"It was kind of like, 'Who's gonna wanna watch a show about four fat dudes in a pawnshop?' "
Corey Harrison freely admits to doubting the potential of "Pawn Stars" (10 p.m. Mondays, History) - right up until it debuted, three years ago this month.
Now, it seems like its stars are the only people in the world not tuning in to the goings-on at the family-owned Gold & Silver Pawn, 713 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
For the three months ended June 17, "Pawn Stars" was the highest-rated series on cable, averaging 6.3 million viewers an episode. It airs in 151 countries in 30 languages. But Corey's only seen it once.
His childhood friend and co-star, Austin "Chumlee" Russell, doesn't watch it, either.
"I grinned and beared it and got through one episode. I'll never watch it again," says Corey's father, Rick. "It's just too weird watching myself on television."
The only regular viewer among the cast is Rick's dad, Richard, better known to fans as The Old Man. "I have to. My wife makes me," he explains. "My wife is bound and determined, she's gonna watch that program."
But while they may avoid viewing the series, they certainly enjoy the benefits that come with it.
Over the past three years, various combinations of them have appeared on talk shows ranging from "The Late Show with David Letterman" to "Live! with Kelly," played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for charity and co-hosted Fox's New Year's Eve countdown. Rick, Corey and Chumlee filmed an upcoming episode of "iCarly" so Rick's stepdaughter, a big fan of the Nickelodeon series, could meet the cast.
"One of the perks," Corey says, "is when John Mayer calls you up and tells you, 'Hey, buddy, I just bought a ranch in Montana. When are you gonna come by? When are we gonna hang out?' It's just not something I ever expected to happen."
"(Jon) Bon Jovi personally invited us to his concert," Chumlee adds, " 'cause his son wanted to meet us."
Business at the store - which has doubled in size and grown from 13 employees to 55 - is booming. A concession stand was recently installed in the parking lot to feed the overflow crowds.
And they've tapped ancillary markets, earning money from personal appearances and merchandise, offering everything from T-shirts - they sell more than 100,000 a year - to bobbleheads.
"I was born to be a bobblehead," Chumlee says proudly.
But while they rarely need to worry about such everyday hassles as lines, reservations or dress codes, they insist they're still the same people they've always been.
"You know, life hasn't changed that much for me," Corey offers. "It's just, everything's gotten a little nicer. I drive a nicer car. I live in a nicer house."
"I still hang out with the same people," Rick says. "I still do the same stuff."
All those perks, though, come at a price.
While Richard was shopping for a hat during a recent trip to a local outlet mall, his wife wandered off to browse. As he was waiting for her, he says, "a busload of tourists from Argentina showed up. I counted 'em. I took 27 pictures."
He's also been swarmed by fans at Disneyland. Rick's been surrounded in Europe. "In New York," Chumlee says, "I get mobbed on every corner."
What should have been a quick trip to a Wal-Mart turned into "a two-hour ordeal" for Corey, as he stopped to shake hands or take a photo "literally every 5 feet."
"I've got an 11-year-old stepdaughter and a 9-year-old son," Rick says. "It would be nice to just take them places without having to wear a hat and shades the whole time. People can just be rude, you know what I mean?"
He's careful to point out that he doesn't mind interacting with fans, as long as he's alone.
"People walk up to me, 'I don't mean to bother you when you're with your family, but I'm bothering you,' " he adds with his famous laugh.
But at least Rick has the option of disguising his appearance.
"I don't have that luck," says the heavily inked, distinctively shaped Chumlee, who could never, ever be mistaken for anyone else.
Clearly, though, these are good problems to have.
And their fame gives the guys the chance to help others. Corey singles out the experiences he's had granting the wishes of sick and dying children who want to meet him as the best part of the three-year ride.
"I mean, it's just powerful," he reflects. "It's such a strange feeling. I don't even really consider myself a celebrity, and they want to do that."
It's become a lifestyle that, regardless of the drawbacks, none of them seems eager to give up.
"I'm 71 years old. I was really not planning on starting a third career," Richard says. "Twenty-one years in the Navy. Thirty years in the pawnshop. I was ready to quit.
"I'm not quitting this. This is too much fun."
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567.