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One Man’s Trash | The Appeal of Junk Reality Shows

As I write this article, my husband and I are sitting in front of our television watching two grown men climb through a junk yard. And we’re enjoying it! No, it’s not Sanford and Son (best theme song ever!), it’s History’s American Pickers, and it’s just one of the many “found treasure” shows that are so popular today.

It used to be that if you wanted to watch a show about other people’s junk, your only option was the no-nonsense Antiques Roadshow on PBS. But these days, there are countless shows that combine entertaining characters with the hunt for valuable items in the most unlikely places. In addition to American Pickers, there’s Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, Auction Kings, Picker Sisters, Fashion Hunters, and Pawn Queens, just to name a few. The details of these shows are different, but the general idea is the same: somewhere, in the depths of your attic or basement, there may be something worth lots of money.

Nearly every cable network on television has at least one show like this, which begs the question: why are these shows so popular? Why do we love to watch shows about other people’s junk?

I have a couple of theories. First of all, the history of these items is fascinating. Two nineteenth-century puppets aren’t just puppets; they were used to campaign against Abraham Lincoln. That thing that looks like a rusty hunk of metal is actually a rare frame from an early motorcycle. A tattered circus banner full of holes may actually be early American folk art. It’s amazing to think of all the history that may be just sitting around the house.

I think one of the biggest reasons for the appeal of these “found treasure” shows is the tough economic times we’re in these days. We’re all hurting financially; all of us are feeling the pinch. Who isn’t captivated by the idea that the end of our financial struggles (or at least some extra cash) could be found in that old vase from a thrift store? Who wouldn’t love to find out grandma’s ugly oil painting was a rare original signed by the artist? Who wouldn’t like to turn a five dollar investment into a five thousand dollar profit?

Many times on these shows, the profits are small and the treasure hunters are disappointed to learn that what they thought would bring them big bucks is just not worth that much. The collectible market has been affected by the economic downturn as well. Those original Cabbage Patch Kid dolls are rare, but selling them isn’t going to pay for your kid’s college education. For every person who finds an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at a yard sale (true story!), there are millions who have been disappointed by items that aren’t that valuable, or sometimes aren’t even authentic.

I don’t have any hopes of finding “rusty gold” in my garage; I simply enjoy watching these shows and learning about these people and the items they collect and purchase. Found treasure television has a permanent spot on my DVR. But I’m holding on to my old Barbies and New Kids on the Block dolls. 

Just in case. 


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[author_info]About the Author

Crystal Paschal is our regular Entertainment Contributor bringing you all the juicy celeb gossip and TV/movie info that you love. When she’s not watching TV (most often of cartoon nature because of her kids), she writes on her blog at MomForLess.com. You can also find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter as @Mom4Less.

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Crystal Paschal is our general contributor giving us great posts across all topics. Crystal is the owner and founder of It's Fundamental, a children's book blog. She also blogs about family life at Mom For Less. You can find It's Fundamental on Facebook, and follow Crystal on Twitter at @Mom4Less.

5 Comments

  1. Tina

    October 27, 2011 at 9:43 am

    My favorite is Storage Wars. I watched a marathon last night. We even have my 3 year old screaming ” YYYYEEEEEPPPPP” like Dave does when he bids on a storage locker.

    • Crystal Paschal

      October 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm

      We LOVE Storage Wars. My favorite is Barry, he cracks me up!

      • Tina

        October 28, 2011 at 7:36 pm

        I love Darryle, he’s my fav….

  2. Jackie (WritRams)

    October 27, 2011 at 8:58 am

    I *LOVE* these shows. I am particularly intrigued by the intelligence/knowledge from Rick on Pawn Stars. I mean, this guy knows some history. I never would’ve guessed when I started watching that show.

    • Crystal Paschal

      October 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm

      I know, right? At first glance he looks more like a bouncer than a history buff. I love it when someone brings in an antique gun or something from the Revolutionary War era. He gets so excited, you can tell he is passionate about those things.

      And I can’t help it, Chum Lee makes me laugh.