“American Pickers” star Mike Wolfe endured years of doors slamming in his face before he got his own series on the History Channel. He says he owes the idea for the show to a friend of his who suggested he pick up a camera and start documenting his antiquing journeys. But that was only the beginning of a protracted process.
In an interview with Small Town Big Deal in 2016, Wolfe recounted his long road to the History Channel. And he described how he moved from neophyte to “American Pickers” host over the course of many years.
“It was a long journey,” Wolfe said. “I remember having the idea for the show. And a friend of mine said, she goes – and I was coming back all the time from the east coast, and all over the country, with stuff – and she goes, ‘Where are you getting this stuff at?’ I said, ‘Well, I bought it here,’ and I told her the story of the guy. And she’s like, ‘You need to just buy a camera and start documenting some of this stuff.’”
‘American Pickers’ Grew Out of One Camera Perched on a Tripod
Wolfe said he took his friend’s advice, but he didn’t really know what he was doing at first. He just bought a home video camera, set it up on a tripod and started filming himself.
“So when I first bought a camera, it was really to just document my journeys, you know,” he went on. “And then as I started filming, I was realizing that maybe this could be a show. And I had no idea what a treatment was, or a format was. I didn’t even know how to even produce or make a show, or anything. So I remember buying the camera, and I had a tripod I bought with it. And I was out towards Muscatine, Iowa somewhere. I was on a gravel road. And I just put the tripod in the middle of the road… I just start talking into the camera.”
“It was difficult for me to express myself on camera because no one had ever asked me a question,” he added. “It was just me, talking, by myself. Or talking to Frank every once in awhile. So I can remember the first time that they filmed me… This director that we had, he was great, and he asked me a question. And it was just like, [makes rocket sound]. Like a bottlecap came off. And he goes, ‘Wow, you have a lot to say about that.’”
Networks Passed on Wolfe’s Project
Wolfe said he got a lot of nos from people in the industry. But the worst turn of events came after a production company had represented “American Pickers” for a year, and they pitched it to everyone. Everybody saw it, they told Wolfe, and everybody passed. There was nowhere else for him to go.
“And I said, ‘No, you’re wrong,’” Wolfe recalled. He thought “American Pickers” could be packaged differently, and he wanted to find out what the networks liked and didn’t like. He admits now he was naïve, but he was going to go picking anyway, and he thought he might as well get a show out of it. Basically, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“American Pickers” was eventually picked up by the History Channel. But Wolfe said that was only half the battle. They had to keep changing things up to keep the audience interested as the seasons progressed.
“I was under the impression that the show would get easier as it went on,” Wolfe concluded. “But it becomes more difficult because you’re challenging yourself constantly.”
Watch Wolfe discuss his long road here: