The series depicts the staff's interactions with customers, who bring in a variety of artifacts to sell or pawn and who are shown haggling over the price and discussing its historical background, with narration provided by either the Harrisons or Chumlee. The series also follows the interpersonal conflicts among the cast. One reviewer referencing these conflicts described the show as a version of Antiques Roadshow "hijacked by American Chopper's" Teutul family.TV Guide has offered a similar description, calling the show "one part Antiques Roadshow, a pinch of LA Ink and a dash of COPS".
Numerous local experts in a variety of fields also regularly appear to appraise the items being sold or pawned, two of whom having gone on to their own spinoff programs. Antique restorer/metal artist Rick Dale is the star of the series' first spin-off, American Restoration, which premiered in October 2010, and mechanic/auto restoration expert Danny "The Count" Koker stars in the third spinoff, Counting Cars, which debuted August 13, 2012.
Pawn Stars began with Brent Montgomery and Colby Gaines of Leftfield Pictures, who were struck by the array of eclectic and somewhat seedy pawn shops in Las Vegas during a 2008 weekend visit to the city. Thinking such shops might contain unique characters, they searched for a family-run shop on which to center a TV series, until they found the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop less than two miles from the Las Vegas Strip. It had been the subject of a 2001 PBS documentary, and the manager and part-owner, Rick Harrison, had been trying unsuccessfully to pitch a show based on his shop for four years. The shop, and Rick, had previously been featured in the Las Vegas episode of Insomniac with Dave Attell in 2003.
The series was originally pitched to HBO, though the network preferred the series to have been a Taxicab Confessions-style series taking place at the Gold & Silver's night window. The format eventually evolved into the now-familiar family-oriented motif used on the series.History president Nancy Dubuc, who had been charged with creating programming with a more populist appeal to balance out the network's in-depth military programming, picked up the series, which was initially titled Pawning History, before a staffer at Leftfield suggested that Pawn Stars would fit better with the locale. The network concurred, believing that name to be more pleasing and easily remembered. The staffer adjusted its story-line in order to bring it in line with the network's brand, which included the on-camera experts appraising the items brought into the Gold & Silver, though she did not discourage the interpersonal conflicts among the show's stars.
World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in 2010
The series is filmed on location at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although jewellery is the most commonly pawned item at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, most of the customers featured in episodes bring in a variety of vintage or antique items to the store, which has 12,000 items in its inventory as of July 2011 (5,000 of which are typically held on pawn). Each episode consists of segments devoted to approximately five or six of these items, in which one of the staff members, usually Rick Harrison, his son Corey, or Harrison's father Richard (known as the "Old Man"), explains the history behind the object. When the buyer is unable to evaluate an object, they consult with a knowledgeable expert who can evaluate it to determine its authenticity and potential value, and in the case of items needing repair, the cost of restoration or preparing the item for sale. Whoever is evaluating the object goes over the potential value with the customer, including the expert's opinion, if one is given, often interspersed with an interview in which he explains the basis of his decision to the viewer. A price tag graphic at the bottom corner of the screen provides the ever-changing dollar amount as the two haggle over the item's price. On occasion, Rick will purchase items in need of restoration before determining its restoration costs, thus taking a risk on such costs.
Interpersonal narratives focusing on the relationship and conflicts among Rick, Corey, the Old Man, and Corey's childhood friend, Austin "Chumlee" Russell, who also works at the shop, also comprise episode plots. These usually pertain to arguments over the running of the shop, the elder Harrisons questioning Corey's judgment, and aspersions cast on Chumlee's intelligence and competence. Before the second commercial break, a multiple choice trivia question related to the shop and its inventory, the cast members or one of the featured items is shown, with the answer provided after the break; beginning with the Season 8 episode "A Very Vegas Christmas", a trivia question is asked at every commercial break.
In addition to spawning imitators, such as the truTV series Hardcore Pawn, the success of Pawn Stars has been a boon to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, which has become a Las Vegas tourist site, and has expanded its business accordingly. Originally averaging between 70 and 100 customers per day, the shop's traffic increased to more than 1,000 by October 2010. To handle the increased business, the shop hired nearly 30 new employees, and underwent a $400,000 expansion of their showroom by two thirds, to 15,000 square feet, the shop's tenth expansion since it opened. Rick Harrison also mentioned in the fourth season episode "Over the Top" that he was building a gym above the Pawn Shop for the staff's use. The shop also now sells its own brand merchandise, whose designs originate from fans entering design competitions on Facebook, which saves the Harrisons the cost of hiring professional designers. The staff's presence on Facebook and Twitter also ensures audiences during local nightclub appearances, for which Corey Harrison and Chumlee Russell are paid $1,000 a night. As a result of filming at the shop, however, the four main cast members no longer work the counter, due to laws that require the identity of customers pawning items to remain confidential, and the tourists and fans taking photos and video in the showroom that would preclude this. When shooting episodes of the series, the shop is temporarily closed, with only a handful of customers allowed into the showroom.
