Talking Reality Treasures with Beers

Some pretty high-powered TV writers were gathered yesterday for a taped panel on reality television. Damian Holbrook, the TV Guide senior writer; Andy Dehnart, my friend behind the indispensible website and Kate O’Hare of Tribune Media Services were there along with me, your correspondent from this very website.

They all flew in from different parts of the country – Kate from L.A., Andy from Florida on a day I imagine he would have otherwise devoted to “The Glass House” premiere; Damian from TV Guide headquarters in Pennsylvania. Maybe it was because I was just up 16th Street from the National Geographic headquarters in D.C., I was invited along too (they declined to offer to pay my bus fare, but I walked anyway).

The man of honor was Thom Beers, the reality TV producer who created a genre with “Deadliest Catch” and made “Storage Wars” a hit. He has 16 shows on the air currently, somebody said, and the one that brought him here was “America’s Lost Treasures,” which premieres on the National Geographic Channel July 4.

It’s a good match for the network and is pretty much a retooled “Antiques Roadhouse” stressing items people may bring in are of historical as well as monetary import – or at least monetary import because of the historical import.

Hosts Kinga Phillips, pictured above, and Curt Doussett each try to find an artifact that will win the prize for the week — $10,000 and a showcase in the National Geographic Museum in D.C.

As in “The Voice,” (and “The Choice” for that matter), each picks several candidates before singling out a finalist.

“I was always an ‘Antiques Roadhouse’ fan,” Beers told viewers at a National Geographic screening. “I just felt it didn’t go far enough.”

So there’s this whole competition element, as well as a winner and a loser, something I always thought was unnecessary in some of Beers’ other series, as if an episode is without interest unless somebody makes more or catches more than somebody else.

Plus there are a lot of filmed parts where they go out with the person with the object, and then test it or get in costume for the flimsiest of reasons, to take it out of the auditorium, milling-about setup of “Roadshow.”

Next year at this time, the objects acquired from the first season of “America’s Treasures” will be on display in the museum there, where a Titanic exhibit now reigns.

“America’s Lost Treasures” was not the topic of the panel discussion we were in, taped for reasons that were never quite made clear to me (Extras for the eventual DVD? An on-demand National Geographic featurette? A TV Guide magazine online feature? The latter is the most likely choice, I was told).

We just went off on the state of reality TV, which we seemed to agree was in the midst of a transition from the current saturation point of competitions and docu-based series to something else, with plenty examples of bad (“Toddlers & Tiaras”!) as well as a few of the good (“Survivor,” “Whale Wars,” and not just because its father was present, “Deadliest Catch”).

Some of the most fascinating stuff came before the cameras started to roll, as when Beers delineated the three plane crashes he’s been in, including one in Africa where his plane hit a hippo and flipped.

Dehnart had deep knowledge of reality TV, of course, but O’Hare had intricate knowledge of Beers’ shows that surprised even him, as if she had been a secret production assistant at some point, recounting plot points and character names obscure to some of us. Holbrook kept things rolling and could be counted on to make a joke at the right spot. I managed to hang in there, although I my regret my prediction for a new reality show called the Butterfly Hunter, the finale of “The Killing” fresh in my mind.

At any rate, our panel, which you may be able to actually see at some point, was much more lively than, say, the in-house stars and producer panel after the screening that had to be nudged along by a vice president of programming.

People stuck around for that, though, because the whole day ended with a big barbecue out on the building’s plaza, with a DJ and burgers and beer (as well as Beers). Does National Geographic throw a big party for every new series it launches? Or just ones it has pretty good feelings about? They must be selling a lot of magazines.

Soon, the private cars were coming for the out of town guests and I grabbed a Creamsicle and started walking my way up 16th Street.

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