Antiques Roadshow, PBS’s most-watched ongoing series, is celebrating its 25th anniversary season with four episodes featuring celebrities who will discuss hidden treasures found in their homes. Airing May 3, 10, 17, and 24, the episodes are the series’ first to include famous folks.
Among the celebrities appearing will be musicians Rubén Blades and Luba Mason, and Paquito D’Rivera and Brenda Feliciano; chef Carla Hall; humorists John Hodgman and Mo Rocca; and authors Jason Reynolds and Mo Willems. Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, TV personality Carson Kressley, comedian Jay Leno, actor S. Epatha Merkerson, broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien, and fashion designer Christian Siriano will also be featured.
Traditional Antiques Roadshow episodes have been filmed across the United States and Canada at convention centers, museums, and even a garden and a racetrack. In the new episodes, which were filmed from July 2020 through this past January, appraisers visited most of the celebrities in their homes, and sometimes even outside of them, in a nod to social distancing and other pandemic-related restrictions.
As is the show’s custom, the episodes are anchored around appraisers’ discussion of collectors’ objects with the owners. And just as each regular episode features multiple collectors, each celebrity episode will feature four or five celebrities and their antiques and collectibles
Antiques Roadshow executive producer Marsha Bemko said the series initially “cold-called” the celebrities featured in the episodes, describing them as “people we’d like to talk to. We knew they collected and had passions for certain material culture,” she said.
Another requirement, she said, was that the celebrities lived within driving distance of Boston, where GBH, the public television station that produces the series for PBS, is based.
“We had to be strategic. When we set out on this journey, it was a scary time,” Bemko said, adding that everyone involved in the making of the episodes—including celebrities, appraisers, and crew members—were masked “until the time the cameras rolled.”
The first new episode features Leno and Merkerson. And for good reason. In 2017, Leno—who has a home and a legendary car collection in the Benedict Canyon neighborhood of Beverly Hills—purchased a fully furnished, 14-bedroom, nine-acre 1936 estate in Newport, R.I. for $13.5 million. He told AD in 2019 that he and his wife were driving on Newport’s Ocean Drive in 2017, when she noticed the estate; the gardener told them it was for sale, though not currently listed. “I said, ‘Get the owner on the phone!’ and I bought it on the spot,” he recalled.
Two appraisers—Karen Keane of Boston-based Skinner, Inc., and Boston-based Michael Grogan—visited Leno for the episode at this Newport estate. Keane discussed a ship model in his living room, a mermaid weather vane on his home’s roof, and a lead and bronze peacock garden statue, while Grogan discussed a painting by Blanche-Augustine Camus.
Keane said Leno—whom she noted was modestly dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt during the episode’s filming—was “very interested in the back story of the objects. He understands collecting because he is a car enthusiast; he’s an extremely sophisticated collector when it comes to automobiles. He brings an understanding of the kinds of questions that need to be asked about collecting. And he understands the quality of workmanship of previous generations.”
Another reason the peacock statue appealed to Leno, she added, is that the peacock is the logo of NBC, home of The Tonight Show, which he hosted, except for a brief hiatus, from 1992 to 2014.
Merkerson is visited in her Harlem, New York, apartment by Bene Raia, a Holliston, Massachusetts–based appraiser of dolls, and Leila Dunbar, a Washington, D.C.–based appraiser of pop culture memorabilia. An award-winning actor, Merkerson has appeared on Broadway, and on Law and Order and Chicago Med, both on NBC; she also has a home in Chicago, where the latter series is currently filmed.
She recently told AD she collects Black memorabilia and works by Black artists (including Elizabeth Catlett, Geoffrey Holder, and Jacob Lawrence) because “it’s part of my history. I don’t want to be ashamed of what my history was, and so I find it educational. It’s a representation of me.”
She finds entertainment-related objects particularly appealing, some of “folks in poses of dance. As well as being an actor, I’ve done musicals.”
An example of these objects is a 1930 poster for “Bubber Mack and His ‘Apache Dancers.’ ” On it, eleven Black women and one Black man are lined up in colorful costumes; many women wear slacks, no doubt to resemble men. The poster’s headline reads: “The Georgia Smart Set Presents Brown Skin Mammas 1930.” This poster was a gift to Merkerson from actor Jesse Martin, her costar on Law and Order.
Dunbar said the poster was not a stock poster (a poster with one image used for a variety of shows). Rather, Merkerson’s poster was created specifically for the Georgia Smart Set show, and, as a result, is “much more illustrative and detailed,” making it more desirable.
Bemko said every celebrity interviewed for the new episodes “is vulnerable, hungry for information that we have. You can feel their anticipation. They’re just like you and me—people are people.”
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