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‘What the Sell?’ features Wheaton collectors with the real goods

‘WHAT THE SELL?’ ★★★

9 and 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays on TLC

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Oh my, no, this isn’t Judith Martin’s first go-round with reality programming.

As president of the International Society of Appraisers and owner of the upscale Wheaton consignment shop the Perfect Thing, she knew interest was growing in her field. EBay, “Antiques Roadshow,” “Auction Hunters” and “Pawn Kings” — they were all inspiring copycat TV shows and a new breed of treasure collectors.

So Judith got nibbles over the past year from production companies. But it wasn’t until her shop caught the attention of Brent Montgomery that the cameras moved in.

Montgomery, a reality TV producer who’s worked on “The Bachelor” and “Pawn Kings,” knew exactly what he was looking for. “I told my casting team, ‘Find me a grandmother.’ ”

The staff of the Perfect Thing was just the thing. Grandma Gloria Moroni, 84, consults part time as the master appraiser. Her daughter Judith Martin, who is in her 50s, now runs the store with her daughter Kate Martin, 32. And haggling is all they know.

“Gloria the grandma was so funny,” says Montgomery. “You’d think she was asleep or not paying attention, and she’d just drop those one-liners. Bam. ‘The Golden Girls’ meets ‘Pawn Stars.’ ”

That’s the formula for the family’s new TLC show, “What the Sell?” On Tuesday’s premiere (repeating at 6 tonight), Gloria earned her keep, finding a small tin in a ’20s-era purse. Lip balm? “Condoms,” declared Gloria.

“There are very few things that I haven’t seen before,” says Gloria, who’s not afraid to pronounce something “el crappo.”

“I love my mother, but she’s at the age where the filter is gone,” says Judith.

How real is this reality show? “Obviously, reality TV is kind of the stepsister of the documentary,” says Montgomery. “A documentary will take months to shoot a two-hour program; with a reality show, you’ve got a week to get a full hour.”

The ladies are learning to make adjustments. “I didn’t realize a scene could take us off the floor for four hours,” says Judith. “And how many people it takes — there’s a sound man, a [production assistant], a director, a lights guy, two camera people — just to follow you during your everyday world.”

The producers cull through the items for sale first, and then set up the cameras. “It’s TV, so … unfortunately, a teacup doesn’t cut it,” explains Judith.

The research was done decades ago. Judith says she held estate sales every other weekend. “I cleaned out a lot of closets, a lot of drawers,” she says.

The cameras follow the women as they go on house calls or haggle among themselves for a table they want to keep. “The ladies do it in such a Midwestern way,” says Montgomery. “These ladies will compliment the people at the same time they’re passing on the item. They’re sweet and they’re genuine.”

There’s plenty of potential in the fringe characters, too. Al the jeweler is “all Chicago,” and Nick the upholsterer tries to stay out of the fabric choices. “I don’t want to get involved with any fisticuffs,” says Nick.

So far, filming the show has been “disruptive in a good way,” says Judith. But the shop featured in “Pawn Kings” went from 70 customers a day to 3,000.

“I’m hoping that it will bring traffic to the store,” says Judith. “We’re hoping they’ll see that we have a particular niche — we work with only really fine, good-quality used or antique items.”

And if that’s not the kind of customer they attract — well, they’ve also printed up plenty of “What the Sell?” T-shirts, too.



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