The History Channel has a talent for binge-worthy reality shows – from taking us on a wild ride through the dangerous motorways of Ice Road Truckers to us with the wonderfully strange, gator-hunting Swamp People. Although the most successful reality shows of the network often focus on bizarre or dangerous careers, one of the most popular programs is definitely a low bet. American Pickers has managed to create its own niche between similar antique flipping shows such as Storage Wars, Pawn Stars and Flea Market Flip, largely thanks to the chemistry between stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz.
Millions vote to see Wolfe and Fritz travel through the country in search of hidden gems. Instead of combining auctions and flea markets, the couple digs through old warehouses, car kerkhofen and treasure troops that are definitely off the beaten track – but how do they find these unlikely locations?
Like any real thing that is shown by the lens of a TV camera, fans have long questioned the authenticity of the show. The boundary between real and scripted is often a hazy one, and Pickers is staggered around the edges. From legal problems to scripted scenes, here are some reasons why elements of American Pickers are totally fake.
Are their picker credentials up to par?
Reality television is always at least a bit manipulated. Some shows focus heavier than others, but most of them fall into a purgatory between documentary and scripted shows. In this respect, American Pickers is probably no different. According to a report on Killer Media, it is very likely that cast members will be asked to repeat rules in a studio. This is a very common trick, called “looping” or “automated dialogue replacement”, which is usually performed when something goes wrong with the sound recording on the set (that is, an aircraft flies by, the line is poorly delivered, etc.)
American Pickers has long been criticized for being scripts, but it goes much deeper than ADR. Some claim that Mike Wolfe is the only real picker in the series. Prior to the show, Wolfe’s business partner and childhood friend, Frank Fritz, was an inspector for fire and safety for 25 years. Despite his unrelated career choice, The History channel claimed that Fritz had a lifelong passion for collecting. He reportedly stopped his job and launched Frank’s Finds in 2002, soon finding out that his company overlaps with Wolfe’s. It was Wolfe who convinced Fritz to make a show about their work.
They don’t always follow through with their deals
There is nothing like a lawsuit to bring your real business practices to light. The stars of American Pickers paint themselves as honest business people who follow handshake deals and always offer a good price, but that may not be the case, according to Jerry Bruce, who sued the show after it failed to end a contract stop.
According to USA Today, Bruce is an auctioneer whose life’s dream is to open a museum that depicts country life between the years 1840 and 1900. His interest was awakened when he saw a polarimeter in a 2010 episode of American Pickers, a device that in the 1800s was used to measure the sugar content in alcohol. He contacted Fritz to purchase the device and claimed that the picker agreed to sell it for $ 300 plus shipping. Fritz reportedly sent a confirmation via SMS, but never followed the sale. Fritz has not cashed the check and Bruce has never received his precious item.
Bruce took his claim to court on breach of contract – and won. He reportedly received $ 1,000, plus $ 80 in court fees because Fritz did not respond to the pleadings.
Fritz had trouble with the law
Frank Fritz may not be the jovial joker that we see when cameras are rolling. The American Pickers star reportedly has a hidden dark side. Behind the scenes he fought drug abuse and faced potential prison sentences after being caught while he was under the influence.
According to WQAD 8, Fritz was arrested in July 2017 after the Iowa State Police responded to 911 calls about a silver pickup that was wrongly driving the Interstate 80. The police report reported that Fritz had failed a test for austerity in the field and had “unclear speech” and admitted to drinking a beer and taking a dose of Xanax. “The picker reportedly reached a plea agreement that required a year of unattended operation, a fine of $ 625, and a compulsory evaluation program for substances.
Needless to say that Fritz is not likely to drive the Pickersbus very quickly.
Danielle Colby Cushman was ‘picked’ for her looks
Danielle Colby Cushman is a staple on American Pickers, and she is known for her unique aesthetic – cat-eye makeup, tattoos (she has more than 30) and boho style. The truth is that is one of the reasons why Colby was hired. Mike Wolfe admitted that he brought her on board because of her appearance.
Colby is even a veteran in the showbiz. She was – and still is – a professional burlesque dancer. According to the Times Free Press she spends hours practicing for her performances, although she is dependent on American Pickers to make ends meet. She reportedly reported traveling for two hours three or four days a week to work at Wolfe’s Antique Archeology store in Nashville, and she helped open the second store of Pickers in Music City. She also owns her own store called 4 Miles to Memphis. So, although Colby may have started out as a burlesque dancer with some business knowledge, she certainly made a name for herself as a star picker on the show.
Hobo Jack isn’t a hobo at all
Hobo Jack, that real name is Jack Sophir, has appeared on American Pickers several times. He owns a unique treasury in the Litchfield, Illinois countryside, and even ventured to Mike’s Pickin ‘Corner store in Nashville, Tennessee. Although Wolfe describes Hobo Jack as “one of the best honeycombs we have ever had, the chance to dig in,” that nickname is misleading.
