Even COVID-19 can’t shut down the “Pawn Stars” momentum. With TV production halted for months, the pawn culture’s exalted trio of Rick Harrison; his son, Corey Harrison; and Austin “Chumlee” Russell have been called back to action at Gold & Silver Pawn.
The series co-stars are fast-tracking 25 new episodes for Season 17 on the History channel. Filming resumed Wednesday.
“We have this whole lockdown going on, and networks cannot cast new television shows,” Rick Harrison said during a live interview for “PodKats!” Friday at Gold & Silver Pawn, the family business and “Pawn Stars” primary shooting location. “Basically they are running low on content, so they came in and asked if we can start airing early. I said, sure, I need some business making money here.”
The TV show is still a hit, but business at Gold & Silver Pawn has shrunk from a peak of more than 4,000 per day to about 400. Harrison’s bar at Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue & Tavern at the adjacent Pawn Plaza closed at midnight Friday. But Harrison, who sometimes tends bar at Rollin’ Smoke, continues to press forward with “Pawn Stars,” which debuted in 2009 and has aired 577 shows entering the upcoming season.
The premiere date for the new season has not been announced. History continues Season 16 on Monday.
My interview with Harrison streamed live and is posted on the Review-Journal Facebook page. The audio version posts Monday morning on ReviewJournal.com/Kats. Some highlights of our time well spent:
Harrison is undecided on gubernatorial run: A surprise here. This concept is still in play, as I asked Harrison about possibly running for governor of Nevada, relaying a question from a reader.
“Everybody keeps on asking me that,” said Harrison, who supported Donald Trump’s presidential run and is a recurring speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “I’ve made no decision yet. Leaning towards no … I’d be, not a politician, running … you know, I haven’t decided yet.” Harrison has ruled out a possible mayoral run. “The city council meetings would drive me crazy.”
Chumlee really is family: “I’ve known Chumlee since he was 11 or 12 years old, and I’ve been helping him out ever since,” Harrison said with a laugh. “He gives me a Father’s Day present every year, and every year, on his birthday, he asks, ‘What did you give me for my birthday?’ The same thing as last year, fame and fortune.”
Harrison still makes the final call on items on the show: The ‘Pawn Stars’ series’ email account is filled with between 100-200 prospective items every day. They are put in a “read-able” format for him to review. The process is not filmed. “It’s some brain damage, sometimes. It doesn’t make good television if they walk in the door and I’m going, ‘No!’ … But one of the reasons ‘Pawn Stars’ is still successful and still on the air is I really care about the show, I want to make it a good show, and I actually know what I’m talking about.”
He seeks refuge on his ranch on the southern coast of Oregon: The property along Bald Mountain Creek is south of Coos Bay on the Oregon coast. “It’s about 35-40 minutes to a small town without a stoplight,” Harrison said. “The guy who runs the hardware store says, ‘You’re the biggest thing to happen in this town since Circle K got a new burrito.’”
Moonshiners once operated on his property, developed in 1929: Harrison once tripped on a metal pipe while walking through the woods. “This is virgin forest, there is no reason in the world to find a metal pipe,” he said. “So I dug into it with my backhoe and found rotted out barrels, all the bands for the barrels and copper condensing pipe were in this field, buried.”
Harrison is a reading ‘geek’ who is always deep in a book: “Right now, I’m reading ‘Coinage and History of The Roman Empire.’”
“The Old Man” was a tough sell: Richard Harrison didn’t even want to take part in his son’s pitches for the series. “He thought it was the craziest, stupidest thing he’d ever heard,” Harrison said. “I remember telling him, ‘Dad, you’ve got to come in Saturday for the sizzle reel.’ And he looks at me and says, ‘Rick, you’re never getting a bleeping TV show. It’s just not going to happen.’ I begged him to come in that Saturday. But we had to have him. He was the grumpy old man that everyone loves.”
“Pawn Stars” airs in 150 countries, most recently premiering in France: “Seventy-five percent of TV shows in France have to be made in France, so it was very difficult to be on there,” Harrison said. “They are watching the very beginning of the show right now, so I’m like a rock star there and before the lockdown 15 percent of my business was French … I went to Buenos Aires and was mobbed. Last season, when we were filming in Rome, everyone’s running up to me. In Kuala Lampur, they know who I am.”
This level of success was not planned: “At first, I just thought a season or two would be good for business,” Harrison said. “It’s really bizarre. I’m just a fat pawn broker, and now I’m known all over the world.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.