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Swap Shop is Netflix’s attempt at Pawn Stars and American Pickers

Swap Shop is Netflix’s attempt at Pawn Stars and American Pickers

How do you make a TV show out of a radio show on which people call in to sell, trade, or seek antiques or random things? If you’re Netflix and the show is Swap Shop: Dash For Cash, the answer is: you don’t.

When I first saw that Netflix was producing a reality show titled Swap Shop, I was swept back into the 1980s. My family listened to Swap Shop on an AM radio in our kitchen; I think it aired on weekend mornings. People would call in, briefly describe what they had for sale or to swap, and give their phone number.

I was listening on WNOG, an AM radio station in southwest Florida, and it never occurred to me that there were Swap Shop shows elsewhere—and certainly not that they’ve continued now, in the 2020s, decades after Craigslist and in the era of Nextdoor and all kinds of other trading and selling apps.

West Main Antiques' Larry Thacker on Netflix's Swap Shop
West Main Antiques’ Larry Thacker on Netflix’s Swap Shop (Image from Swap Shop via Netflix)

Swap Shop the Netflix show focuses on the Swap Shop program on Rogersville, Tennessee, radio station WRGS, which calls its version “World Famous Swap Shop.”

Production company Hit + Run has solved the problem of making audio into video by producing a show that essentially ignores the radio show and, as a bonus, rarely feels authentic.

The very first call we hear sounds like a reality TV producer in a booth reading a script: “Hi. I’ve been using the old barn on my property as storage for furniture and various antiques. I’m moving and need to clear it out. I’m in Greenville. Come on by.”

That is not how I remember Swap Shop ever working, and while I couldn’t find audio from WRGS’s version online, it does have a web version which is exactly what I remember: people offering or looking for random things, and giving their phone number so someone who’s interested can call. (WRGS even publishes a PDF of hand-written phone numbers from the radio version.)

So ultimately, Swap Shop the radio show is a flimsy excuse for what we’re actually watching, which are pairs of antiques collectors visiting people and looking at their antique items, and then making offers.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is just Netflix creating its own Pawn Stars or American Pickers. Coincidentally, a season of Pawn Stars was on Netflix up until mid-September.

John and Leo look at shoes on Netflix's Swap Shop
John and Leo look at shoes on Netflix’s Swap Shop (Image from Swap Shop via Netflix)

The show has cast pairs of pickers who are good-natured characters, joking with each other and other people, and clearly passionate about old stuff. But they’re professionals: Jen and Doug, a married treasure-hunting couple who own Pickers Paradise; Leo and Danny, who co-own Versus ATL, which sells vintage shoes and shirts; West Main Antiques manager Larry and owner Tori.

They go out and look at vintage things: a Toledo grain scale, a Mustang, a statue of Jesus, a mannequin with a beard glued to its face. There’s often some brief history, and haggling over price, and sometimes competition between the pairs of pickers.

These are obviously produced and set-up scenes, with pre-arranged visits, which means we have to have a lot of pretending that we’re hearing something on the radio and they’re just spontaneously going to see it. None of that is believable.

And professionals looking for stuff to sell is just a different kind of show than Swap Shop. That’s not to say they don’t acquire things from the radio show: WJHL reported that West Main Antiques had “unique finds reaped from hour upon hour of listening to the radio show.”

My disappointment comes from how the show is framed. If this was just called Netflix Pickers or Pawn Streamer, I probably wouldn’t have even have watched. Instead, Netflix is just using the idea of swap shop as an excuse to clone popular cable reality TV formats.

I think fans of American Pickers or Pawn Stars who like these kinds of characters and like seeing vintage stuff will probably find Swap Shop: Dash for Cash to be just fine, even if it’s nothing new.

As a show about actual Swap Shop radio, it’s a D. As a show that mimics American Pickers it’s a B.

Swap Shop: Dash for Cash

Netflix’s Swap Shop is a generic hybrid of American Pickers and Pawn Stars that uses swap shop radio as an excuse for a lot of heavily produced scenes. C

What works for me:

  • The cinematography is quite nice
  • The pairs of pickers are plenty pleasant

What could be better:

  • Dropping the Swap Shop connection because it’s ignored anyway
  • Fewer produced moments

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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