In July 2011, Harrison signed a record-breaking 80-episode renewal contract for four more seasons of the series.
After being broadcast during its first four years on Mondays at 10PM ET, the program moved to Thursday nights at 9PM ET on May 30, 2013, replacing Swamp People, which moved an hour later to 10PM ET. The program also received a new opening and theme song, "Winning isn't Everything", performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The opening would be replaced again with different theme music from an uncredited artist on June 12, 2014.
Richard (Rick) Kevin Harrison – Co-founder/co-owner of the pawn shop. The son of "The Old Man" Richard and father of "Big Hoss" Corey, he has earned the nickname of "The Spotter" due to his sharp eye for valuable items. He started in the pawn business at age 13. Rick co-founded the "Gold & Silver" pawn shop with his father in 1989 at the age of 23. Boasting that "Gold & Silver" is the only family-owned pawn shop in Las Vegas, Rick says he dropped out of high school in the tenth grade because he was making $2,000 a week selling fake Gucci bags. An avid reader since childhood, his favorite area of historical study is the British Navy, from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Harrison also appears on United Stuff of America, an H2 series from the producers of Pawn Stars that focuses on notable artifacts that were used in important moments in history, which premiered in June 2014.
Richard Benjamin "The Old Man" Harrison – Born March 4, 1941, he is Rick's father and Corey's grandfather, and the founder/co-owner of the pawn shop, which he opened in 1989 with his son Rick. He is usually referred to by his nickname, "The Old Man", which he earned at age 38, according to the episode "Fired Up". Originally from Lexington, North Carolina, he is the first to arrive at the shop in the morning, and has not had a sick day since 1994. He is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is particularly passionate about automobiles, showing an interest in all types of cars, from the 1966 Chrysler Imperial his son and grandson had restored for his 50th wedding anniversary to the mid-1960s B&Z Electra-King electric car shown to them in "Honest Abe", which he suggested could be converted into a golf cart.
Corey Harrison (left) and Austin "Chumlee" Russell pictured in 2010. Both are part of the main staff of the pawn shop.
Corey Harrison – Rick's son and Richard's grandson, who is nicknamed "Big Hoss". and started at the shop at age nine, polishing jewelry. He is now the manager of the shop's day-to-day operations, and 30 of its employees, makes the most purchases of anyone in the shop, and is being groomed by Rick to be the boss one day. Corey often comes into conflict with his father and grandfather over his knowledge of the shop's inventory, his responsibilities as a manager, and his overall judgment in sales, in particular his purchase of expensive items. Following gastriclap band surgery in 2010 and a change to his diet, Harrison's weight went down from 365 lb (166 kg) to approximately 250 lb (113 kg) by July 2011. In Season 6, he tells the elder Harrisons that he will take a job at another business if he is not given a 10% partnership in the shop. He remains with the shop after he is given a raise and a 5% partnership, with the possibility of a greater stake in the business in the future.
Austin "Chumlee" Russell – Corey's childhood friend, employed for five years at the time of the first season, having started at the shop when he was 21. Chumlee was given his nickname at age 12 by the father of a childhood friend, who named him after the walrus sidekick of Tennessee Tuxedo. He does behind-the-counter work at the shop, such as testing the items, loading them, and writing the tickets for items purchased by others. He is often the butt of the others' jokes for his perceived lack of intelligence and his incompetence, for which he has been referred to as a "village idiot". Chumlee has responded to this by explaining that he is underestimated, and points to his expertise in pinball machines, which he utilizes in the second season episode "Pinball Wizards", much to Corey's surprise, as an example of one of the areas in which he is knowledgeable. Chumlee later displays the ability to repair a gas-powered toy car in "Never Surrender" (Episode 3.25), and expert knowledge in discerning a fake pair of Air Jordan V sneakers in the following episode, "Honest Abe" (Episode 3.26). As a result of the show, Russell formed his own company, which sells novelty items, including T-shirts of his own design, and arranges for his personal appearances. He sold half of the company in 2010 to Harrison for $5,000, so that the shop could handle orders of his merchandise more efficiently.
Minor shop staff
Danielle "Peaches" Rainey – One of the shop staff members. In the episode "Rope a Dope", she is punished for her habitual tardiness by being put on the graveyard shift with Chumlee, who harbors an unrequited affection for her. She reluctantly helps Rick appraise a box of Playboy magazines in "Peaches & Pinups", despite her distaste for the task. The Old Man asks her about Chumlee's whereabouts in "Chum Goes AWOL". She is also seen socializing with the other shop staff in the closing scene of "Confederate Conundrum".
Olivia Black – A night shift employee hired in the fifth season. She is among the applicants favored by Corey and Chumlee, due to her attractiveness, when they screen the applicants in "Learning the Ropes". She is hired after being further interviewed by Rick and the Old Man in "Crosby, Stills and Cash", and begins her training in "Les is More". In "Corey's Big Burn", she is shown working with night shift customers with Chumlee, though Rick and the Old Man express concern that the double shifts Chumlee is working as a result of volunteering to train her (which they perceive to be motivated solely by his attraction to her) might be too much for him. Black was fired from the show on December 19, 2012 when her 2008 nude modeling work for the soft porn website SuicideGirls was revealed. Though fired from the series, she was not fired from the shop, where she continued to work, albeit off-camera. She later left the shop. She also returned to SuicideGirls, and shot a new pictorial for them four days after her firing.
Antwaun Austin – The shop's 6' 5" security guard. Usually seen in the background, Antwaun sometimes sells store T-shirts to people who come in, helps customers bring in large items, and when necessary, removes customers who are unruly or disruptive. In "Flight of the Chum", for example, he attempts to intervene when a seller becomes irate after Rick informs him that the Perseus statue he brought into the shop is not an original by Émile Louis Picault, but a copy. He features heavily in an episode storyline for the first time in the fourth season "Teacher's Pet", in which he is revealed to have worked at the shop for three years, and is tutored by Chumlee on negotiating prices and discerning genuine gold. When he later prepares to take a few days off in "Security", he in turn tutors Chumlee on how to work the door.
Fat Back – An in-house mechanic, who also provides appraisals on the condition of vehicles.
Johnny – An in-house mechanic, and an expert in racing and other sporting memorabilia.
Scott – One of the shop's part-time employees, who spends much of his time at flea markets and estate sales, purchasing items that Rick will purchase from him to sell in the shop.
Andy – The shop's head of security. He first features prominently in a storyline in the sixth season episode "Shekel and Hyde".
Professional specialists are sometimes called in by the pawn shop to determine the authenticity and value of the items brought in and, in some cases, to restore them. The following is a list of recurring experts who have appeared in two or more episodes.
Area of expertise
Performer and collector of Western memorabilia, and owner of Wild West Arts Club and Western Stage Props.
Firearms and military antique expert, owner of Craig Gottlieb Military Antiques. Like Rick Harrison, he also appears on the series United Stuff of America.
Expert in 20th century artifacts and history, and administrator of the Clark County Heritage Museum and the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum at McCarran Airport. Hall-Patton is the expert most often consulted by the Harrisons, and also appears on the spinoff American Restoration. Unlike most of the experts who appear on the show, Hall-Patton never offers a financial estimate of an item's value, preferring to only establish authenticity and historical significance. Although the Clark County Museum was little-known outside of Las Vegas, and has no advertising budget, annual attendance soared nearly 70% since 2012, reached 42,000 in 2013. Like Rick Harrison, he also appears on the series United Stuff of America.
Expert in vintage toys, and owner of Toy Shack of Las Vegas.
Danny "The Count" Koker
Motorcycle and automobile restoration expert, and owner of Count’s Kustoms. Koker has also guest-starred on Rick Dale's spinoff, American Restoration, and stars in his own spinoff, Counting Cars, which premiered in August 2012.
Expert in automobile restoration, and owner of Rusty Nuts Rods and Customs.
By January 2011, Pawn Stars was History's highest-rated series. An original episode broadcast on January 24, 2011 was watched by seven million viewers, the most-watched telecast ever on History, according to the network and Nielsen Media Research. In 2011 it was the second highest-rated reality series on TV behind Jersey Shore, attracting 7.6 million viewers.
