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Geekish Treasures

a review by Sandra Odell, Feature Editor

Midweek, late night.  What’s on TV?

*click*  No. . .*click*  No. . .*click*  No. . .*click*, *click*, *click*. . .7,000 channels and nothing good. . .*click*. . .Hmmm. . .HOLLYWOOD TREASURES on the SyFy Channel.  Looks promising.

I am a self-professed geek, hard to believe, I know.  I married a geek who prides himself on a certain level of geek cred, that elusive combination of OCD, and pipedreams that fuels the fire of behind the scenes genre aficionados around the world.  HOLLYWOOD TREASURES is the SyFy Channel’s bid to capture the market share of such geekish attention with a look at the high-end collector scene.

Founded by Joe Maddalena, Profiles In History is one of the world’s premiere auctioneers of original pop-culture, television, and movie memorabilia.  Not only is Joe a geek of high order and financial savvy, he is a shrewd businessman with an eye towards earning both his clients, and himself, top dollar with the sale of Hollywood relics ranging from King Kong concept artwork, to a Mary Poppins original prop bag, to the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (+10 geek cred points if you can name the author).  Profiles In History also arranged the sale of the captain’s chair from the original series STAR TREK, a definite feather in their geek cred cap.

The show follows the exploits and connections of the Profiles In History team as they make connections, solicit items, and arrange the auction voodoo that they do so well.  Joe, Owner and Director, comes from a family of collectors.  Brian, Acquisitions and Consignment Relations, has a particular love of science fiction memorabilia.  Jon is the Special Projects Manager, a die-hard comic and comic-art collector, and a screen and voice actor (with geek cred for appearance on LOST), and directs much of the company’s research and authentication efforts.  Tracey serves as the Special Events Coordinator, works with celebrity clients to arrange meetings and secure consignments, and wears very large earrings.

The thirty-minute episodes are broken into three segments:  the treasure; the hunt; the sale.  Like many other reality overview shows, an episode may contain segments from any number of ventures, at least this is my impression of the footage unless the auction bidders always sit in the same seats, wear the same clothes, and chew the same gum over the course of multiple events.

For “I’ll Get You My Pretty”, the focus is on the acquisition of the Wicked Witch of the West’s hat from The Wizard of Oz, the authentication of a Bela Lugosi costume purported to have been worn during the shooting of White Zombie, and Tracey arranging an introduction for Joe and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, for you non-males in the ’60s).  “Joe Gets Animated” follows Joe’s quest for the yellow brick road, the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and to help a terminally ill friend manage the sale of his collection of animation memorabilia.

Like many cut and pressed reality TV shows, HOLLYWOOD TREASURES presents both the highs and lows of the experience.  The Profiles In History team is not always successful in their efforts to secure consignments.  The current owner of the Cowardly Lion’s medal of courage, having outbid Joe for it at auction years ago, is not yet ready to sell, but promises to give Joe a call when the time comes.  Erin Gray, of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century skin-tight jumpsuit fame, has a possible consignment that falls short of expectations.  Even admitting to the disappointment of failed acquisitions, the team continues to network and nurtures these contacts in the hopes of future gains.

My in-laws collected collections, and they were not alone in their focused packratish ways.  Humans have taken a certain pleasure in collecting since the first proto-one-of-us realized he could trade two brown rocks for a purple rock, and for every aficionado of purple rocks there were three who preferred the brown.  We collect for sentimental reasons, as an investment, to preserve memories, or to keep up with our perceptions of Mr. & Mrs. Jones.

HOLLYWOOD TREASURES is a dreamer’s show, a study in America’s love affair with collecting in the form of conspicuous consumption.  By turns, I found myself watching with wistful fascination or cringing at the intentional excess of the bids.  Living hand to mouth as I sometimes do, it is easy to imagine yet difficult to accept that people are willing to spend $200,000 for the Wicked Witch of the West’s hat.  Not a house, or a vehicle, or a charitable donation.  A hat!  But what a hat it is, having perched on the head of one of modern cinemas most memorable, and in many ways frightening, figures.  Would I spend that much on a prize piece for a collection if I had the funds?  I don’t know. . .

I carried those mixed feelings through many of the episodes.  By its very nature, the show focuses on the financially solvent, or those members of the upper-middleclass with a credit rating to support their collecting habit.  This mirrors Hollywood’s lopsided economic, and in some ways racial, culture in general, and the science fiction/fantasy genre subculture in specific.

The thirty-minute format also does not allow much of the historical significance of the referenced items to come to light.  In “Comic-Con Quest”, the viewer is left wondering why the original art for Fantastic Four #12 is so valuable.  I know why, but you’ll have to find out for yourselves, true believers.

In the spirit of Discovery Channel’s AUCTION KINGS, or the History Channel’s PAWN STARS, SyFy’s HOLLYWOOD TREASURES roots its success firmly in the imaginations of a niche audience.  This is big business packaged for big spenders, and the rest of us can come along for the ride.  After all, you can still dream big even if you can’t spend big, and dreams power our imaginations.

SyFy Channel’s HOLLYWOOD TREAURES

Wednesday Nights 10/9Central and 10:30/9:30Central

http://www.syfy.com/hollywoodtreasure/

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