Television Goes Hunting for Money - In Barns

2/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Dick Wanner Reporter

If you happened to be channel surfing at 11 p.m. on Dec. 26, or at 10 in the morning on New Year’s Day, and you paused for a moment on the Animal Planet channel, you may have been intrigued by an image of a barn in Quakertown, Pa. The barn was built before the Revolutionary War, must surely have held animals at some point, but at the time the video was shot, held only a lot of stuff. Some of it old stuff. A barn full of money.

It is exactly the kind of barn Gary Schoenly was looking for to feature in the Animal Planet cable network’s newest venture, a reality series called Money Barn. Money Barn is Storage Wars writ large. Storage Wars is a hugely successful reality series on the A&E television network, in which people bid on the contents of abandoned storage lockers. The contents of the storage lockers were put there by people who then failed to pay their rent for at least three months, at which time they lost title to the contents.

Storage Wars bidders get a five-minute walk-through of the contents before the auction begins. Their bidding is based on hunches, experience, snap judgements and wild guesses. Sometimes the winning bidders make money and sometimes they don’t.

Money Barn is like that, except that auctioneers, recruited by Schoenly, do the walk-throughs. And they don’t get just five minutes in the barn, they get a whole 20.

Schoenly himself was recruited by Steve Robillard, a West Chester, Pa., native who, at the relatively tender age of 27 has already earned an Emmy award — television’s equivalent of an Oscar — for his work on The Deadliest Catch, one of cable TV’s biggest blockbusters.

Robillard now lives in Los Angeles, and is a producer for Original Productions, which has produced any number of successful reality shows in addition to Deadliest Catch and Storage Wars. Money Barn, if it succeeds, will join a list of shows that includes Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, Whisker Wars and American Hoggers. The shows air on various networks.

Schoenly’s official title for Money Barn is “auction broker.” His job is to find the barns, deal with the owners, recruit the auctioneers, advertise the sale and help the barn owners decide if the auctioneer did a good enough job to earn a commission.

Schoenly and his son, Jared, are not auctioneers themselves, but own a company called Cabin Fever Auctions. Cabin Fever’s main enterprise is an annual model engineering exposition at the York, Pa., fairgrounds. Models on display and auctioned at the expo are usually hand-built miniatures of trucks, trains, airplanes, engines and other machines. The difference between a miniature and a model, Schoenly explains, is that you can usually ride a miniature.

Schoenly has a wide circle of friends in the auction business and, since he doesn’t call sales himself, contracts with auctioneers to handle the bang-the-gavel part of his job. Robillard followed a few leads to Schoenly’s front door, realized he was a man with a lot of contacts, a serious work ethic and a made-for-TV look, and hired him as Money Barn’s broker-in-residence.

Here’s how Money Barn works: Schoenly finds a barn that’s being used for storage rather than for farming. He talks to the owners about the television show. If they agree to participate, Schoenly brings four auctioneers to the property. The auctioneers walk through the barn, evaluate what they can in their limited time, then calculate a dollar figure they’re willing to guarantee the property owner.

Then the auctioneers present themselves and their guarantees to Schoenly and the owners, who decide which auctioneer gets the business. The four auctioneers featured in the first five Money Barn segments all come with serious credentials. Lee Hostetter from Beaver Falls, Pa., Mike Adcock from York, Pa., Mark Blechman from Stamford, Conn., and Emily Wears from Solon, Iowa, have all won state or national auctioneering contests.

The attraction for the auctioneers is the national attention, the challenge and, of course, the commission. The danger is that if the winning auctioneer doesn’t reach his or her guarantee, the embarrassment is televised throughout the nation and there’s no commission.

Schoenly said they spent about six weeks filming the first five segments. Sales were held two weeks after the auctioneers met with the barn owners. Whether or not the series continues depends on audience reaction to those first five segments.

Although Animal Planet didn’t promote the showings of the first two segments, the network did tell Schoenly when they would air them, and he called his friends from Maine to Missouri to ask them to watch.

“It was interesting how people reacted differently to the show,” Schoenly said. “It’s a fast-paced show, with a lot crammed into every half-hour segment. But the people we heard from noticed a lot of details.”

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