Somewhere around 95 million American households subscribe to the cable TV channel, History Channel, and an estimated 4.7 million people watch Pawn Stars, one of those so-called “reality” shows. This show takes place in an actual working pawn shop in a seedier part of the Las Vegas strip. If you haven’t watched the show and may be wondering how a pawn shop fits into the “history” theme of the History Channel, understand that the items being sold or pawned are given an explanation with a brief history. Like many reality shows, the chemistry of the shop “stars” is what is equally entertaining. It has been a recipe for success, breathing new life into the History Channel.
At the beginning of each show, Rick Harrison, owner of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop – where the show is taped – boldly proclaims: “You never know what is gonna come through that door.”
Well, I did on Friday.
I wasn’t there looking at the valuables in the glass containers in Las Vegas’ top tourist attraction nor to buy a Chumlee coffee mug souvenir. I was there to be on the show.
Last November I decided to see about getting on the show to sell an historic letter. I figured I would probably never hear back but also knew that my item – a letter signed by President Kennedy – was a perfect item for the Pawn Stars format. Months after emailing the production company about my item, I was invited to show up on Valentine’s Day of all days. I was informed that many people try to get on the show but relatively few are selected.
Getting on the show is one thing. Getting what you want for your item is another thing. After all, pawn shops buy low and sell high to make money. The buyer – normally Rick or son Corey – typically expresses an interest in an item but then negotiates a lower-than-market price after reciting the item’s defects, or how long it will take to sell or how much their overhead costs them. They routinely remind the seller that they need to make a profit, too. Some say they are taking advantage of desperate people but I wasn’t desperate to make a deal.
I signed a confidentiality agreement so I am really not at liberty to tell how things actually went down. Let’s just say that Rick’s offer was not as bad as one shop seller predicted as she whispered to me that I would be offered a quarter of the item’s value. Before heading to Vegas I came up with my absolute rock bottom dollar figure that I needed or I’d walk. I wouldn’t take any less, even if pressured by the most famous pawn shop owner in the world. My nervousness grew as I drove into the city and saw freeway billboards advertising the stage show parody of the Pawn Stars show. With its 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day, the pawn shop is a big deal in Vegas these days.
I made the trip with my girlfriend, Sarah Evers, and we waited a while before filming started with Harrison, who started his Las Vegas shop in 1981 with his career Navy dad, who is crusty as dry bread and tart with his expletive-riddled comments. Harrison has three sons, one of whom works on the show. Corey once talked his dad into hiring a friend in Austin Russell, better known by viewers as “Chumlee.” Chumlee is described as the “village idiot,” a dim-witted yet lovable goofball. It’s no wonder that everyone who stops by the shop hopes to meet “Chum.”
Not all sellers or prospective sellers who are filmed actually make it on TV but I was told by Rick himself that I’m not only likely to make it on the show but it would be sooner than later. He also told me that I would be seen in 150 different countries, in 32 languages worldwide. Pawn Stars is number one in India and the number one TV show in South America. When Harrison made an appearance in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 12,000 fans turned out – not the anticipated 500 – and the national police had to come in for security.
After indoor taping ended, Sarah and I were escorted to the Old Man’s office as Rick chatted in the hallway. He signed an autograph with few words and posed for a photo. We were then ushered outside to videotape the outdoor scenes. Helicopters interrupted the session numerous times, as did visitors who were gawking at the presence of TV cameras and a boom mike. A car rolls down Las Vegas Boulevard and someone yells “Where’s Chumlee?” Then we were escorted back into the shop to pick out a free shop T shirt. We looked down the long counter where a mob formed around Chumlee who was smiling and signing autographs like a top billing movie star at the counter and posing for photos. His new veneers and the slimmer figure reveal that show business has been very good to even Chumlee.
If I’m fortunate enough to be aired, I believe that I will find the most excitement about the world seeing the item and the history behind the item I placed in Rick Harrison’s hands. It’s about a pivotal moment in American history that none of us should ever forget.
If Leftfield Pictures decides to air the segment, I’ll try to give you a heads up. I was told anywhere from two weeks to five months but probably sometime around two months.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.