Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Birmingham Bound: Road to Roadshow Part Two (Behind the Scenes of Antiques Roadshow)

Good morning!

So I told you yesterday my big trip this weekend was a visit to the Birmingham taping of Antiques Roadshow. If you're a major fan of the tv show, you probably think you know how the show is made, as it looks pretty self explanatory-- people bring in antiques, appraisers appraise the antiques, antiques of particular merit get some center stage screen time. I'd have to to say the thing I was most surprised about when I actually got to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center was that I had no idea how the whole process went down! I tried to Google it before I went because I like to be a LSAT-taking level of prepared before I embark on any new endeavor, but couldn't find much info...so I hope this will be helpful to future Roadshow junkies who are going for the first time, like I was.

Step One: Get Your Ticket

I'm not sure how many times I applied to get into Antiques Roadshow, but I do know I was heartbroken last year when they came to Knoxville and, in spite of using my mom's, dad's, sister's, grandma's, mine, AND MATTHEW'S email addresses to better our odds in the lottery, my luck was cold. Usually in the spring, they open up an online page where you can apply for tickets. There are apparently always more people asking to go than there's room for, so they select however many people they can via a lottery process rather than first-come, first-served basis. You can check online a month or two later after they dole out the tickets to see if you were one of the happy recipients, and this time, I was!

Around May, they sent me two tickets in the mail in a nondescript envelope from WGBH Boston that I almost tossed, thinking it was junk mail (see one of the tickets at the top of this post). Inside, the billets bear a holographic little treasure chest and an entry time...you're instructed on the ticket not to arrive more than 30 minutes prior to your entry time.

We got to the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center, parked in a remarkably clean underground lot (I am so used to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre like conditions of the lot across the street I sometimes park in that I was honestly impressed), and set off for the North Exhibition hall with tickets in hand.

Step Two: Gain Entry to the Event

When we arrived at the event location, Matthew and I were unsure of exactly where the North Exhibition hall was...thankfully, there was a veritable caravan of people wheeling Little Tyke wagons or makeshift dollies, and husbands hauling Queen Anne side chairs across their bodies generally heading in that direction, so we joined the stream of hopefuls. Once inside the building, they ask you if you have any firearms to declare (this is the kind of party I like to go to, natch), scan your ticket, and put you in the first line, which looks roughly like this:

Mad Windows Paint skills at work here.... I wish I had added all the junk they were carrying!

Because of the graduated entry times, the line is long but moves pretty quickly. While you're in line, you have plenty of time to read the program that they give you, or watch old appraisals on the big screens in the lobby. See me elbowing Bub in the ribs, "Look! That...ugh, I bet that's like ten grand. That's at least ten grand worth of diamonds. AND THAT'S NOT ALL HE HAS?! Dude has like eight different pieces from Tiffany! I'm saying twenty grand now. [long pause, as I nod along to the appraiser's remark, then a sharp intake of breath] THIRTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?! I hope he parked close to the building in the parking lot that day!"

It was kind of neat ogling what everybody else brought-- I kept trying to look-not-look at a woman with an Art Deco lamp, and another with a Charles Dana Gibson looking illustration of a turn-of-the-century woman in an Indian headdress...it's so neat seeing really QUALITY antiques up close because you can tell they're special. The Gibson picture looked about a million times more rich and vivid in its pen and ink original than it would in a copy I could see in a book, and wasn't I just the jealous bones about that. Here's Matthew standing in line patiently with one of our items (recognize the hankie?):

Pages from the program, explaining the general gist of the program:

After about an hour in the waiting area, we were ready for our closeups!

Step Three: Enter the Arena

This is where it gets crazy-- after you wait in line to get into the main exhibit hall, it's this huge space with people EVERYWHERE. People at the desks at the end of the line give you line tickets for your individual items-- while I didn't draw quite enough lines, each ticket corresponds with a line. Here's my ticket for the Collectibles line:

Each ticket puts you in a line-- since there were two of us, we had four tickets total (Dolls, Collectibles, Jewelry, and Textiles). You kind of just have to jump into a line wherever, then two or three people at a time from the line are ushered into the "inner circle" where the actual filming happens. This sounds logical, but in the actual place, I felt like a deer in the headlights everytime. And pretty much literally, as said inner circle was lit up like Christmas with these huge television lights! I told one of the volunteers we were making conversation with that I often watch the show and go, "What are those dang people looking at?!" as people crossed behind the featured appraisal to get to their item table, looking mesmerized and slack jawed. I told her I was going to get that back in spades when the Birmingham episode airs... I couldn't help but look helplessly at the cameras and lights each of the four times I entered the filming area!

You're not supposed to have your phone on in this area because it can interfere with the recording of the audio for the tv segments, but here's an image I borrowed from PBS's website. See all the lights??

Things to think about, line-wise...some of the lines (Asian Art, Dolls, Photographs) had literally no people in them. Others, like the Militaria line, stretched a hundred people strong back to the entrance! I guess the sons of the South in Alabama were stronger on their War of Northern Aggression memorabilia than say Chinese lithographs, which only makes sense. I kept wanting to see what everybody else had, but unless it was some oversized Chatty Cathy type doll (which one woman was lugging bravely through the entire three hours I was there), most items were kind of in bags or wrappings or obscured by someone's holding them. Boooo.

