<i>Antiques Roadshow</i>

People Learn To Love Their Junk

In the season of the reality TV show, some might be surprised to learn the country's longest running reality show is on PBS.

Antiques Roadshow is part history lesson, part treasure hunt and pure greed. The TV show has become an addiction for the millions of people who watch it religiously each week.

The show has convinced many of its fans that they may have an antique worth a fortune hidden in the house or hanging in the hallway.

60 Minutes II Anchor Dan Rather provides a behind-the-scenes look at Antiques Roadshow as it hunts for that treasure in the attic.

The line begins before sunup in city after city, from the Vegas Strip to the center of Oklahoma.

At every Antiques Roadshow stop, middle Americans come by the thousands, pulling, pushing and dragging the outdated debris of daily life: couches, and clocks, mechanical toys and muskets, Grandma's old doll, Grandpa's steel guitar. There's the sublime, the ridiculous and the just plain weird.

Roadshow has a simple premise: Go to a city somewhere in America. Get people to bring in literally any old thing. Pair them with antiques appraisers who examine every item to determine what it is and its worth. Add cameras and a crew and capture the most interesting appraisals.

The program may have replaced winning the lottery as America's favorite get-rich-quick fantasy.

"I've got a Ben Franklin letter," declares one man. "I found it folded up in an old book that was part of my grandma's stuff."

Would he sell it if it was worth $100,000?

"It might help send some of my grandkids to school. So yeah, I'd probably sell it," he says.

Out of 8,000 people who came to a Roadshow taping in Tulsa, only about 50 will get on the air. That only happens if an appraiser sees something he or she thinks is really special.

Then the appraiser must convince executive producer Peter Cook that he should put the big find on camera.

"It is a lot of fun. You have to keep a lot of things in mind," Cook says. "The main event is what is this item? (Is it) intrinsically interesting?"

For example one woman points out an old snuff box from the Titanic. "I found it out in a field in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma," she says.

It could be worthless. But if an appraiser singles it out, it could end up before the Roadshow cameras.

There's no telling what people will haul to the show.

Most of these dreams don't come true. But when they do, it can be entertaining.

"In the final analysis...this ain't about antiques. This is about eople," Cook says.

The people who keep the show on the road are the unseen stars. All summer long, once a week, in a different city, they set up a massive TV studio in a single day. At each stop, they train new volunteers on crowd control. They prepare for thousands of guests.

It is a bit like taking the circus around the country and setting up in a new place.

For a long time, it seemed Antiques Roadshow which has been a hit in Britain for more than 20 years, wouldn't get on the air in America.

In 1981, Dan Farrell bought the American rights convinced he had a huge hit. Nothing happened for a long time, he says. "I wasn't able to convince anyone that this was a viable television show in the United States."

Public TV decided to take a chance. Now, after five years on the air, the show draws huge crowds at every taping.

And the appraisers who once worked in obscurity have become household names with famous faces.

There are the attention-grabbing, furniture-sniffing, autograph-signing, identical twin Keno brothers, Lee and Leslie.

"It's a blast," says Leslie Keno. "It's a little like Christmas morning when you're a kid, and you never know what's going to come out of the next box."

Says his brother: "Everyone has something in their attic or maybe their basement that they think might be valuable or that they think is going to tell a story."

The Kenos found a one-of-a-kind story in the Roadshow's second season when they looked at a table purchased at a garage sale for $25. They put its value at $200,000 to $225,000.

The Roadshow wouldn't pay that much. Neither would the appraisers. But the owners of pieces worth big money often decide to sell.

The table was eventually offered at a New York auction. It sold for more than half a million dollars.

"Roadshow has had an effect on people's consciousness," says Lee Keno.

"It's sent America on basically a treasure hunt," Leslie Keno adds.

Roadshow appraisers are living an appraiser's drea, getting a first look at America's treasures.

"They're all looking for the big score," Cook says. "That's part of the excitement of it."

In 1997 a competition among appraisers to get on the show resulted in a mini-scandal. Two appraisers secretly arranged to have a $35,000 Confederate sword show up at a taping so one could take it on camera.

The stunt cost both appraisers their coveted Roadshow spots.

"The appraisal segment was impeccable. It was a wonderful story," Cook says. "And almost true."

"It would be very difficult for it to happen today," says Cook. "Every appraiser now signs a participation agreement that lays out the guidelines very very clearly....Every one of the people who works with us knows that if they do anything like this, they're gone from the show."

Appraiser Rudy Franchi, who has been wih the Roadshow from the beginning, recalls a spectcular find: "I discovered a Titanic menu."

"It sold at auction last year for $75,000, he adds.

And the snuff box supposed also from the Titanic? "Not even a reproduction; it's a fantasy piece. It was made in about 1970," he says.

But occasionally, even the appraisers get stumped. Appraising is definitely not for amateurs or for those without historical perspective.

African-American historical pieces on the Roadshow are handled by Phillip Merrill. "This is an outstanding picture of a former slave," says Merrill of one piece. "On the back, the documentation is outstanding,...that he came from Africa in 1865. There are names right here. This is a researcher's dream."

It could be worth $13,000 to $18,000. "The South is a gold mine," Merrill says.

"Tugs at your heart,...everyone's heart, America's heart," he says of this type of memorabilia.

Something more than materialism is behind this country's new interest in antiques, according to the man regarded as the dean of the Roadshow appraisers, Wendell Garrett.

"When we go through any kind of revolution,...industrial revolution or technological revolution,...we look forward and we look backward," he says. "Looking to the future with hope, they look backward out of fear and nostalgia, to recapture something that...they could lose...,that could vanish."