'Antique Roadshow' flips the script with celebrity editions
Chef, cookbook author and TV host Carla Hall has always wondered about an antique wooden highchair her family has long cherished.
What is its history? How much is it worth?
She finally got answers when PBS' “Antiques Roadshow” visited her Washington, D.C., home. It turns out that the highchair is not hand carved and dates to between 1880-1920. It's worth only about $100.
Even so, Hall still adores it. She and her husband are remodeling their home in a more modern style, but the highchair is staying.
“This will still be front and center somewhere in our modern house,” she says after the TV visit. “I’m not selling anything.”
Hall was one of several celebrity guests on four new special episodes of “Antiques Roadshow” that were filmed during the pandemic.
The producers flipped the script. Instead of people — and their would-be treasures — coming to meet the appraisers in a big hall, the appraisers went to the people. And this time, the people were famous.
“I think it’s very humanizing. They share with you this very vulnerable moment. They are just like any other ‘Roadshow’ guest,” says “Antique Roadshow” executive producer Marsha Bemko.
The first celebrity edition aired Monday and featured comedian Jay Leno, actor S. Epatha Merkerson, author Jason Reynolds, Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and pro golfer Dottie Pepper. Celebrities have appeared on “Antique Roadshow” before, but this is the first time they've been featured for an entire episode.
Kerrigan got a pair of her Olympic medals appraised as well as several competitive costumes, including the Vera Wang wedding dress outfit she wore at the 1992 Olympics. A torch from the 1996 Summer Olympics that she bought for $300 as part of a relay was now worth as much as $7,000.
Reynolds wanted to know about the value of a Langston Hughes letter, an advanced reader copy of Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land” and a first edition signed copy of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” Merkerson had a collection of Black memorabilia, and Pepper had a golf cup and an heirloom table.
Leno needed a lot more help from the team. He and his wife were instantly smitten by a 16,000-square foot estate in Newport, Rhode Island, and bought it pretty much on the spot, with all the furnishings. But he has no idea what he's got, from paintings to sculptures.
“He did knock on the door and buy everything — ketchup included — and doesn’t know what’s in there. So it was a real chance for us to help him,” says Bemko.
Future episodes — airing May 10, 17 and 24 — include the likes of humorist John Hodgman, actor Ronny Chieng, cartoonist Mo Willems, journalist Soledad O’Brien, fashion designer Christian Siriano and TV personality Carson Kressley.
“This is true across the board of everybody we visited on this show and all the others: They are human beings like you and me,” says Bemko. “They really are curious about what they own and they want to know, and not just because of the money. It’s not all about the value.”
The celebrity episodes were a clever answer to the pandemic and a chance to shake things up during the 25th anniversary of “Antique Roadshow.”
Initially, with flying not an option, the celebrities chosen to be featured were within driving distance of the show's Boston headquarters at WGBH. Everyone had to drive in separate cars, stay masked until cameras were rolling and were COVID-19 tested regularly. Some celebrities felt more comfortable displaying their collectibles on their lawn. Others allowed appraisers inside.
For Hall, a fan of the show, it was a chance to get answers for the items her family has long held dear, including an antique table, old seltzer bottles and chic handbags collected by her grandmother.
Hall also learned something. Her highchair converts into a stroller, something neither she nor her mother knew until the appraiser pointed it out. “That just was so wild,” she recalls. “I never knew that it did that. That was the biggest shock.”
She says she found the visiting “Antique Roadshow” experience interesting and fun: “I wanted to know the story before they got to me, but I didn’t care about the value of them because they meant so much to me,” she says.
The celebrity editions are infused with good will and gentle education as is the original show. Or, as Bemko puts it, “we ultimately teach history with material culture.”
“That is the beauty of what ‘Roadshow’ does: You are actually learning history, but not in a way that you even noticed,” she adds.
While the celebrity episodes were born out of necessity, Bemko hopes the concept will live on. “I think we found something else here that’s special. And I’d like a way to see it go beyond these four shows,” she says. “I think we can do both. I want to do both.”