Just to put this is proportion, let’s point out that network TV thinks 8 million viewers is a great showing. Cable is impressed with 4 million. Eleven million on education TV? Astonishing.
And there more. People call the Antique Roadshow a "guilty pleasure." And this means few people admit to watching it. People don’t talk about it around the water cooler. There is almost no "buzz." This means AR got to it’s massive popularity with very little word of mouth. And that makes it huger still.
Apparently, AR has arresting properties. It’s just plain fascinating, in the words of one blogger, "compulsively watchable."
But why? On the face of it, this is "talking head" television of the worst kind. And it’s about "old things." Shot in a church basement or a high school gym, the production values are virtually nil. There are no special effects. No beautiful people. No car chases. No athletics. No scandal. No titillation. No sex. No sizzle of any kind. It’s people talking about something carted out of a garage or an attic. Very low amperage. Under normal circumstances, this would be barely enough to sustain consciousness let alone a TV show.
I clipped a couple of quotes from the blogosphere and these help.
1) There is a sense of demographic trespass.
I don’t know what it is about that show but i watch it all the time…and i mean actually watch it, not that i just have it on as background noise. and i enjoy it. no…i’m not 70 years old. (Amy)
2) some sense that this show can be joyful
I don’t actively seek this show out. But if I turn the TV on, and PBS is Antiques Roadshowin’ it up, I CANNOT RESIST. I must watch, and squee at the things that turn out to be worth huge sums of money. And then! The people are so happy! And it makes me happy to see that. A lady just brought in a painting she’d bought for $400 and had restored for $600-900. AND IT TURNED OUT TO BE BY ONE OF THE FIRST HAWAIIAN ARTISTS TO PAINT IN A WESTERN STYLE, AND HE ONLY DID LIKE 5 OR 6 PAINTINGS. AND THEN IT WAS WORTH $100,000-$150,000! And it made me happy, and she cried, and I cried on the inside out of happiness for her. I’M WEIRD. (Joie)
3) some sense that the show can level those who are arrogant
the BEST part is when some uppity person comes in and they think they have something rare and valuable worth thousands of dollars and they give them the (incredibly polite) smackdown that its worth about $2.75. (Steve Betz)
4) some sense that the show combines the everyday and the historical as well as the expert and the civilian.
I think it is the fact that there is so much lost history that is rediscovered by everyday people. (Cubsfan)
5) it sounds as if the show amuses when its staid exterior is punctured by participant loss of control
I […] take pleasure in watching people throw hissy fits because great grandma’s momma’s daddy’s pocketwatch was a fake and actually created in Japan about 1972. (Grunt)
But surely this just begins to scratch the surface.
Amy. 2006. guilty pleasures. Live Journal. January 22, 2006. here.
Bly, Jenn. 2007. Naked Mole Rat. Moonlight Masquerade. December 03, 2007. here.
Betz, Steve. 2007 Comment on Is This a Guilty Pleasure. September 17, 2007. here.
CubsFan. 2008. Treasure Found. Cats, Cubs, Bears, Battlestar Galactica. here.
Grunt. 2006. Stop the Insanity. Two Pink Flamingos and a Doubly-wide. here.
Joie. 2007. Is this a quilty pleasure. Wish I was an English muffin. Sept. 16. 2007. here.