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Cohen Brothers of Chicago’s Royal Pawn set to star in reality series

“We’re not only pawnbrokers we’re lunatics” Wayne Cohen (right) said about himself his brother Randy. “We know how handle lunatics.

“We’re not only pawnbrokers, we’re lunatics,” Wayne Cohen (right) said about himself and his brother Randy. “We know how to handle lunatics. This is the craziest shop in the country.”

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Updated: September 21, 2012 6:09AM



One of the hottest sub-genres of reality TV — aside from knocked-up teenagers and rednecks — is pawn shops, and Chicago is about to jump into the fray.

“Hardcore Pawn: Chicago,” headed for the cable channel truTV later this year, is being filmed at Royal Pawn Shop, 428 S. Clark, in the Loop.

“We’re the oldest pawn shop in Chicago,” boasts Wayne Cohen, who owns the store with his younger brother, Randy. “My brother, my dad, my grandfather — we go back three generations. When you say, ‘pawn shop Chicago,’ everybody knows the Cohens.”

A big reason everybody knows the Cohens is that another one of their pawnbroker brothers infamously won the 2010 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Scott Lee Cohen tearfully withdrew from the race after allegations of domestic violence and drug abuse surfaced, only to follow that up with an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid as an independent.

“My lunatic brother Scotty ran for office,” Wayne said. “He’s not meant for politics. He’s too honest.”

Lunacy runs in the family, according to Wayne.

“We’re not only pawnbrokers, we’re lunatics,” Wayne said about himself and Randy. “We know how to handle lunatics. This is the craziest shop in the country.”

“Hardcore Pawn: Chicago” is a spinoff of the original “Hardcore Pawn” set at American Jewelry & Loan in Detroit. Now in its sixth season, that series chronicles the colorful, sometimes sad, occasionally belligerent clientele looking to buy, sell and pawn everything from gold rings to school buses at the family-run shop. Averaging 2.5 million viewers, it ranks as truTV’s most popular series.

Last month, testosterone-targeted truTV launched another installment of the franchise with “Combat Pawn.” That show is based at a pawn store in Fort Bragg, N.C., that specializes in weapons and military-inspired collectibles.

Over on the History Channel, “Pawn Stars” captures the bargaining and the bickering on both sides of the counter at the family-run Gold & Silver Pawn Shop on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

You don’t need the cast of “CSI” to detect a pattern in these programs, which brings to mind the word “derivative.”

“Hardcore Pawn: Chicago” executive producer Jason Hervey, whose company isn’t involved with the other pawn shows, acknowledged that relatives running pawn shops on the small screen is nothing new. But “we’ve never seen two tough-as-nails, Chicago brothers in this setting,” he said.

When his production company was scouting the city for pawn shops, it was Wayne and Randy’s fraternal dynamic that sealed the deal for Hervey, who’s best known for his role as Fred Savage’s bullying older brother in “The Wonder Years.”

“I spent a lifetime playing a brother and that’s why I got excited about now producing two brothers,” Hervey said. “Brothers can be best friends. They can be competitors. They can be antagonists. Their conflict, their comedy — all of those things, Randy and Wayne have it in spades.”

Hervey chose Chicago because the people here are “great characters.” And Chicago is kind of the new New Jersey. (I think he meant that as a compliment.)

“When you look at some of the areas that have become famous on television, one place is New Jersey,” he said. “There’s already a million shows set in New Jersey. You look at the landscape for that next hot pocket. I got really excited thinking about Chicago.”

Wayne Cohen agreed that a lot of his customers could be classified as characters. “We’re right across the street from the [Metropolitan Correctional Center],” he said. “They get out of jail and they come visit us.”

As to whether Scott Lee Cohen will make an appearance during the nine-episode series, Hervey said he’s never met him and there are no plans to have him on the program.

But, hey, this is the pawn business. There’s always room to bargain.

“We might bring him in one time,” Wayne said. “I dunno. This is hardcore. We don’t want him to get hurt down here. He’s my little brother, you know?”



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