According to an interview with Traveling Adventures of a farm girl, Sophir never called himself Hobo Jack for the show. He called himself “Backwoods Jack” because he lived in a rural part of Illinois, but Wolfe would have invented the “Hobo” name for television. Contrary to what Wolfe’s nickname suggests, Sophir is not a drifter. He attends weekly auctions and reportedly adds a dozen buildings to his property to show the items he has collected over the years. He is also a productive writer and musician whose albums and books have been made. In an interview in 2010 with The Journal-News, Sophir said he worked on two fiction novels and a number of poems.
The transportation is staged
And talking about that iconic bus: American Pickers would be nothing without all the traveling that Wolfe and Fritz do to find treasures in the garbage, but the show has long been rumored that the transport scenes are staged. If you watch the show, you could assume that these two hours are chatting together on the open road while they fill their custom bus with antique discoveries.
Actually, however, much more happens that you do not see on TV. During a performance at FRY Fest in Coralville, Iowa (via Hoopla), Fritz reportedly explained that the team is traveling with a fleet of vehicles with a U-Haul truck, multiple vans, a camper and a huge crew. “Fritz joked that when you see them load an antiques in their white van on the show, they often take it out immediately after the camera is switched off and stopped in the larger U-Haul truck,” said Hoopla.
Producers are the real pickers
Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz often discover hidden gems in unconventional locations, such as abandoned warehouses or closed Cracker Barrels in Central America. You may wonder how they find these low-key gold mines, but it appears that they have a lot of help. The real American pickers are perhaps the production staff of the show.
According to Ken Young, whose Ken’s Toys store was on the show, locations are scouted by producers before filming. When they find a place that looks promising, they do not send Wolfe and Fritz. Instead, they send a representative (someone calling Young a “snoop”) who looks around and decides if there is anything worth buying.
“We had a three-week lead before they came,” Young told the San Angelo Standard-Times, noting that actual filming lasted about 10 hours and included a food cart for lunch. (Apparently this show is also picky about his food.
The stories are more important than the stuff
American Pickers is a TV program, so if the cameras are rolling, the story must be good. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz introduced us to a host of curious characters, including the aforementioned Hobo Jack, and also with Mole Man Ron. Their interesting stories have helped the show to collect more than 5.7 million viewers nationally, so it’s fair to say that the people behind the picks do much more than the real finds.
According to Rob Dinkins, a man whose ice cream factory was on show, his rich background story was probably the reason he caught up with his 15 minutes of fame. He told South Carolina Radio Network. “Often it’s not what they buy, it’s the person or story or location they talk about, which makes the show interesting.”
Ken Young, from Ken’s Toys, also admitted that “they wanted the story with the story of Wolfe and Fritz”. In other words, the show is willing to let the business side slide to keep it interesting.
They don’t always haggle, but they do nab good deals
The characteristic of American Pickers is the way in which Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz deal with hidden gems, which they later turn around for a mega-profit. It’s such notorious big dealmakers that the internet is full of tips on how to reach their skills. Come on, do not try to pretend not to encounter every yard sale in the hope of ‘picking’ a treasure. Unfortunately, most people probably would not take the bait of Wolfe and Fritz in real life.
Although it is undeniable that these two stars have some deal-cutting skills, they may not really use their talents in their TV program. According to an IGN user whose father supposedly communicated with the show, sales prices were discussed in advance by telephone. The insider also claimed that the show tried “hardcore rip us off” with low deals on antique plates and a 1936 Schwinn Excelsior C bike.
Practice makes for perfect TV
It is quite common for reality shows to recreate scenes. Does that make the whole show completely fake? It depends on your idea of ’reality’. In shows such as HGTV’s Fixer Upper, house hunt scenes are staged. In the Pawn Stars of the History channel deals are arranged in advance. In American Pickers, some of its so-called ‘reality’ also involves re-created scenes.
According to Rob Dinkins, an auctioneer based in South Carolina, scenes were re-created to make camera crews a perfect, TV-worthy photo. Dinkins has discussed these ‘film tricks’ with the South Carolina Radio Network. “… you go from one room to another, you have to do that three times, they have to film when you leave the room, they have to film you when you enter the room.”
All in all, filming the visit of the crew to his old ice factory took about 14 hours – much longer than a picker would normally spend checking out the trinkets. Dinkins was satisfied with the result despite the long working day and the production finery. “They made it look simple and easy and you felt comfortable,” he said. “You had lunch, they took care of everything, they were prepared.”
Wolfe and Fritz lead separate lives
Wolfe and Fritz have been friends since the eighth grade, and as adults it still seems as if they spend every minute together. As two antique collectors who seem to have been on a permanent road trip, they have more than a few rumors about their sexuality (and more than a few weird fanfuctions inspired.) Frankly: Fritz and Wolfe are pretty darn right.
In 2012, Wolfe married his old friend, Jodi Faeth, after more than 17 years. From 2015 Fritz was dating with a woman named Diane, although not much is known about her, apart from a few photos.
We hate to break it, but Fritz and Wolfe are not as close as they appear on TV. In fact, they live in totally different cities. Wolfe lives in Tennessee; Fritz lives in Illinois. “Although people think we are connected in the hip, we have a separate life,” Fritz told the audience during a festival.