Christopher Long, reviewing the first season DVD for DVD Town, praised the series for its cast and the educational value of the items examined, calling it "addictive" and "a big-time winner", and opined that it is the best show on History and perhaps cable. In one issue of TV Guide, writer Rob Moynihan included the show in a list of "guilty pleasures." April McIntyre of Monsters and Critics, whose negative view of pawn shops influenced her view of the series' setting, reviewed one episode of the series, which she labeled a "cool Antiques Roadshow". Though she found aspects of it interesting, she criticized what she perceived as an emphasis on cheap laughs at the expense of family patriarch Richard Harrison over the show's historical material, as well as Corey Harrison's weight. She ultimately saw potential for the series if aspects of it that she found to be in poor taste were curbed.USA Today's Gary Strauss opined that the bickering among the Harrisons, as well as the customers seen in the shop, is "alternately amusing and grating". People magazine wrote of the show, "Think Antiques Roadshow, but with neon and far more tattoos." Some of History's viewers were reportedly displeased with how reality series like Pawn Stars and Swamp People have replaced some of the network's previous history-oriented programming.
The series has also attracted some criticism from other pawnbrokers, who while conceding its entertainment value, claim that the series' focus on the extravagant vintage items brought into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop are not typical of the average pawn shop, whose business is predicated on individuals on fixed income who bring in conventional objects in order to pay their bills, such as electronics, tools and jewelry. Corey Grigson and Charles Brown, who own a shop called Pawn Stars, estimate that their average loan to a customer is between $50 and $100. They also point out appraisals are handled by the staff, who rely on experience, reference works and research, and not the outside experts who are frequently seen on the show aiding the Harrisons.[dead link]
In 2010, Rick Harrison and the staff of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop were awarded the Pawnbroker of the Year Award by the National Pawnbrokers Association for bringing the industry greater recognition and a better image with the TV show.
On July 17, 2012, the Clark County Commission declared that day to be "Pawn Stars/Gold & Silver Pawn Day". At the Commission meeting, Richard "The Old Man" Harrison donated $1,000 to the Clark County Heritage Museum, and lent the U.S. Senate floor chair used by Senator Patrick McCarran (sold to the Gold and Silver in the Pawn Stars episode "Take a Seat") to the museum as part of a display on Senator McCarran.
In October 2012, A+E Networks and the History channel, as well as cast members from the show, were sued in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas for interference with business practices by Wayne Jefferies, a Las Vegas promoter and the Harrisons' manager, who represented them and "Chumlee" Russell in their television business dealings. Jefferies, who was instrumental in helping to launch the series, states that after the show premiered, his influence in the show was increasingly reduced, and he was ultimately fired and left without his promised share of fees and merchandising royalties from the series. Jefferies states that this occurred after a January 2012 leaked story on TMZ that indicated that the Pawn Stars cast was taken aback by the History Channel's launch of the spinoff Cajun Pawn Stars, of which the cast had been unaware.
Spinoffs and similar series by Leftfield
Following the success of Pawn Stars, Leftfield Pictures created five spinoffs of Pawn Stars for History:
Cajun Pawn Stars is set at the Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center, a pawn shop in Alexandria, Louisiana that is owned and operated by Jimmie DeRamus and his family. The show, which follows the same format as the original Pawn Stars, debuted on History on January 8, 2012.
Counting Cars stars Danny "The Count" Koker, proprietor of Count's Kustoms, and follows a format similar to American Restoration, in which Koker and his staff restore and modify classic automobiles. Counting Cars debuted on August 13, 2012, after Pawn Stars.
Pawn Stars UK is a local version of Pawn Stars set in the United Kingdom; that series premiered in the UK on the History channel on August 26, 2013. This series is slated for a first season of eight episodes, and, like Cajun Pawn Stars, will show the trade of collectibles from the local perspective.
Pawnography is a game show slated to begin July 10, 2014 on History. Hosted by comedian Christopher Titus and featuring Rick, Corey and Chumlee as panelists, Pawnography features contestants answering questions related to selected items sold at the Gold and Silver, for a chance to win the item. The game show will be seen Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET, following Pawn Stars.
In addition, Leftfield created five similar series that follow the same format as Pawn Stars:
Oddities, a Discovery Channel series which premiered in November 2010, focusing on the operations of a New York–based antique shop.
Oddities: San Francisco, a spinoff of Oddities taking place at a San Francisco-based antiques shop, which debuted in June 2012 on the Science channel.
What the Sell?!, a TLC series that debuted in March 2011, about three generations of women running an antique shop in Wheaton, Illinois.
In 2011, History launched Pawn Stars: The Game for play on Facebook.
In June 2011, Rick Harrison's autobiography, License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver, was published by Hyperion Books. Harrison's autobiography details his childhood, some of the troubles he faced before he got into the pawning business, as well as anecdotes from his time at the Gold & Silver. Also, The Old Man, Corey, and Chumlee have their own chapters in the book, reflecting on their life and experiences at the pawn shop.
In October 2011, the Redwood Hills Financial Group issued the Modern Cash Prepaid MasterCard Limited Edition: Gold & Silver Pawn Shop prepaid debit card, in a special tie-in with the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.
^"Pezzed Off". Pawn Stars. Episode 2.15; January 25, 2010
^"Face the Music". Pawn Stars. Season 4. Episode 39. July 25, 2011. History.
^"The Wright Stuff". Pawn Stars. Season 4. Episode 44. August 15, 2011. History.
^Examples include the chronometer in "Sharks and Cobra" and the barber's chair in "A Shot and a Shave".
^ abExamples include Rick's reaction to the purchase of a stolen item in "John Hancock's Hancock", and his perception of Corey's laziness in motivating staff people like Chumlee to keep the back storage area organized, as well as putting rare items on display at the shop instead of in the backroom in "Backroom Brawl".
^ abExamples include his purchase of a boat in "Sink or Sell", despite his father's policy against buying boats, and his $38,000 purchase of a hot air balloon in "Hot Air Buffoon", despite his father's rule requiring him to consult him first when paying more than $10,000 for an item.
^ abOther examples include the Old Man's remarks in "Plane Crazy" that Chumlee probably can't spell the word "art", and can barely tie his own shoelaces.
^Corey Harrison indicates he manages 30 employees in the second season episode "Backroom Brawl", and later states the shop has 48 employees in the third season episode "Like a Rolling Chum". The June 2010 Entertainment Weekly source also indicates a staff of over 40 employees. According to Richard Harrison on Page 88 of his son's 2011 autobiography, License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver, the shop had 12 employees at the time the show began production.
^"Peacemaker". Pawn Stars. Season 4. Episode 27. May 9, 2011. History.
^ ab"Over the Top". Pawn Stars. Season 4. Episode 33. June 13, 2011. History.
^His passion for cars is mentioned in the first season episode "Rope a Dope" and the third season episode "Honest Abe". He mentions in the second season episode "Sharks and Cobras" that he has owned 40 cars in his life.
^"Old Man's Booty", Episode 2.3, History, December 7, 2009
^"Honest Abe" Pawn Stars, Episode 3.26, History, November 1, 2010
^"Pawn Illustrated", Episode 4.9, February 7, 2011
^"Guns and Rangers". Pawn Stars. Season 2. Episode 17. February 1, 2010.
^ abPawn Stars. Season 2. Episode 23. March 1, 2010.
^A previous version of History.com's cast page for the series stated that Rick closed most of the deals on the show. That statement is no longer on that page[dead link] as of March 2, 2010, and the interstitial trivia quiz seen at the end of the last commercial break of the episode "Off the Wagon" states that Corey makes the most purchases. Corey's purchase rate has not been explicitly indicated, but the interstitial that precedes the last Act of "Flight of the Chum" states that Rick purchases approximately 50 items a week.
^His father quizzes him on this in "Rick's Big Bet".
^Examples include Corey and the Old Man's bet in "Confederate Conundrum" that Corey could not sell a restored Rolex GMT watch for more than $4,800.
^Rick Harrison traveled to Utah to investigate items for sale at Ashman's market in "Sharpe Shooters" (Episode 4.30) and "Weird Science" (Episode 4.43), but Ashman later appeared at the Gold & Silver as an expert in "Rick or Treat" (Episode 4.54), "Cash Cash Bang Bang" (Episode 5.16) and "Hole in One" (Episode 5.19)
^"Time Machines" (Episode 1.8); "Rick's Big Bet" (Episode 1.10); "A Shot and a Shave" (Episode 2.4); "Wheels" (Episode 2.12); "Off the Wagon" (Episode 2.21); "Bumpy Ride" (Episode 2.26); "Hell Week" (Episode 2.29); "The British Are Coming" (Episode 2.31); "Trail Breaker" (Episode 3.1); "Deals from Hell" (Episode 3.6); "The Pick, The Pawn and the Polish" (Episode 4.35); "Making Cents" (Episode 4.36); "Putt, Putt, Pawn" (Episode 6.11); "Spare the Rodman" (Episode 6.20)
^"Family Feud" (Episode 5.40); "Stuff It" (Episode 5.49); "Bullitt Proof" (Episode 5.52); "Cool as Ike" (Episode 5.53); Fork it Over (Episode 5.57); What You Talkin' 'Bout Sturgis? (Episode 6.1); "Wouldn't It Be Ice?" (Episode 6.12); "Take the Money and Run" (Episode 6.14); "Santa Chum" (Episode 6.16); "I Herd That" (Episode 6.18); "Lunch Larceny" (Episode 6.27); "Corey, I Am Your Father" (Episode 6.32); "Close, But No Cigar" (Episode 6.33)