am still tingling and fingers crossed we get an eleventh nomination and a statue. There’s so much competition, and they are such good shows—I watch all of those shows. I still pinch myself to be in that category, and I’m happy to have nominations.
SSN: Before Antiques Roadshow, you had been working in television for many years. What drew you to the show? How did you become involved?
Bemko: When I came to the show I was asked by the former executive producer to join. I was a little bit reluctant. We make it look easy, but we work very hard and the tour is demanding, but it’s the best TV experience I’ve ever had. It’s smart reality TV. We’re honest, and we tell the truth, we never compromise our values. It’s guerilla TV, but there is filmmaking in there. It’s a real opportunity to stretch your muscles.
SSN: How extensive is the tour?
Bemko: We tour in June, July and August and go to eight cities each summer and shoot three episodes in each city. We have about 10 million viewers each week. We never repeat a location in less than five years. The country’s not big enough.
SSN: Did you always love antiques, or did working on the show change that?
Bemko: You sort of get bit with it. You have to go look for the old first. I’m proud that the show has inspired people to get excited about what we’re doing and that the everyman can get interested in these things and see that all of these objects are telling stories. These stories contribute to our country and our history. The money people can get is a nice payoff, and I’m still stunned by some of the things we’ve discovered. I’m proud that we’ve taught people to understand what you own.
SSN: Do you have a favorite episode or moment from your time on the show?
Bemko: We’re going to Detroit to start filming season 18. I started during season eight, so it’s like asking who your favorite child is. When I dig back into history, I think the best moments are when there is an object that teaches us something and a lively guest. The first rule of buying is: Buy what you like. We had a guest in Las Vegas who brought his collection of Andy Warhol art that he acquired from Andy, and he told us about his experience. If you went to Central Casting, you would pick this man out. We learn a little about Andy Warhol, and when he finds out about what he owns, his reaction is so happy—I could watch it ten more times.
If anyone should know the rules of buying, it’s Bemko. With ten nominations, the show is a perfect example of TV that manages to have integrity and be entertaining at the same time—not an easy feat in our tabloid-saturated world. We’re looking forward to the stories, the history and, yes, the suspense as Antiques Roadshow discovers more gems in its latest season.