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Most of the shows so far cater to male audiences. On “American Pickers” (History Channel), Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz paw through the moldering contents of garages and barns for the likes of “a must-have German leather pilot’s helmet and a rare ship’s compass.” On Spike TV’s “Auction Hunters,” Allen Haff and Clinton Jones buy abandoned storage units and find “1920s Prohibition whiskey likely smuggled by Al Capone” and “century-old Masonic swords.”
But in the last few weeks, female casts have emerged. Three women running a Chicago-area antiques store named the Perfect Thing appraise miscellany on TLC’s “What the Sell?!” The Michigan dealer Cari Cucksey keeps sellers calm at tag sales and restores ruined furniture on HGTV’s “Cash & Cari.”
There have already been failures. TLC’s “Auctioneer$,” filmed at an Arizona auction house, died after a few episodes, as did National Geographic’s “Auction Packed,” about a Pennsylvania family of auctioneers.
In addition to the risk of cancellation, dealers on camera now face greater public scrutiny of their wares. Last month, The Art Newspaper reported, government officials seized an antique bronze Chinese sword at Gallery 63, an Atlanta auction house filmed for “Auction Kings” (Discovery Channel). The auctioneer, Paul Brown, said in a recent phone interview that, according to the consignor, the American military had looted the weapon from one of Saddam Hussein’s offices. Days after the lot appeared online, Mr. Brown said, federal agents “were down here with the badges and the subpoenas.”
In early March Don Presley Auctions in Orange County, Calif., was widely publicizing a sale of Chinese rhino horn pendants and cups that had turned up in an abandoned storage unit on A&E’s “Storage Wars.” But a few days before the auction, government agents took away the collection “for inspection to make sure it is legal to sell,” according to the Presley Web site (donpresleyauction.com).
“Storage Wars” still filmed the auction, without the rhino horn. Appearing on cable “is a help for my business, no doubt about it,” Don Presley, the company’s owner, said. He added, “I made new customers out of the TV crew,” who bid at the sale.
At least a half-dozen more antiques programs are in progress. The Canadian dealers Charles and Peter Green are developing one due in late 2011. A pilot is being readied for “Antique Warriors,” starring Manhattan and Massachusetts antiques pickers who drive a vintage bus powered by corn oil. “The mission is to find the coolest stuff on the planet,” Douglas Kirkpatrick, a producer of the show, wrote in an e-mail.
Other proposed series with similar titles, like “Great American Auction” and “Great American Pick Off,” have put out casting calls for dealers and aspiring actors. One ad for an as-yet-unnamed show announced: “We’re looking for anything that may be extremely rare, holds great historical value or is a one-of-a-kind item with great family history.