• "Pawn Stars" is a reality TV series produced by Leftfield Pictures and shown on History Channel.
• Filming takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada and follows the comings and goings of the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.
• It stars Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Rick, Rick’s son Corey, and Corey’s close friend Austin.
• Expert appraisers are brought in to evaluate items, and the conflicts between cast members are a key feature of the show.
• It has been rocked by various scandals and controversies, including lawsuits and accusations of transphobia and assault.
What is “Pawn Stars”?
With over 500 episodes and 20 seasons and counting, “Pawn Stars” is a reality TV series produced by Leftfield Pictures and shown on History Channel. Filming takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the camera crew chronicle the comings and goings at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The family business, which opened in 1989, was originally run by Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Rick, Rick’s son Corey, and Corey’s close friend Austin.
Debuting in July 2009, “Pawn Stars” soon became the network’s highest rated show, and the second-favorite reality show behind “Jersey Shore”. In each episode, customers bring a plethora of goods to sell or pawn, and haggle with staff over the price. The interpersonal conflicts among cast members, which some viewers and critics suspect are scripted, are another key feature of the show.
Local experts also make regular appearances to appraise goods brought in by potential customers. Two such experts, Rick Dale and Danny Koker, later starred in their own spin-off shows – “American Restoration” and “Counting Cars” respectively, which debuted in 2010 and 2012.
So how did “Pawn Stars” come about? During a weekend visit to Las Vegas in 2008, Colby Gaines and Brent Montgomery of Leftfield Pictures were inspired and amazed by the variety of pawn shops in the city, and set out to find a family-run shop for a new reality series. Less than two miles from the famous Las Vegas strip, they found the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop which had previously starred in a 2001 PBS documentary and appeared in a 2003 episode of “Insomniac with Dave Attell”.
Coincidentally, Rick had been trying – and failing – to pitch a show based on his shop for years. After joining forces with Colby and Brent, the series was pitched to HBO, and the format evolved into what it is today. The program was picked up by Nancy Dubuc, the president of History, and made for a welcome change from the network’s extensive catalogue of military programs.
The show was originally entitled “Pawning History” until a sharp-eyed staff member at Leftfield thought that the name “Pawn Stars” would be a better fit. In January 2019, the show changed its format to 60-minute episodes for the premiere of its 16th season. “Pawn Stars” is now shown in over 100 countries and dubbed into almost 40 languages, making it a smash hit in the world of reality TV.
As the name of the shop would suggest, the most pawned item at Gold & Silver is jewelry, but vintage and antique items also make frequent cameos. As of July 2011, the shop had a staggering 12,000 items in its inventory. Typically, individual segments are dedicated to five or six items per episode; one of the staff members will explain the history behind each object, with knowledgeable experts called in whenever the buyer has difficulty in evaluating an object. These experts determine the potential value and authenticity of each object, or, if repairs are necessary, the restoration costs.
With reality shows that run for so many seasons, it’s common for fans to observe the cast members family. Many episodes of “Pawn Stars” focus on the conflicts and relationship between Old Man, Rick, Corey, and Austin. Frequent bones of contention include the running of the shop, as Corey’s judgement is often questioned by his elders, and Austin’s perceived lack of competence and intelligence.
Austin and the Harrisons have become so popular that before the second commercial break in each episode, a multiple-choice trivia question is shown, relating to the cast members, one of the featured items, or the shop and its inventory; the answer is always provided after the break. From season eight onwards, every commercial break comes with its own trivia question and answer.
“Pawn Stars” has been an undeniable gamechanger in the reality TV landscape, spawning heavily-inspired shows such as “Cajun Pawn Stars” and “Hardcore Pawn”. As a result, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop has seen a tremendous increase in business. In October 2010, the shop’s traffic reached over 1,000 customers a day, a far cry from original figures of 70 to 100.
Thanks to a hefty production budget, 30 new employees were hired, and the shop expanded its showroom by two thirds in a $400,000 expansion. Since opening, the shop has actually been expanded ten times, with the showroom currently measuring 15,000 square feet. In an episode of season four, Rick also casually mentioned that he was building a staff-only gym above the shop.
These days, Gold & Silver sells original brand merchandise. To cut down on costs and avoid hiring professional designers, the shop runs design competitions on Facebook, with fans submitting their ideas for publicity. Corey and Austin also make local club appearances, and charge $1,000 a night for their time. Due to customer confidentiality laws, the main cast members only work the main counter when filming. Showroom entrance is restricted to vetted customers only during filming, with the store temporarily closing to the public.
— Rick Harrison (@GoldSilverPawn) January 21, 2020
Lawsuits & Controversies
As is the case with many reality shows, the mild, often-scripted on-screen spats are balanced out by real-life controversies. “Pawn Stars” has been rocked by several scandals over the years, with one of the most memorable probably being a 2014 lawsuit over a stolen antique coin collection. David Walters filed a criminal complaint at Clark County Justice Court in which he claimed that his costly coin collection had been stolen by his niece Jennifer Beckham, and subsequently sold to the Gold & Silver pawn shop.
According to David, his collection netted $12,375 at Gold & Silver, but was worth closer to $50,000. Although the aggrieved uncle informed authorities when he realized the coins were missing, the collection had already disappeared by the time the police contacted Gold & Silver Pawn.
