Antiques audition: More than 12,000 items were vying to appear on PBS show

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Sunday, July 12, 2009
— From across Wisconsin, they came to the Alliant Energy Center like mayflies to a porch light.

Some were polished and displayed on velvet.

Others were unceremoniously stuffed in garbage bags or rolling suitcases.

Dragged from their imprisonment in musty basements or lighted China hutches, they waited in long lines for five minutes of fame.

Big Bird was the first through the door in the morning.

Shiva lounged in a red canvas lawn chair.

It was the "Antiques Roadshow", and it was a treasure hunter’s dream.

Tickets were sold out for the Saturday morning filming in Madison of the popular appraisal show.

Producers expected 5,800 guests, and each ticket holder was allowed to bring two items for appraisal, said Erik Ernst, promotion manager with Wisconsin Public Television.

Ernst was a volunteer at the show. His job was to escort a Gazette reporter and photographer around the set and say, “It’s OK. They’re with me.”

After waiting in line for timed admission, guests showed their item to a general appraiser who split them into lines for specific appraisers. The categories included folk art, military, Asian arts, jewelry, toys and books.

Seventy appraisers sat at labeled tables around a large, circular set.

In the middle were the lights, the cameras and the famous Keno brothers—Leigh and Leslie—along with other appraisers and dozens of crew members.

Just outside the cameras’ view, guests lugged heavy, bulky items. Crew members shouted to keep gawkers out of the way.

The chaos added to the fun of seeing what people had dragged out of the house: a set of painted totem poles, a brass Shiva, a 4-foot-tall Big Bird and lots of paintings.

If an appraiser found a really interesting item, he or she would alert the show’s producers. If the item was deemed worthy of filming, the guest was whisked into the green room to wait for filming.

Being whisked to the green room—yes, that was the verb everyone used—wasn’t as exciting as you might think, said Marcy Polzin of Janesville.

It was just a place to hurry up and wait, Polzin said.

Polzin is an avid fan of the show. She was one of 12 people chosen to submit a furniture piece for appraisal at the Madison filming.

She supplied a five-legged, oak table that her grandma bought from a neighbor for $3, according to family legend.

Also according to the legend, the burn mark on the table was made the only time grandma smoked a cigarette, Polzin said.

The table had a storage space for an extra leaf. That was where grandma kept the cash from her Social Security checks, Polzin said.

The table turned out to be worth $1,200, but Polzin didn’t care about that. The memories of grandma were worth much more, she said.

Polzin also brought a crazy quilt and some copper jewelry for appraisal.

“It’s just so fun to see what everybody brought,” she said.

Producers arrange for a handful of furniture pieces such as Polzin’s to be shipped to the set at the show’s expense, Ernst said.

They do so to make sure at least a handful of furniture pieces end up at each filming. But inevitably, someone drags in a giant armoire or something similar strapped on a rickety cart, Ernst said.

Of the 12,000 items appraised Saturday morning, 50 or so will make it on TV. The Madison filming will air between January and May 2010.

Last updated: 10:57 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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