Trash TV: 'American Pickers' Becomes Cable Ratings Treasure

Two "mantiquers" pick through barns, garages for antiques and collectibles.

ByABC News
June 3, 2010, 9:32 AM

June 3, 2010— -- If it seems like there's only garbage on TV lately, there's a good reason. "Trash" has become cable television's treasure. In April the History Channel had its highest ratings ever, bolstered by a runaway hit, now among the top 10 shows on cable.

"American Pickers" is about two guys crisscrossing the Midwest's back roads, picking through dusty old barns and garages for antiques and collectibles.

In a matter of months, stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz have turned a word once reserved for trash collectors and hoarders into a television phenomenon.

"A picker is someone who finds good stuff among the rust," Fritz says. "It was invented a long time ago when a picker was thought of the low guy, the dumpster driver, the trash digger. Now it's a term that has been brought up."

"American Pickers" debuted in January, and airs Monday nights on the History Channel along with another huge hit featuring forgotten treasures. "Pawn Stars" is based on the owners of a Las Vegas hock shop, who haggle and deal with customers hoping to make a buck in sin city.

"American Pickers" averaged 3.8 million total viewers in its first season of ten episodes. Not bad for an idea Wolfe says he tried to pitch for four years, shooting homemade episodes with Fritz using a small video camera. When he showed his "pilots" to executives at History, Wolfe says they knew they had a hit. Now "picking" has turned Wolfe and Fritz, a couple of middle-aged, blue collar antiques collectors from Iowa into an overnight sensation.

When "Nightline" caught up with the "pickers" during a recent trip to St. Louis, they were recognized everywhere, even in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express, where the duo crashed for the night.

"I came up here for breakfast and heard Mike's voice," says Jeff Fraiser of Michigan, an excited fan who happened to be staying in the same hotel. "I said oh man, can I get your autograph? I mean I had tears in my eyes!"