It’s a fantasy harbored by nearly everyone who prowls and picks through flea markets, antique stores, and yard sales. The perfect find. That special undervalued item that has a price of $3 neatly written on a sticker, but is expertly appraised at $300.
The fantasy runs through shows from PBS’s highbrow “Antiques Roadshow’’ down to the more coarse “Storage Wars’’ and “Pawn Stars.’’ While History and A&E keep pumping out these shows (“American Pickers,’’ anyone?), PBS has finally decided to capitalize on the popularity of “Roadshow’’ with the flashier “Market Warriors,’’ produced by WGBH and debuting on Channel 2 Monday night.
Marsha Bemko, executive producer of both “Antiques Roadshow’’ and “Market Warriors,’’ injects a new energy into her latest creation. “Warriors’’ takes four appraisers, removes them from the tranquillity of the auction house, and dumps them at flea markets across the country. With a budget of $1,000, the four very likable experts are charged with seeking out treasures from the bric-a-brac.
Their foraged items go to auction, and the warrior who comes away with the biggest profit wins. The formula may not be exactly new — the BBC has been doing something similar for more than 20 years with “Bargain Hunt,’’
and History is debuting a similar offering this week with “Picked Off’’ — but “Market Warriors’’ promises to be as addictive as “Antiques Roadshow.’’ Did I mention that they only have an hour to track down the winning items, or that Fred Willard is the host?
The four pickers are drawn from different worlds, and there is a competitive camaraderie among them all, but they are never obnoxious. It is PBS, after all. This is a refreshing change from the scolding, bickering, and bleeped-out cursing of the show’s basic cable cousins, and it’s a relief to watch any reality-based show without the dreaded confession camera.
Much of the watchability of “Market Warriors’’ comes from the four experts. They’re the kind of people you wish would accompany you to the local tag sale and haggle a tough but civil deal for you.
Bob Richter, a designer from New York, is the dandy of the quartet. He appears dressed for an afternoon in the English countryside. Affable antiques dealer John Bruno is an expert at buttering up sellers for a deal. Rhode Island expert Kevin Bruneau is deadline challenged (at least in the first episode), and Southern art appraiser Miller Gaffney reveals her pricey tastes early in the show.
If this is all sounding a bit too genteel, it’s not. The hour time limit adds a substantial level of stress and suspense, along with the “What on earth could they be thinking?’’ factor. And for those “Antiques Roadshow’’ junkies, there are educational lessons about the items that ultimately go up for sale. Who knew that one of the ugliest midcentury lamps I’ve ever seen could be worth hundreds of dollars?
While there may not be a lot of battling going on with these warriors, this show takes the winning formula of “Roadshow’’ and turns up the volume — just not too loud.