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Real reality bites

September 5, 2012 - Harry Eagar
For the past few weeks, I've been getting more involved with television than I have since 1968. At Kamaaina Loan pawnshop we were filming a commercial last week, then getting ready for two days of filming starting tomorrow for a reality TV show. If the pilot -- called a "sizzle" in the biz, I have learned -- clicks, it could become a series.

As someone who doesn't own a TV, this has been sort of like going to a country where you don't know the language and asking for directions.

I was vaguely aware that "reality" shows are scripted just like "unreality" shows. But as the production crew lands, the appeal of fake reality becomes more and more apparent.

We've been publicizing the shoot, hoping our old and new customers and friends will drop by, to talk story, or, even better, to show us something weird. Stump our experts.

But we have no idea how many people will stop by. The producer of Pawn Stories, Bob McCullough, tells me that when they film, 9 out of 10 people decline to be on camera. So, we've set up a separate area for ordinary customers (in a different store front two doors down) so they don't have to be bothered.

We are sure hoping, though, that more than a few people do want a shot at what we're calling "15 minutes of fame." In reality, not nearly 15 whole minutes.

Our episode is, unlike what you've seen, going to be "real reality." No scripts whatsoever.

All the tinkering with reality we are doing is to try to compress several months worth of real events into two days, in the interest of efficiency for the camera crews.

We sort of hope the lady who came in last week wearing a bikini will come back, dressed the same way. That'll be photogenic.

In a way, working in a pawnshop is like being in a war. Notoriously, war is said to be long stretches of boredom interrupted with brief moments of terror. In a pawnshop, the long stretches of boredom seldom last more than a few hours, and moments of terror are rare (but not unknown; a double murderer who had served his time used to drop by pretty often; he was treated very carefully).

When I was a newspaper reporter, I used to hang out at the pawnshop for an hour or so every week, to watch the passing parade. You don't have to tell your story to get a loan -- we're not a bank -- but most people do anyway. So there are plenty of real Pawn Stories. But most days, spread out thinly.

So I have some sympathy now for the fake reality. On "Pawn Stars," for example, the byplay among Rick, his father and his son is supposed to be more or less spontaneous, but -- I hope this doesn't shock you -- the items people bring in to pawn are scripted.

Scouts find unusual stuff, which not only guarantees the director something video-worthy but gives Rick a chance to do research beforehand.

Thursday and Friday, we'll be winging it on the abstruse knowledge.

I don't expect to be on camera myself. As, I suppose, the only part-time pawnshop employee who is a full-time pawnshop writer, my role will be behind the scenes.

Break a leg.


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