Marsha Bemko: Reaching Back for Success with “Antiques Roadshow”

By Leslie Moore

Marsha Bemko: Reaching Back for Success with “Antiques Roadshow”

I have always found the smell of a musty, long forgotten box of uncertain treasures exciting. The things that someone, usually a family member, found important enough to carefully preserve for future generations are sometimes puzzling, sometimes deeply sentimental, but always interesting and fun. “Antiques Roadshow,” produced for PBS by WGBH in Boston, appeals to the love we have for things that tie us to our past, and the show’s popularity attests to how many of us can’t get enough of the stories that lie behind each item.

Last June, “Antiques Roadshow” filmed three episodes of the show in Myrtle Beach, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to interview the show’s executive producer, Marsha Bemko. Since “Antiques Roadshow” has been one of my favorite television programs for years, I was very excited. This is a big job, and it didn’t take long to understand why, with Marsha at the helm, the show has been nominated for 10 Emmy® Awards and gained around 10 million viewers.

Marsha’s background is in television – she has been in this business for more than 30 years. She is a published author and sought after speaker, appearing across the country at colleges, community organizations, business groups and public television stations. In addition to her work with “Antiques Roadshow,” Marsha is the executive producer of “Market Warriors,” a new PBS show that premiered last summer. This show follows four dealers to flea markets where they buy something to sell at auction. “When they lose money, we show you,” Marsha laughed.

“I am suited to this job,” she began. “I’ve always been interested in old things, but now I am dangerous. I get to see the very best! It never gets old. I have a crew of 15, and it’s like summer camp for big kids!” I asked Marsha what was the average value of the things people brought in for appraisal. “Anything with a high value, five or six figures, is very rare,” said Marsha. “Most people don’t sell their things anyway, no matter what they are worth.” An Andy Warhol Soup Can collection was the one of the most interesting items Marsha has seen recently. “We were filming a segment in El Paso, Texas. This man bought in several soup cans signed by Andy Warhol and a signed poster he had purchased for $125.” One of the most valuable items ever brought in was an antique Rhinoceros Horn Cup collection in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was valued at 1 million to 1.5 million dollars.

Each season’s episodes are filmed in the summer, and the show visits eight cities each year, where people can apply for tickets to bring their items for appraisal. Each ticket holder can bring two items. Marsha and the show’s host, Mark L. Walberg, fly in on the Wednesday before the filming that weekend. “It takes a long time to set up. We travel with huge boxes of books. Our library has information that can’t be found anywhere else.”

After the filming is finished, Marsha spends her time on the plane watching all the video clips – hours and hours of clips – and decides which ones will be aired on the show. By Wednesday, the staff meets to find any mistakes and finalize the selections. “This is public television. Our responsibility is to teach,” Marsha began. “We have 10 million viewers, and I never want to give them a reason to criticize. Our show has changed the world regarding antiques and collectibles.”

Marsha explained to me that the 70 expert appraisers working the show have decades of experience. A lot of them are the children of dealers and collectors. And, amazingly, they do not get paid to work on the show and pay all of their own expenses. “After 13 years producing this show, I know a lot, but I could never do what they do. Most come back year after year – they are passionate about what they do.” Marsha and her staff are very careful about who they allow to appraise items. Everyone who comes to them is thoroughly checked out beforehand. “Once they are on the show, people trust them.”

If a person comes to the show and decides they want to sell the item they have brought in for appraisal, they are not allowed to talk to the expert who appraised their item. What they can do is get contact information and call later for information. “I always tell people to think long and hard about selling a family heirloom,” Marsha said with a serious look on her face. “You will only get half the value at auction, and then you could never buy it back. If it has sentimental value, hang on to it if you can.”

“People in the south are nicer,” Marsha told me when I asked how she liked the area. “I’ve traveled to every state, and I firmly believe the land shapes the people. Less populated areas are generally kinder.” She did think it was extremely hot here. (Remember how hot and humid it was at the end of June last year!)

I asked Marsha about her life outside of the show and found it parallels the life of working women everywhere – making sure her children have what they need has been her first priority. “I have a good marriage, my husband works in sales. He has always been able to be home for the children while I was traveling. We have three children, two daughters and one son, as well as one grandchild.” A third generation Bostonian, Marsha laughed and told me, “I married a man from New Jersey!” At the time of our meeting, Marsha was planning a trip to Prague to visit her daughter who was completing a Master’s program in Environmental Design.

“My early mentors were men,” said Marsha, while reminising about the early days of her career. “At that time, the few women in the positions I was interested in were not very generous with their knowledge. Now I try to mentor as many women as I can. I see the mistakes young women make and can help them.”

Locally, “Antiques Roadshow” airs on PBS on Monday nights at 8 pm. The Myrtle Beach shows aired in February and early March. For more info on the show, visit www.pbs.org.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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2 Responses to “Marsha Bemko: Reaching Back for Success with “Antiques Roadshow””

  1. Janey W says:

    What a fascinating interview Leslie! A great read.

  2. Thanks Janey! Marsha is an amazing woman, and I am honored that I was asked to interview her

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