Brandon Ribordy smiles as he moves a framed Christmas print

Go Behind the Scenes of Antiques Roadshow with WPT’s Brandon Ribordy

We’re getting ever closer to Green Bay’s debut on Antiques Roadshow! Before the first of three brand-new episodes premieres on Monday, April 23, we’ll have all sorts of exclusive tidbits and behind-the-scenes info to whet your whistle.

Brandon Ribordy maneuvers a wooden clock into place
WPT’s Brandon Ribordy (Photo: Kevin Martin)

Antiques Roadshow: Green Bay episodes arrive on WPT 7 p.m. Mondays, April 23 and 30 and May 7. And before they premiere, join WPT’s Michael Bridgeman, host of Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin and Our House: The Wisconsin Capitol, for a special look at what goes into the filming of an Antiques Roadshow visit. Behind the Scenes: Antiques Roadshow Green Bay premieres 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19.

Today, we bring you some reflections from one of WPT’s busiest and most versatile staffers. For 10 seasons, Brandon Ribordy has taken a break to crisscross the country as a crew member for Antiques Roadshow.

As the show set up shop in Green Bay last summer (read an account of the visit here), Ribordy shared some of the backstage secrets that makes it hum.

Read on for more!

Around the WPT offices, Ribordy, a scenic designer, has made an impact just about everywhere. He’s animated stories for Wisconsin Life and Wisconsin Hometown Stories, designed sets for televised debates and shows such as Director’s Cut, and even welded custom cubicles for his colleagues.

You won’t see Ribordy onscreen, but if you see an heirloom or artwork, chances are he prepared it for filming. (He swears he hasn’t broken anything yet.)

Brandon Ribordy (left) assists appraisers in Santa Clara, CA in 2014. (Photo: Lisa Hix of Collectors Weekly)

WPT: How did you get this job?
RIBORDY: Luck. Actually, I worked with the current Set Decorator at a theater in Boston, and every summer that she traveled I’d ask if she needed an assistant to come along. Eventually, they offered me the job. I like working in TV: the acts, the people. The flow of TV is better than theater. There’s just something about it. It’s a bigger audience; things that you do are seen by millions of people.

What are the basics the show needs?
There are 35-40 crew that travel with the show. About 75 appraisers work for the show – they’re volunteers; they don’t get paid to be there. We need a venue with a minimum of 140,000 square feet to operate the show. We have groupies.

Seriously… Antiques Roadshow groupies?
Yes. They volunteer, traveling from town to town. A few hardcore volunteers travel to every event. Some get to work with us in the center set area.

What exactly do you do on the set?
I’m the Assistant Set Decorator. The day before filming, I work with the local crew to assemble the set, the banners and all of the surround. The day we film, the Set Decorator and I work in tandem to keep resetting the three recording areas inside the curtained-off circle.

Why is everything displayed on that blue velvet?
It used to not be! There used to be a dark, a medium and a light color. As the show has aged, the powers that be determined that was the color they liked the best. It’s the look they were going for. The display backgrounds kind of disappear into the color of the table, so you can really focus on what’s there.

Aren’t you scared to touch some items?
No. I feel you’re more apt to break something if you try to be careful with it. We’ve never broken anything – but the show’s insurance covers us. The lamps, especially, are actually pretty heavy duty. They aren’t as fragile as you would think.

Crew members behind the camera prepare to film a large Union Pacific film bannerHow is the filming area set up?
We always film on a round set in the middle of a bigger hall. There are three filming areas inside the circle; four cameras rotate between each area. We set up at least two segments ahead, so when they finish one thing, they can just swing over to the next one right away. Two remote crews also work around the larger hall to film what they call “over the shoulders” that are less formal – not as complicated to set up.

Watching the show, the set seems pretty loud.
It is. The excitement of the people, and the constant chatter, keep you going. That excitement of “What do I have?” and “What are they going to tell me?” keeps you smiling throughout the day.

Does the crew joke around over the headsets?
It’s pretty serious. They try and film four or five appraisals an hour, so that doesn’t leave a lot of room to dink around. The day is busy.

What’s the coolest item you’ve seen on set?
One guy came in with copper plates that Salvador Dali used to print etchings. Some of my favorite things to see are the ways people get their stuff there. They have carts with things jimmied up; they have to get creative to travel.

After 10 seasons, I admit it’s rare for me to think, “I can’t believe this is here.” Some of the things that get me now are much older, like Leonardo da Vinci prints.

I don’t like dolls. I hate dolls – especially the really old ones that look human-like. They creep me out. My boss sets those up.

Do you have anything you want to be appraised?
No; I know what I have. Here’s thing: If you know too much about your item, it doesn’t make for good TV.

How do the producers pick who makes it on TV?
First of all, the item has to be yours. It has to belong to you. The producers ask questions, trying to trick people to see if they know more than they are letting on and aren’t trying to play “let’s fool the appraiser.” If they get approved, they go to the green room, where they sign a release for use of their image and information. They sign a release that acknowledges their valuable item will be handled by other people (aka me).

Has an item ever been too big to display?
Not yet! I’ve seen two truly huge things: one was the Fisk Tire Boy that was seven feet tall and four feet wide, and once we had to display 15 train posters at once. Each poster was three feet by four feet.

Many people get emotional when describing heirlooms (or when hearing their appraisal). Have you ever cried on set?
No. There are definitely still moments that remind us why we’re here, though. One lady in Harrisburg had a painting with long family ties; it was her grandmother’s. They had paid like 200 bucks, and it was worth something like $230,000. She had no idea; she broke down on camera.

Are the big appraisals a surprise to you, too? Or do you have a secret earpiece?
Yes, I’m on a headset. The only time we’re forewarned about the value is if it’s over a certain amount. We then give those people security.

Wait – secret Antiques Roadshow security teams?
We have plainclothes security officers. If you have an item worth, say, $500,000, you get an escort the rest of the day. The people in the green room hear the appraisals live. They don’t want someone to be like, “I’m going to knock this 80-year-old lady over and steal her $500,000 thing!”

If a viewer sees an item they want to buy that was appraised, can Antiques Roadshow get them in touch?
No. The show can’t engage in commerce.

That said, we once had the granddaughter of a woman who used to house and cook for members of the Boston Red Sox back in the 19th century, when they were still the Red Stockings. The woman had all their signatures and player cards; it was appraised at $1.5-2 million. The Red Sox reached out because they wanted to put these items on display at Fenway Park. In that case, the show agreed to contact her and act as an intermediary.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Read more about this appraisal here.]

How does the crew relax?
Food. We usually try to find the true “local spots.” A handful of people on the crew are really into beer, so they tour local breweries. When we were in Harrisburg, we took a trip out to Gettysburg. A few are photographers, so we do a lot of sunset chasing. Oh – and coaster parks. If there is a good theme park nearby, we go have fun.

Do you travel to every city?
Yes. In the 10 seasons, I’ve only missed two cities – because of the birth of my kids.

Special thanks to former WPT-er Jessica Lee, who conducted this interview; her husband Kevin Martin, who supplied the photos in this post unless otherwise noted; and their daughter, who supplied a welcome dose of  adorability on a long day. We miss you.

Former WPT staffer Jessica Lee and her daughter Cora

 

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