Who knew a reality series about a group of men battling over the miscellaneous and often-mysterious contents of abandoned storage units would captivate cable viewers? A&E surely did with the concept behind its hit series "Storage Wars" which, after two million viewers tuned in for the premiere in December, returns with new episodes tonight to continue the show's first season. What was it about the concept that captivated the network and, in turn, viewers? Is it the notion of one man's junk being another man's treasure? And what will we be seeing in the upcoming episodes? Our Jim Halterman rang up Executive Producer (and A&E Vice President, Non-Fiction and Alternative Programming) Elaine Frontain Bryant to find out all the answers on the series, which has already been renewed for a second season.
Jim Halterman: When the show first premiered and you got those big numbers right off the bat, did you have a feeling ahead of time that it would click with viewers?
Elaine Frontain Bryant: We all were looking at each other like 'I think we're onto something.' We all really, really liked it and we were certainly hopeful. We loved what we had and were just so thankful that America hadn't already seen too much of the genre but seeing it grow each week shows that it's the characters they love and the way that we constructed the show.
JH: When you first heard the pitch for "Storage Wars," what did you see that made you add it to your schedule?
EFB: I think what we saw were characters. As you know, we're not the only ones in this state but the emerging interest in things about other people's trash becoming treasure was certainly in the zeitgeist and we were seeing different pitches. But the second we saw these characters there were such archetypes that we said "Oh, we have something!' Thom Beers' company went to an auction with these guys, met them through Dan Dotson, the auctioneer and his wife Laura, and shot a 6-8 minute sizzle to show us how fantastic it is and we got hooked right away.
JH: There's no better word for the guys on the show than 'characters' but they aren't actors at all. This is who they are. Did that surprise you?
EFB: It's amazing that they aren't actors but I think now that they are seeing themselves on TV that might play into their parts a little more. They may know what they're getting known for but it was like we stepped into a poker game that they were really playing with each other every week. We couldn't have scripted it better.
JH: At one time, viewers were obsessed with the rich and famous but now the trend is about the everyday guy doing the everyday job. Is that what you see happening?
EFB: I would say that we have been known for a long time for really homegrown characters that are doing real jobs from 'Billy The Exterminator' to 'Dog The Bounty Hunter' to our 'Parking Wars' people. I think we always had an interest in that space and our audience finds that very relatable but I never would have thought people who go through other people's junk boxes would ever be a profession that would be that riveting. One person said that this is an extension of 'Hoarders' because they're literally digging through other people's stuff that they can't get rid of even though it's not in their lives anymore. It's a fascinating angle, if you think about it.
JH: The mystery element is also so compelling! I was really sucked into wanting to know what they were going to get once they bid highest on a unit and win it.
EFB: They really are modern day treasure hunters and these are the guys who would have been explorers in pioneer days. They really get that adrenaline rush. Darrell Sheets says it best when he says "Remember when you were eight years old and it was Christmas Eve and you knew Santa Claus was coming the next day? That's how I feel every single time." Because he's had some very big hits in his past and some good ones on the series, you just never know what's inside a plain looking box.
JH: And these guys knew each other before the show that included the competitive element that we see on the show, right?
EFB: They had a history with each other before. Barry Weiss is the one who is newest to it. He's more of a Beverly Hills collector and is new to it but Darryl and Dave and Jarrod are in Southern California and so they found Dan Dotson who knew all these guys and he said "I have some characters that I see every week" and it's worked out great.
JH: Were you surprised at how different each of these guys approach their business? They have their own unique tactics to how they approach the auctions and the units.
EFB: That's what makes it so fascinating. It's not like they're finding the biggest stuff in the world each week. I think it's really the psychology behind it that I find fascinating. I was surprised but you really play along and root for someone especially when they talk to the camera and they say "I think I saw a couch back there I don't think Dave saw yet." They lure you in to feel with them and you hope they're right. Certainly with my husband when we watch at home - I like to watch it on the air when it's totally done - we love watching Brandi and Jarrod [Schulz] sparring because one of them will not have the same hunch as the other and it's just fascinating for a relationship.
JH: What are we going to see in these new episodes that are coming?
EFB: I guess I'd say that the relationships even get more intense. More people are attending the auctions so you see the stakes getting higher and you see these guys really have to come up with more money. This is a real thing and these are public auctions. The success of the show has actually impacted the show, which is kind of bizarre but it makes for some fascinating decisions that they have to make and higher stakes that to really make pay off. There's some pretty crazy stuff coming up.
JH: So the show is impacting the lives of the guys even after just a few months?
EFB: We started filming this next batch that are airing this week in January right after the holidays and it's kind of amazing. You'll see that there are just more people at the auction and as the bids come and go, every bid is not all our characters. More people are participating now. And the guys who literally have the brick and mortar stores have seen more foot traffic in their stores. No one is really buying anything but they want to come in and see them; they're local heroes and they realize exposure is going to be a good thing.
"Storage Wars" returns with new episodes tonight at 10:30/9:30c on A&E.