I was standing in line for I think textiles, just openly staring at host Mark Wahlberg at one point...he was doing a series of advertisements for the local PBS station and a number of the intro's that the episode would start out with. He stood in the middle of the melĂ©e in a little suit and looked exactly like he does on tv! I know, I know, why wouldn't he, but it was very surreal to see tv from inside the tv rather than outside of it. He turned at one point, looked me square in the eye, and winked! I thought if it was me, I would be sitting there in my tv makeup and well coiffed hair going "Could you please stop staring at me while I'm trying to do this gd promo for the eightieth time?", so I thought it was cool of him not be annoyed at someone obviously gawking at him while he was trying to do his job.

He's looking at the camera like I was looking at him last Saturday!
I also saw Rafael Elege, fellow Tennessean, doing what he does best-- examining old civil war rifles. I'd been looking all over each time I went in to see if I could spot him, only to realize he was directly next to the textile table I waiting at. I guess Mark Wahlberg distracted me. The only other appraisers I recognized from the show are ones whose names I don't know-- there was a lemon blonde haired guy in a midnight blue suit that I think does furniture, and a mustache-waxed mustachio'd man who might work in collectibles. I was hoping that rangy, tall dude who appraises graphic design pieces (like big format advertising from the fifties' or Andy Warhol poster prints from his college lecture appearances) would be there, but if he was, I didn't see him. Heck, he could have been there and I might not have seen him for all the lights!

Step Four: Get Appraised

I'll go into greater detail with this tomorrow as I show you what I brought to the sale and what I thought of the appraisals, but after you get inside the main filming area, you wait behind one or two people for your turn at the front with the real-live appraisers. I kept thinking about the "game show" like aspect a lot of people seemed to be taking this appraisal event as.... I'd got it in my head, narcissistically enough, that the fellow show-goers would be more like me: I mainly wanted to know more about an item I already knew a little about, and, well, wouldn't it be nice if it turned out to be worth serious hard cash. Most people whose appraisals I overheard (and one lo-o-o-o-ong winded guy on the phone [which is against the rules!] in front of me in the collectibles line) had brought in an item they didn't care much about and were waiting on tenterhooks to see if it was worth anything or not. While I didn't get any million dollar appraisals, two of the appraisals left me knowing a little more about the item! And it was a thrill getting to see the mechanics behind how the show works. I just wish I'd gotten a chance to see more of other-people's-appraisals in person... I think someone had brought an Elvis suit in, but I guess we'll have to wait until the showing to spot that and me looking like a Beverly Hillbilly in the background, haha!

Step Five: Try to Score Swag

At the end of the event, there are booths for the local PBS affliate, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and Subaru. PBS was giving away copies of their schedule (boooo), Subaru had a model of a sixties' car that was pretty cute and gave away little plastic shopping totes, but Liberty Mutual definitely showed the best spirit of showmanship of the three. Their agents had a spinning wheel you could give a turn to try out for several prizes, including a plastic mason jar type lidded glass with their logo on it, a "mini toolkit", and a t-shirt. EVERYBODY wanted the t-shirt (which they weren't selling at the event, it was just given away by the insurance company). The lady in front of me, who had scored the toolkit, actually loudly complained about the lack of t-shirts for sale. I spun four times, landing on "spin again" three times, and the last, on the t-shirt! I literally let out a little giddy "YES!" as the spinner stopped on the appropriate wedge. Matthew said afterwards, "I could see you were mentally adjusting each time for the exact amount of torque it would take to get that t-shirt. We might have athletic kids yet!" I was proud!!

So! Have you been to the Roadshow before? Did you realize how much w-a-i-t-i-n-g there is to do? What would you take if you were going to go to one of these events in your city? What kind of criteria would you consider before deciding which was the most valuable of your collectibles? Let's talk!

One more Roadshow centric post tomorrow with my items and their appraisals, along with some gab about the appraisal process, right here on the blog tomorrow, then it's back to business as usual! Have a fabulous Tuesday, and I'll talk to you then! Take care.

PS: Thanks for your kind comments and empathy over my dog bite! I got some antibiotics going now which will hopefully help me not turn into a werewolf. I might live!


  1. i can't wait to see your post tomorrow! my dad LOVES the road show so i've seen my share of episodes. its been really cool to see what goes on at an actual taping!

    1. oops, that was me. guess i forgot to sign my husband out.

  2. OH MY GOSH HOW FUN IS THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am jealous x1000. The blonde in the blue suit looking at furniture was probably one of the Keno twins, on whom I have a giant crush! And I know exactly who you are talking about with the tall appraiser who looks at graphics.

    I am a dork. ;)

  3. You are *awesome* for doing this. Dream come true :D

  4. This is just too TOO much fun. I am SO glad you blog... it is always good but this is totally fascinating!

  5. Wow! What an entry! I love all of the detail you offered! And the wink! Ah! I love it! I had no idea how crazy it was! And your little illustrations are fab!




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