A spokesperson for the store told Fox News: “To the best of my knowledge, they [the coins] may have been melted down. They may have been sold. They may be in buckets with like coins waiting to be evaluated.” The spokesperson also denied that the collection was worth $50,000 or anything close to it and insisted that no illegal or immoral acts had been committed by the show’s cast members.
As it happens, David’s sensational $5 million lawsuit didn’t have much legal standing in court; although Nevada-based pawn shops must keep items for up to 90 days in case owners want them back, gold coins are exempt from that law.
Rick also landed himself in hot water due to comments that some perceived as transphobic. In an insightful interview with CNN, the TV personality shared his thoughts about men or transgender women being allowed to use women’s restrooms, saying: “I guarantee you that will be taken advantage of by some very bad men who want to go into a bathroom where there’s young ladies. That will happen if you want to pass a law like that.” Luckily for Rick, his divisive views are shared by the majority of his fans, with many arguing online that he’d said nothing wrong.
It appears that in 2014, “Pawn Stars” was hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, as Corey caused a scene in the aptly named Spectators Bar in Jefferson City. According to online sources, Corey was riding in a sponsored motorcycle tour with his biker friends when they stopped in the Missouri capital. At that point, the reality star had allegedly been partying for a whole week, with eyewitnesses claiming that he was “sloppy drunk”, and “so obnoxious, you just knew this was heading towards a bad scene.”
A source told Radar that Corey went on to lower his pants and urinate on a bar stool after downing shots, with a disgruntled staff member having to clean up after him with a towel. Corey’s memorable night out became progressively more chaotic as he posed for fan photos – with his pants still down – and threw a barstool across the premises before being kicked out. An embarrassed Corey later apologized for the incident.
Controversies – Part Two
History claims that the cast of “Pawn Stars” are worth a combined $20 million, and it was previously reported that the network made $3 million per episode. These impressive figures sparked outrage when the Writers Guild of America East stated that the writers and producers of the show earn a minimum wage of just $2,136 a week – compared to the $6,712 they’d earn on scripted shows.
In 2015, the employees of Leftfield Entertainment voted to unionize, hoping that their association with WGAE would lead to better wages and work conditions. It’s unknown how much the scriptwriters and producers of “Pawn Stars” currently earn, but according to a 2013 survey conducted by WGAE, off-screen cast members all across the industry lose a staggering $40 million a year when factoring in unpaid wages caused by overtime pay and working without breaks. Reliable sources also confirm that some members of the sector can put in 100 hours of work a week while shooting.
Although this particular controversy is almost a decade old, some viewers of “Pawn Stars” still remember Olivia Black, who became a TV star after answering a Craigslist ad searching for a pawnshop overnight worker. In her introduction video, Olivia described herself as “blindsided” and said: “I hadn’t actually realized exactly what I had applied for.”
Sadly for Olivia, she was axed after just 13 episodes after the National Enquirer published an article about her in December 2012, in which they exposed her nude modeling past. Two days later, the producers of “Pawn Stars” informed Olivia that her services would no longer be needed on the show; on a positive note, she was still allowed to work at the store despite being forbidden from appearing on-screen. Nevertheless, Olivia quit a few months later, and revealed that she planned to file a lawsuit against Leftfield Pictures.
What makes Olivia’s firing even more unfortunate is that in the same year, Austin was caught on camera fighting with a man in Hollywood, and fleeing the scene. According to the reality heavyweight, the victim – who was left injured and bleeding on the roadside – had threatened to pull a gun on Austin and his friends, forcing the latter to act in self-defense.
The executives at History worked hard to brush that incident under the carpet, but four years later, Austin was arrested on suspicion of 20 felonies when cops raided his home during an investigation into sexual assault accusations that had been made against him. This resulted in a legal nightmare for the beleaguered “Pawn Stars” cast member, despite the sexual assault charges being dropped.
Cops found Xanax, weed, meth, and other narcotics at Austin’s home, as well as 12 guns – of which only four were registered – and traces of cocaine. Accepting a plea deal, Austin pleaded guilty to a felony weapons charge and to a gross misdemeanor of attempted drug possession, narrowly avoiding serving time, opting instead for three years’ probation and counseling. Austin’s lawyer also confirmed that if he didn’t break probation, the TV celebrity’s felony charge would be dismissed, and only the misdemeanor conviction would remain on his criminal record.
Last but certainly not least, in early 2012 Richard and Rick were accused of assaulting and choking Daniel Callahan, a disabled Vietnam veteran who was 62 years old at the time. Daniel had taken his Model 96B rifle to the pawn store for an appraisal when the Harrisons allegedly put him in a chokehold, dragged him through the store, and tossed him onto the sidewalk. The veteran’s rifle and walking stick were reportedly damaged during the incident.
Daniel wasted no time in filing a lawsuit against Gold & Silver, seeking $20,000 in damages for physical assault. Corey vehemently denied the story, and stated that Daniel was the aggressor, screaming: “I want to see the owner” and acting “absolutely irate with a weapon in his hand”.
All in all, “Pawn Stars” remains one of the most-watched reality offerings in the US, despite being embroiled in scandals once in a while, and with season 20 airing from April 2022 onwards, the show won’t be going anywhere for a while.