Pawn fertile ground for reality TV


The Harrisons have started a mini-revolution on cable. --Image courtesy of

I’ll be honest — I don’t know a lot about pawn shops. I’ve never been in one, mostly because they never seem to be in the best parts of town, and their windows often have too many bars on them to actually see inside as I pass by on the road. OK, I might be a wuss, but those are my reasons.

However, I would totally walk into Gold & Silver Pawnshop, a pawn shop only minutes away from the Las Vegas strip and the subject of the breakout History Channel show “Pawn Stars.” Yeah, I know — the History Channel.

I think its success as a cult phenomenon is because the executive producers found a gold mine of personality in the three generations of the Harrison family who primarily own and operate Gold & Silver Pawnshop — Richard, the “Old Man”; Rick, Richard’s son; and Corey, Rick’s son, also known as “Big Hoss.” Not personality in the sense of the bickering Kardashian siblings, but in the sense of friendly, occasionally hysterical banter between the Harrison men, especially as the Old Man tries to teach Big Hoss a lesson or three.

But the real drama often centers around the items customers attempt to pawn and the tension between what their item is worth and what Gold & Silver Pawnshop will pay them for it so the shop can return a profit. Without fail, the customer wants an absurd price for it, and is shocked — shocked! — when Rick or Big Hoss counters
with a realistic figure. It’s a little like “Antiques Roadshow” with fewer history lessons and infinitely more back talk.

Oh, and a 100 percent higher chance of someone attempting to get an authentic Native American deer-head totem appraised. And that’s not even the weirdest thing I’ve seen someone try to pawn.

But perhaps even more interesting than the success of “Pawn Stars” alone is the phenomenon of programming it has helped to create. Spinoff “American Restoration” (also on the History Channel) deals with the process of restoring pawned and appraised items to their original condition. Other channels have attempted to find their own success with a similar formula. Discovery Channel bows with “Auction Kings,” which is about a group of people who scour auctions for hidden treasures and “oddities” for a Manhattan antiquities dealership.

On the other hand, venerable home living powerhouse network HGTV has recently debuted “Cash & Cari.” Despite its punny and frankly awful title (Cari is pronounced cahr-ee), it manages to be an intermittently compelling series about Cari Cucksey, who runs a high-end consignment boutique and runs estate sales for clients.

HGTV took notice of the “Pawn Stars” phenomenon and fielded their own version, which is telling — the network has recognized that a surprisingly large audience watches shows about discovering what one person’s junk is actually worth.

Post-recession, it’s clear that people are looking for new ways to make money, and estate and pawn sales are an exciting new venue for these moneymaking opportunities in real life and on television.

Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.


Comments powered by Disqus