think tank

What's one man's crap is another's hit show

All my crap is, well, crap. I know because the experts at PBS' hit show "Antiques Roadshow" told me so. None of it will put my kids through college, secure a comfortable retirement or pay for a new clutch for my pickup.

I know some men who you can't call during "Monday Night Football." I'm not one of those. Don't call me on Monday during "Roadshow."

When the WGBH folks called me and asked if I wanted to swing by their taping in Baltimore, I could only reply: "Well, duh!" With one catch: Could I bring some of my crap?

More people watch "Roadshow" than any other offering on PBS. Why? What makes it a hit?

I'm a woodworker, so it makes sense that I watch, but the kids and my wife watch it, too. We try to guess what each item is worth and whether we'd sell it. While I'll never give Leigh Keno a run for his money, I'm the best appraiser in my house. My son is the best antiques dealer as he's ruthless. Nothing would escape the auctioneer's block.

"Roadshow" executive producer Marsha Bemko tried to define the show's continuing appeal.

"It's reality TV," she said. "It's smart reality TV, but it's reality TV."

Gasp! I'm hooked on the cultural phenomena I decry. My core, in the very soul of my understanding, is that reality TV is something for the great unwashed. That it is, well, crap. I dismiss its appeal with a line about crap and a million flies not being wrong. I proudly proclaim that I have never seen an episode of "American Idol."

Yet here I am, in Baltimore early one Saturday, sucked into reality TV's inescapable cultural vortex fawning over Keno. While the show has made Leigh and his twin brother, Leslie, stars, it's really about the stuff.

"It's like trout fishing," he said. "I'm looking at a piece, but at the same time, something catches my eye so that I'm always looking at what people are bringing in. It's like seeing that big, brown back break-water in the pool just ahead."

I think a lot about TV. Last week as I sat through another congressional TV-bashing session, I thought about my favorite shows. I had to, as the Senate Commerce Committee decided to feature "The Shield."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wants to ban shows like "The Shield" at the source. I don't know where he studied constitutional law, but pre-publication censorship has only been allowed when the nation is in great, immediate peril. The Civil War and World War II come to mind.

While the First Amendment protects both, it's really aimed at shielding "The Shield." Uncontroversial speech doesn't need protection; it's the things that make us squirm that need protection.

"Roadshow" probably won't face congressional scrutiny, but the two shows define both sides of TV's coin. "Roadshow" is safe, educational and entertaining; "The Shield" is dangerous, exciting and entertaining.

As much as I love "Roadshow" for the way it imparts knowledge without making me feel like I'm learning, I love "The Shield" for its sheer narrative drive and fantastic acting. Except for the accents, the characters on the show remind me of the cops I knew when I got my start.

Both shows impart a feeling of realism. "Roadshow" does it with the objects and the skill and knowledge of the appraisers. "The Shield" does it with the more traditional tools of the TV show producer.

I want to watch them both, and whether it turns out to be treasure or crap, I don't think the government should be making that appraisal.
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