Trash TV: 'American Pickers' Becomes Cable Ratings Treasure

Colby-Cushman says the success of "Pickers" is thanks in part to the dynamic personalities of Wolfe and Fritz, and nostalgia for simpler times.

"We've seen the housewives, the Paris Hiltons, which is all fine and great to watch," Colby-Cushman says, "but I think people are craving something more organic and more real."

The picker's treasure hunt often takes them off the beaten path, and sometimes under it. In Pennsylvania they discovered "mole man," a collector who stacks up antiques in his 26-room underground lair.

Wolfe and Fritz say the experience was their most dangerous yet, as they climbed through narrow tunnels and a maze built with 1,700 old doors. Wolfe says it took some convincing to get their camera crew to go with them.

"I was like, hey man, you've been hired to follow us," Wolfe says. "Let's rock this out, let's get in the hole, we're going to find something killer down here."

'Pickers': Swindlers or Smart Shoppers?

Not everyone is sold on American Pickers. The broadcast has polarized the antiques community, with critics accusing the pickers of taking advantage of elderly collectors, low-balling them for their keepsakes. Several blogs have been trashing the pickers.

"I think this is a sad show of two con men roaming around and exploiting people," one wrote.

"American Pickers are two greedy Americans bent on screwing older people out of their treasures," wrote another.

"The essence of those blogs is that we are searching out old people," Wolfe says.

"Like I'm looking for some old decrepit dude to buy something from. No, we're not looking for old people, we're looking for old items. So when we buy something from a person like that, and we pay them $200 and we sell it for $500, is that our profit margin? No, I mean we're in business here."

Wolfe and Fritz also say their show is bringing new attention to collecting, at a time when antique shops across the country are closing their doors in a tough economy.

"The industry is hurting so bad, and it makes me laugh that some in the industry are talking smack on us," Wolfe says, "Look at me dude, I'm on ABC's "Nightline" and we're talking about collectibles, we are talking about antiques, we're talking about feeding the fire."

'Pickers' See Dollar Signs

Back at the steel mill in St. Louis, they don't feel ripped off, they're star-struck. Owners Stan and Sam Shapiro say they're happy with what the Pickers paid for their junk and are excited at the chance to hang out with two of TV's biggest stars.

At Wolfe's shop in Iowa, they don't see junk, they see dollar signs, as they put prices on the items bought in St. Louis. The old workbench lamp picked for $50 will be sold for $125. And what about those porcelain sign letters? Wolfe says they'll ask $50 apiece in his shop.

"In New York city, these are a couple of hundred bucks each!" he says.

It's a dirty job, but Wolfe and Fritz are doing it -- creating a new TV sensation with the help of some very old stuff.

Season two of American Pickers debuts on Monday, June 7 on History at 9 p.m. ET.

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