I was flipping through the “A” section of the paper Wednesday morning when I noticed a full-page ad for something called Treasure Hunters Roadshow. It was an “advertorial,” an advertisement designed to look like a news story. The headline declared: “Hundreds of people cash in at the San Antonio Roadshow yesterday!” The roadshow was holding an event from Tuesday to Saturday at the Wonderland of the Americas mall for anyone hoping to make some quick cash from unwanted antiques and old jewelry.
My first thought was a question: Is this the same thing as “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS? The fact that the ad was trying to mimic the credibility of a news story suggested it was a different outfit. But I didn’t know for sure.
Thanks to the miracle of Google, it took a few seconds to figure out that Treasure Hunters Roadshow is different from “Antiques Roadshow.” In fact, the producers of the PBS program had filed a federal lawsuit against Treasure Hunters Roadshow, complaining that it was tricking customers with the logo of a treasure chest, and the term “roadshow” in its name.
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I asked my bosses if I could write a story pointing out the difference between the two roadshows, and they said go for it.
One of the great things about the Internet is you can quickly obtain primary documents. When I saw the references on some websites about the federal lawsuit against Treasure Hunters Roadshow, I logged into Pacer, a government website that offers public access to federal court records. Although the lawsuit was filed in Illinois, where Treasure Hunters Roadshow is based, through Pacer I could download the actual filings. Here’s the original complaint:
I drove out to the mall to check out the rival roadshow operation. There were scores of people, many of them elderly, holding boxes of heirlooms in a conference room. Employees in black polo shirts peered at items under bright lamps. I spoke to a few people and they said it was a fairly painless experience — no one was pressuring them to sell Uncle Ted’s dusty collection of baseball cards. One woman said she was sure the offers weren’t for the full market value of the goods, but she wanted to get some idea of how much money she could get for an old teapot.
I asked to speak with the manager and two guys, Jason Zyla and Keith Hammons, showed up. They were friendly, answered all my questions, and gave me unfettered access. They insisted that few customers mix up Treasure Hunters Roadshow with “Antiques Roadshow.” It used to happen — but not any more, they said.
They said their employees don’t use high-pressure tactics on customers, and they’ve written some large checks to people who brought in valuable antiques. They said they make fair offers, but are up front with customers that the roadshow has to pay expenses and make a profit, too.
“We don’t do this for free,” Hammons told me. “And I would tell anybody that, hey, we can’t give you one million percent of what it’s worth. You got to cut back a little bit, just for expenses.”
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Although Treasure Hunters Roadshow holds events all over the country, not many media outlets note it’s an entirely different operation from “Antiques Roadshow” and the two parties are involved in a legal dispute. So I wrote a story with the goal of pointing out to our readers that there is a difference. Here’s the story and some of the websites I found: