A couple of months ago I mentioned that there seem to be a plethora of auction/evaluation shows on TV now days. Well, even more seem to be cropping up, and these seem to be taking a much uglier turn.
Perhaps it’s a sign of today’s economy. Rather than finding some hidden treasure of extravagant value, these new shows seem to focus more on desperation. Some of the shows are based on abandonment, and some are based on folks so down on their luck that they are willing to sell anything.
First up are the storage shed shows, and there are two of these hitting the cable networks. Both are set in California and are based on a law in that state which says that if the rent on a storage locker is unpaid for three months, the contents of that locker can be sold at auction. In other words, some poor folks couldn’t make their rent for whatever reason, had to abandon their stuff, and the guys on these shows get to make money off of it.
Both shows follow a similar premise. Buyers are not allowed a close inspection of the storage unit. They are allowed only five minutes to view what they can from the door. Upon that quick inspection they have to decide how high to bid. It could be a big pay-off with hidden treasure, or a bust.
Storage Wars on A&E was the first of these, and follows four professional storage shed buyers as they attend various auctions, then try to evaluate and sell what they find. This tends to be the edgier of the two shows, as conflicts between the buyers are highlighted about as much as the stuff they find in the units.
Auction Hunters on Spike TV came along later. This show follows a pair of storage shed buyers who are partners in a business. Since it focuses on one set of buyers, conflict tends to be downplayed, and the focus is more on what they find, and how much they can get for it. The two buyers are likable guys, and remind me of the guys from American Pickers.
Interestingly enough, I’ve found a blog of a professional storage unit purchaser, UrbanPackrat, who had some interesting observations of these shows in relation to real-life storage auctions. The point is that all of these shows are geared toward entertainment value, and show very little of what actually goes on in day-to-day life.
The thought of a show that makes money off of others’ misfortunes is a little off-putting, but that aspect seems to be downplayed in these storage shows. The emphasis is more on what they find and how it is evaluated. That’s not the case with the show I stumbled upon last night. The plight of the unfortunate seems to be the core of Hardcore Pawn on TruTV.
The show is similar in many aspects to Pawn Stars, which I mentioned in my earlier post. First, there’s the title which plays with substituting the word “pawn” for “porn.” Then there’s the setting of a family-run pawn shop in a large city and its day-to-day operations. However, that’s where the comparisons end.
Pawn Stars focuses on the items that are brought in and their evaluation. It’s set in Las Vegas, and the people come in that seem to have more disposable income. If what we see on TV is to be believed, they certainly bring in extravagant stuff. Most are looking to make money off of their items, and very few actually pawn anything.
Hardcore Pawn, on the other hand, is set in Detroit’s 8 Mile Road district. It’s clientele is predominantly low-income, black, and desperate. They are bringing in anything and everything they can to scrape together a few bucks. There is hardly anything about these items themselves, but lots of drama revolving around the people.
In the two episodes I watched I saw people ejected from the store for getting belligerent about waiting in line to retrieve pawned items, threats issued in abundance, and people trying to cheat the pawn shop either by selling or pawning fake stuff, or by trying to retrieve items under false pretenses. It seems like the security crew on this show has as much starring role as the shop owners. One woman brought in all she had on a cart, even taking the rings off of her fingers, to get enough cash for a funeral for her father. It truly is a show of desperation. Pawn Stars looks like a Disney production in comparison.
I guess it’s not surprising that Hardcore Pawn would show up up TruTV. Previously known as CourtTV, most of its shows feature people in conflict – either in a court case, as the previous name implies, in caught-on-camera programming such as the old “Cops” show, or Operation Repo, where boats, cars, etc., are repossessed.
I’m sure the desperation is present in Pawn Stars and the storage auction shows, but it’s never shown. Regardless, all of these shows must be very cheap to produce – no scripting, and very little production costs. You don’t need a set, or much else apart from your production equipment. I guess that’s one reason why they are popping up everywhere.
But, like all things, I’m sure this is a phase. Court TV shows were the first “reality” TV, and they are still around, just not in prime-time. There were cop shows, ghost shows, survival shows and now it seems auctions and pawn shops are the current rage.