‘American Pickers’: Mike Wolfe Thought ‘Pawn Stars’ Would Hurt His Chances on TV

by John Jamison
(Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)

Can you imagine Mike Wolfe’s disappointment seeing Pawn Stars take off on the History Channel while he was trying to get his own antique/collectible show off the ground in American Pickers? It must have felt like a death sentence. Fortunately, the success of Pawn Stars had exactly the opposite effect on the network. It may have even sealed the deal for Wolfe and his show.

In 2009, Rick Harrison and the gang introduced themselves to the American public with their Las Vegas pawn shop on Pawn Stars. The show was an instant hit. Between the personalities of Rick, Corey, Chumlee, and the Old Man, the entertainment value provided by folks coming in to sell their wares was off the charts.

For Mike Wolfe, Pawn Stars looked like the reverse of American Pickers. It was the same idea. Except instead of Harrison going on the road to find one-of-a-kind items, collectors brought all of the stuff to him. Little did Wolfe know, the History Channel was licking its chops with all of the Pawn Stars success. The network wanted to capitalize on the new viewership with a similar concept.

Enter American Pickers. After years of struggling to find a home for his show, Mike Wolfe found it fast-tracked due to its predecessor, Pawn Stars.

“History was hoping we’d get a 1.5. As weeks went on, we got 3.2, 4.2, 5.2, 6.2… all of a sudden, between us and Pawn Stars, we were pulling 12 to 13 million viewers every Monday night, which is insane for a cable network,” Wolfe told Scriptmag in 2013.

The History Channel Didn’t Even Need an ‘American Pickers’ Pilot Before Greenlighting the Show

That’s how impressed the History Channel was with the popularity of this new antique/collectible TV direction.

“It was the first show that History ever bought without a pilot. They wanted it right away and bought 10 episodes,” Wolfe continued in the interview. “There were a lot of things going on, and all of a sudden we had History’s publicist calling us, putting us in The New York Times, on Letterman, Rachel Ray, and Anderson Cooper.”

The initiative worked. Fast forward to 10 years later, American Pickers and Pawn Stars have stood the test of time. They may not draw the same record-breaking numbers they once did. But there’s no denying their outright success—success that led Mike Wolfe to a revelation.

“I used to say yes to every single thing they threw in front of me, and I don’t anymore. Where before, I always felt I had to. You have to do it the right way though. I say no more often now, but I explain why I’m saying no to them,” Wolfe continued in the 2013 interview.

Now, the History Channel is probably letting Wolfe call the shots.