THIS WEEK'S FEATURED STORIES
On the Road: Popular PBS show explores hidden treasures at Brookgreen and Hobcaw
By Charles Swenson
Two men contemplate a pair of bronze sculptures. The tape begins to roll.
The director’s eye catches something out of place.
“Mark, what’s that in your back pocket?” “It’s my wallet, which is empty because I work for public television.”
There’s nothing musty on the set of the award-winning PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.”
“It’s empty because I donate to public television,” says Mark Walberg, who is in his eighth season as host of the series.
Myrtle Beach is one of six stops for the 2013 season of “Antiques Roadshow,” but the production crew from WGBH in Boston came to the Waccamaw Neck last week to film break-out segments at Brookgreen Gardens and Hobcaw Barony.
Walberg, 49, grew up in Florence and attended what was then Francis Marion College. He went on the road one summer and never returned, he said. He started out in television as an assistant at Dick Clark Productions and had a career as a game show and talk show host before joining “Antiques Roadshow” in 2006.
Filming last week at Brookgreen, he gave the crew a briefing on South Carolina culture that included a few bars from the song “Sandlappers” and a short history of beach music. And he pointed out that the coast south of Brookgreen Gardens isn’t like the area around the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and hotel that was their headquarters.
With the camera running, Walberg talked with Eric Silver, a specialist in American figurative sculpture, about two works from the Brookgreen collection, “The Vine” by Harriett Frishmuth and “Water Lilies” by Bessie Potter Vonnoh, who were contemporaries of Anna Hyatt Huntington.
There is a script, which Walberg said he memorizes to help guide the appraisers through the conversation. “A TV set is not a natural place to have a conversation. My job is to set the table for them,” he said. “There’s a way to be casual without pandering.”
Silver, who works in New York, has been with “Antiques Roadshow” from the first episode. One take goes with no apparent glitches. But they shoot more from different camera angles, and each time Walberg gets more information from Silver.
Walberg said hosting the show has whetted his appetite to learn more about antiques. What impresses him about the appraisers is their willingness to share what they know.
“He’s a very agile host,” Marsha Bemko, the executive producer, said about Walberg. “He’s a viewer advocate.”
When the camera stops, Walberg turns and says they need to do it again. “I said ‘unique,’ ” he explains.
“There’s a reason we don’t use ‘unique,’” Bemko adds. “It means one-of-a-kind. We’ll get e-mails.”
“Antiques Roadshow” viewers are also quick to point out factual mistakes.
“Roadshow viewers are so engaged,” Walberg said. “The engagement of viewers is something you don’t get on ‘Jersey Shore.’ ‘No, the cover at Karma is actually $8.’ ”
The Hobcaw segments will focus on the theft of paintings there in 2003. Walberg hopes that will lead to their recovery. “It’s happened before,” he said.
The rise of reality shows such as “Pawn Stars” that also tell the stories behind the objects and focus on their value is a mixed blessing to Roadshow. Overall it creates a larger audience, Bemko said. But some are so obviously set up, Silver said. There is concern that viewers will start thinking “Antiques Roadshow” is done the same way.
“There is something to this you don’t find coming from commercial television,” Walberg said. “Protecting the integrity of the program.”