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Weekly Alibi Scoobie Doobie Do?

By Devin D. O'Leary

AUGUST 3, 1998:  Ever heard of a guy called Albrecht Dürer? Do you know how to tell mother-of-pearl from plastic? Heck, would you even recognize a Canadian Indian moose-skin smock if you saw one? If you're a normal person, you'll probably proffer a quick "no" to all these questions and give me that eye-rolling look I always got from the popular kids in high school. But if you're a geek like me--and I mean a real slave to everything arcane--then you might actually get a groove out of these quandaries. And if that's the case, then allow me to direct your attention to "Antiques Roadshow," a series on PBS that has inherited the mantle from "Seinfeld" as the bastion of Geek TV.

With its second season just now finishing, "Antiques Roadshow" has already developed an enormous following of sweaty, mouth-breathing nerds nationwide, because, basically, it offers us everything we need to survive. The gritty verité of Jerry Springer. The high-dollar gambits of a Hollywood game show. And best of all, scads of trivia about material culture! Let me explain how it works: One city at a time, "Antiques Roadshow" sets up shop in convention centers around the country, inviting local folks to stop by with stuff they've found around the house that they think may be of some value--weather vanes, walking sticks, old photographs. Then, a passel of antique appraisers tells these folks what they their stuff is really worth. In other words, it's like "Let's Make a Deal," but in reverse.

There are no flashing lights or toothy hosts, but the whole game show angle of "Roadshow" is pretty easy to pick up on. There are people that you want to win, in the hopes that their old cameo brooch or 1955 Barbie ends up being worth a fortune. And, every now and then, there's a person you want to lose, like some smug guy who thinks he has a really enviable Lalique vase, which ends up being a forgery. Either way, the cameras are rolling, and we get to look on as fortunes are made and lost. Some folks have been moved to tears. Others have been barely able to contain their disappointment. It's not quite the gamut of emotion, but it's about as much as geeks can handle.

Anyway, what we're really in it for is the trivia. Did you know that a painting by Albrecht Dürer--a 15th century German artist--can fetch thousands of dollars? Or that you can tell if mother-of-pearl is real by sticking it with a hot pin and smelling it? Or that moose skins and loon quills are used by Athabaskan Indians rather than Plains Indians? It's all true, my friends, and incidentally, it's all stuff I learned when "Roadshow" came to Albuquerque two years ago. And I'm not the only one who digs this junk; PBS has announced that it's adding eight new cities to "Roadshow's" intinerary. Sounds like the makings of a Geek Nation.

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