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Refinish an Antique? Never. But Spiffing up a 'Roadshow' Appreciates Its Value
January 2, 2016  | By Tom Brinkmoeller  | 1 comment

It's generally held that an antique is something at least 100 years old. By that definition, PBS' Antiques Roadshow doesn't have near the antiquity to make it the very thing it spotlights. But in television timelines (where the very funny Tim Conway once put  "13 WKS" vanity plates on his car because his series failed in that time or less), the 20th Antiques Roadshow season makes it a rare video survivor, a collectable on many a DVR and a series that is seen each week by more than a half-million people who hadn't been born when it first signed on.

The anniversary season kicks off with a new look and a visit to Spokane, Wash., Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. (check local listings). The show's executive producer, Marsha Bemko (right) during a recent interview, shared what viewers will see that's new. The opening is totally redesigned, as are the brighter-colored set and the graphics. It's the third set in 20 seasons (the predecessor was "pretty darn old," she said). As someone who joined the series in 1999, she appreciated the factors that have given it longevity. Those basics aren't affected by the cosmetics, she said:

"The heart (of the show) is still there. That won't change."

The realignment of the show itself, "beyond the trimmings," is designed to prompt younger viewers to sample the series without the risk of alienating long-time fans. (Bemko shared the half-million under-19 viewer ratings referred to above; many of them watch on platforms other than traditional television.)

The way the show flows, with some of the appraisals briefer and short "snapshot" appraisals of items that aren't unique enough to make it to the finals, is smooth and welcomed. In the first show of the new season, at least, it includes an appraiser's lengthier explanation, when needed, but also shares more concise "executive summaries," replacing some of the overlong "lectures" of past seasons that dragged the tempo slower.

The "snapshot" appraisals, drawn from crowd-overview footage, also give viewers more of an idea of what it's like to be inside the hall when the show is going on. The reconfigurations, she said, allow for "a lot more appraisals in every show."

Though the programs promise to move more quickly and smoothly than they did in the preceding 19 seasons, the amount of work that goes into distilling a day-long event into three 60-minute programs is long and not as exciting. At the end of each program, a Feedback Booth segment gives nearly anyone who attended the event an opportunity to face a camera and say a little bit about the experience. Bemko said the "grunt work" of gleaning a few comments out of 10 hours of comments is one she admires, but is happy to only have to view the potential inclusions lower-level producers have nominated. Another sometimes long and complicated task is fact-checking every statement presented as fact on the programs. The job of editing each hour-long program takes about three weeks.

The planning of each season's stops; the setup, event and teardown for each city; the hours of work to put together another season of programs has built a team that works very well at what it does, Bemko said. Other rewards include a longterm, positive relationship with show underwriter Liberty Mutual Insurance; 13 Emmy nominations; and, once in a while, uncovering some history.

Bemko said that happened when a woman who had worked for John F. Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, came to the Spokane show (right, top) for an appraisal of a Kennedy speech draft and ended up revealing some history. The woman was among the staffers who had accompanied the President to Dallas in November 1963. After the assassination of President Kennedy, she was one of the people who were bumped from Air Force One to a secondary airplane while Lyndon Johnson's closer advisers moved to the lead plane. Sharing the trip with other Johnson staffers on the backup plane, she revealed that "some were happy almost" at what had taken place.

It's the kind of insight into history that happens occasionally on Antiques Roadshow, Bemko said, that makes its understanding of the past all the more valuable.
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Jan 17, 2023   |  Reply
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