‘American Pickers’: What Mike Wolfe Calls His ‘Biggest Mistake’ in Years of Failed Attempts at Pitching Show

by Josh Lanier

When Mike Wolfe was pitching American Pickers to potential networks, he made a lot of mistakes. But there is one that kept killing his ability to sell the show.

Wolfe was new to television production and had no clue how to break into the industry. But he knew how to hustle, and he knew how to negotiate. These two things are invaluable when selling yourself to a network. But that’s just getting the show purchased. How it’s made — the concept, the cinematography, the hook — are what get you in the door. And that’s where Mike Wolfe, a lifelong picker, slipped up, he told Script Magazine in 2013.

“The biggest mistake I made was in the proof of concept,” Wolfe said. “Can this guy do this? The idea looks great, but can you do it? That’s where I failed. I had tons of footage of picking, but nothing on us, and that’s where I dropped the ball. But I think what helped me was being so naïve to the process, I wasn’t going to let it fail. I didn’t care about anything on the backend of it, I just cared about the show.”

Mike Wolfe had started uploading films of his picks to his website. The idea started because no one believed his stories from the road. But as he compiled the footage he realized he had something interesting here. But, where he made his mistake was in realizing what was interesting.

What makes American Pickers stand out from antique shows is the relationships. The interplay between Mike Wolfe and previous cohort Frank Fritz along with Danielle Colby back at Antique Archeology HQ. The relationships between the collectors and their items and the history therein.

Wolfe Wanted ‘American Pickers’ to be Different

Mike Wolfe knew antiques and understood antiquing shows. And frankly, they were boring. He wanted to do something different with American Pickers.

So, long before he sold the idea to the History Channel when he was uploading clips of picks to his website, he sought out some “fresh eyes,” or better yet, Crazy Eyes.

“I met this 23-year-old kid from Iowa, Justin, and I would give him my videos, and he’d edit them into three-minute short stories, and I would post them on my website,” Mike Wolfe told ScriptMag. “Justin started this little company called Crazy Eyes Productions. He’s really talented in graphics. He was perfect for me because I was trying to make an antique show that was different than anything anyone had seen before, and he didn’t know anything about antiques. He’d never even seen an antique show. This kid had new, fresh eyes.”

Mike Wolfe understood antiquing and picking and Justin understood production. Their Venn diagram was two unconnected circles. But the partnership created exactly what Wolfe was looking for in a prototype of American Pickers. Though, getting others to understand his vision would be the hard part.