During the 2009 recession, History Channel took an unlikely hit pawn starsthe unscripted series where ordinary people found life-changing treasures in their attic and cashed them in at a time when money was tight.
Since then, the series has grown into a smash hit. More than 700 episodes were commissioned, with reruns airing on History, Lifetime, A&E and Netflix. Several others in the so-called transactional TV genre started around the same time, series like Shark tanks, American pickers, camp wars, American restoration and other. A spin-off of the successful franchise that started it all, Peasant Stars Do Americastarts November 9th on History.
Well, Brent Montgomery – who was born with the founding of transactional television pawn stars — is the driving force behind a rebirth of the genre as the US economy finds itself in familiar territory when the Las Vegas-based show originally bowed out. Montgomery has seen renewed interest in the genre through his groundbreaking incubator at the Wheelhouse, and has created a number of new shows in the space.
First up in the wave is Hidden Treasures 2.0 programming King of collectiblesa series starring industry leader Ken Goldin showcasing some of pop culture’s most coveted items, including a premium Mickey Mantle rookie card, an in-game Jackie Robinson bat, in-game jerseys worn by Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and even the actual outfit from Prince Purple Rain. The series stars Peyton Manning as executive producer and stars Goldin investor and noted collector Logan Paul among others.
The History Channel also leaned heavily into the void with the assignment secret recovery, a series set in New England, where America’s nation’s master craftsmen restore treasures and work in secret for clients who want to surprise loved ones with like-new valuables. The Cabler is also evolving restore this, a show based on a British format in which artisans compete for jobs restoring old items that can be worth a fortune.
Montgomery is also in the process of purchasing a series built around Rally, a platform that offers ordinary people the opportunity to own a percentage of the most valuable collectibles, including a first edition of Harry Potter, Vintage cars, the ultra-rare Honus Wagner baseball card and a copy of The Incredible Spiderman Number 1.
“It’s a sense of deja vu compared to 2009 when the economy went down the drain. pawn stars created a genre,” says Montgomery The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re lucky because pawn stars and the other shows we did to get the first call from networks, streamers, or talent, or partners like Connor Schell on Goldin’s show. There has been more in-depth interest for our development team and we have assembled a casting team to help us focus on this genre.”
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During the quarantine period of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in collecting watches, toys, sneakers, rare whiskey, wines, art and sports cards exploded. In the first five months of 2020, auction house Sotheby’s surpassed $100 million in online sales for the first time. Online art sales at the top three auction houses – Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s – rose 474.8 percent in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year. An October 2020 Credit Suisse report found that the estimated value of collectibles owned by individuals worldwide was a whopping $1.2 trillion. And thanks to professional rating and authentication companies like PSA, new markets have emerged as interest explodes in things like unopened copies of VHS tapes and original Nintendo games. A Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps Rookie card, considered one of the hobby’s holy grails and examples of which will be featured on both the Goldin and Rally shows, was sold in August for a record 12.6 million dollars sold.
“My first real business was a baseball card business when I was in eighth grade and through high school. I was 13 and competing against 40-year-olds at baseball card shows. That’s where my hunger to become an entrepreneur came from,” says Montgomery. “I didn’t realize how comparable it was to the stock market. This time, however, professionalized. It’s a real deal; There are people who make a living selling sports tickets and people want to see that.”
One of Montgomery’s Wheelhouse investors found Rally, and the next thing the veteran unscripted executive knew he was holding a Babe Ruth bat and was later listening to Goldin reminisce about the time he had one bought a similar racquet from the Yankee great’s estate. “I said, ‘That’s both shows.’ Ken is made for TV,” says Montgomery, who invests in both Goldin and Rally.
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Rally co-founder Rob Petrozzo was a regular at Montgomery’s Wheelhouse events. The company has provided unique items such as the former Staples Center basketball floor where Bryant last played for the LA Lakers, which are known to attract everyone from Wheelhouse partner Jimmy Kimmel to Alex Rodriguez and John Stamos. The invitation-only events bring together investors like Petrozzo, athletes and celebrities with green-light executives. It helps that Montgomery – who made more than $360 million when he sold his baseball-inspired production company Leftfield Entertainment to ITV in 2015 – is there to pave the way.
“Stocks don’t have a heartbeat. The premise of our business is that it is a collectibles exchange; we have museum-quality stuff that we split into shares,” says Petrozzo. “We saw it as a bigger storytelling opportunity and Brent saw that.”
With success, the untitled rally show will tell the story behind objects like the house in which it is featured The Godfather, rare baseball and basketball cards, early manuscripts for Lord of the Rings and more as the New York-based company finds experts to verify and validate them, eventually turning them into shares with an IPO.
“Wheelhouse took something pawn stars set up and taken to the next level. You see these articles, you get the stories, you search for them, you find experts in those fields, and then you can now walk away with a piece of that in your portfolio,” says Petrozzo.
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History Channel programming director Eli Lehrer has known Montgomery since the early days when he was an executive at Bravo and bought documentaries about women. The duo have stayed in touch over the years, and Montgomery reached out to Teacher — who was behind it pawn stars Touring spinoff – with the idea for a restoration show with a twist that would eventually become Secret Recovery. The series that builds on the story and that of Montgomery american restoration, is paired with on the schedule Peasant Stars Do Americaas Teacher feels the shows share the same DNA.
“American restoration was a great format and satisfying show, and we haven’t been in the restoration space for a number of years,” says Lehrer, who grew up collecting baseball cards and enjoys watching video collecting videos on YouTube. “When Brent gave us the idea for secret recovery, It felt like a fresh and interesting way to return to a space that we already knew would resonate with our audience.”
After broadcasting almost 600 episodes in 20 seasons, pawn stars remains a vitally important show for History, where it has ranked among the cable maker’s highest-rated shows for more than a decade. It’s worth noting that reruns placed the series in the top 10 Netflix acquired programs.
“Week after week, year after year, there’s an engaged audience there,” says Lehrer. “There is a renewed interest in collectibles and after two years of COVID, Rick Harrison wanted to take to the streets and see what things people had found in their attics in their homes after two years.”
For his part, Montgomery still appreciates the lessons he’s learned from pawn stars and has used this knowledge to help build Wheelhouse. When pawn stars History started in 2009, for example History relied on Montgomery and his Leftfield banner to cast the show and discover the items featured on it. Now Montgomery Wheelhouses has started his own casting department. Of those six employees, half focus specifically on sports cards, sneakers and restoration. On a network like History, Wheelhouse’s casting department looks for items related to the IP of the cable network. “It’s all brand-friendly,” enthuses Montgomery. “As more and more streamers need to advertise, these are ad-friendly programs.”
Looking ahead, Montgomery cites Goldin’s company as the first example of the so-called “Wheelhouse Effect,” in which the production company acts not only as an investor but also as a growth partner as new revenue streams can be found in the original programming.
“I’m thrilled! A lot of people don’t understand the difference between baseball cards and art and why a card can be worth so much money,” says Montgomery. “We want to tell stories that explain that and expand interests that are considered subcultures. Nobody questions the stock market and public companies, but that’s more fun!”