TV Eye

Calling all kitsch collectors

<i>Pop Nation: America's Coolest Stuff</i>
Pop Nation: America's Coolest Stuff

This ain't your grandma's antiques show.

Sure, the comparison to the popular PBS series Antiques Roadshow is inevitable, but that doesn't bother Alan LaGarde, co-creator of Pop Nation: America's Coolest Stuff. LaGarde, along with nationally recognized collectibles expert Harry Rinker, is currently in preproduction for their new series premiering on the Discovery Channel later this year.

"It's a good starting point," LaGarde said during a recent phone interview about the comparison of Pop Nation to Antiques Roadshow. "But we're very different. Half the show is about the appraising, the other half about the cool rock & roll stories we find. People have great stories about their amazing collections, and we want to find them."

Pop Nation distinguishes itself from the PBS series in another important way. All featured items must be from the 1960s onward. Experts say the advent of color TV marks the beginning of modern pop culture. The 1950s are a unique, transitional period from the earlier war years, LaGarde explains. Another defining factor is that memorabilia from the 1960s and 1970s is now coming into its prime in monetary and nostalgic value.

Austin is one of four target cities the Pop Nation crew is traveling to in search of cool kitsch and the people who collect it. While in town, the production will also mine the region for the cool and unusual. For example, LaGarde and the Pop Nation production have already found a Waxahachie, Texas, family that renovated their Victorian-era house to match the design – down to the trap door under the staircase – featured in The Munsters, the popular 1960s sitcom. In Mississippi, the production found a man who collects rubber duckies.

"At first, it sounds wacko," LaGarde says. "But when you hear why, you change your mind. This particular guy works for FEMA, and, when he's out at hurricane sites, he gives rubber duckies to the kids. It's kind of hard not to smile when you look at a rubber ducky."

Austinites interested in having their collectibles and their stories considered for Pop Nation should register prior to the June 18 casting call at Preregistering helps avoid long lines and streamlines the process. However, anyone and everyone who thinks they might have something of special value is invited to come to the open casting call with their collectible (no photographs) on Saturday, June 18, at the Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez. Doors open at 8am.

So, what are the producers looking for?

"We're looking for surprises," LaGarde says. "People would be surprised what kind of things they have that are of value." However, there are a couple of items the Pop Nation production would love to see: A limited edition GI Joe nurse doll and a real fur coat made for Barbie.

"Austin was high on our pop culture experts' list for a place we should visit," LaGarde says. After a short site visit last month, he was sold. "We could see right away it is a great place to find collectors. It has cool retro shops, UT is there, a music scene is there, people buy and collect cool retro furniture. We can't wait to see what we find there."

Into the West

As far as TV extravaganzas go, TNT's Into the West fits the bill: Six two-hour episodes spanning 25 years (1865 to 1890), four writers, six directors, and a cast and crew of literally thousands. How it tries to be different, in terms of former TV movies on the settling of the West, is that it promises to tell the tale from both sides: that of the white settlers and that of the Native Americans. The good intentions are there. But Into the West slants toward a Western telling with earnest liberal-minded attention to the idea that Native Americans have feelings, too. (From the first two episodes I saw, we apparently couldn't be too sure about the Mexicans.)

I know this will sound impossibly nutty, but why not try for a narrative that doesn't rely on Western conventions? Why not stop trying to write the story from the others' perspective and let the others do that work?

Audiences attracted to past TNT Westerns will enjoy Into the West immensely. A photogenic cast, sweeping vistas, elegant special effects, and attention to costume and prop details that historical fiction fans seem to thrive on make Into the West a highly watchable summer offering.

Into the West premieres Friday, June 10, 7pm, and continues weekends through July 24 on TNT.

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Pop Nation, Alan LaGarde, Discovery Channel

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