By John Schaffner
In September of 2009, Paul Brown was thinking of closing the doors to his Sandy Springs gallery when he got a phone call from a production company in Los Angeles.
They wanted to develop a reality TV show about an auction gallery—specifically, Brown’s gallery, Gallery 63 in Sandy Springs.
That phone call changed Paul Brown’s life.
From late February until mid-November, TV production crews were at Gallery 63 every day to shoot material for the first 20 episodes of The Discovery Channel’s Auction Kings reality show.
The show focuses on Paul Brown’s Gallery 63, located at 6363 Roswell Road, with occasional cuts to his dad, Bob Brown, and his Red Baron’s Antiques and Auction in Sandy Springs.
“It has been a whirlwind experience,” Paul Brown said.” It has been bizarre, surreal.”
The show hit the air Oct. 26. Paul Brown held his first auction at Gallery 63 after the start of the show on Nov. 14, when an auction was filmed for Auction Kings.
“Since the show first aired, it has exploded,” Paul said. “I stand right here in the middle of the gallery with a phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other. It is that crazy. Then I go home and find 75 e-mails that I deal with.”
Then, he adds with a smile, “It has been fun.”
A new episode of the show premieres every Tuesday night on The Discovery Channel at 10 p.m. Each episode involves three plots and is filmed to fill a 30-minute on-air time slot. Two episodes run back-to-back for a full hour of Auction Kings and segments rerun six to 10 times at various time slots during the week.
The crew has been at Gallery 63 almost daily since the end of February. Most of the time, the crew is composed of eight to 10 people, but during the monthly auctions, it expands to 25-30 people.
“The general format is we get items in and build a little scene with it coming in, usually with me and one of my staff,” Paul Brown said.” If it is particularly oddball or weird, then we call in an expert and film a little scene about that. Then … they interview me or Cindy [Shook] or Jon [Hammond] about what just happened. They cut that in during the editing process. It sort of serves as a narrative for the story. I am in the story, but I am also the narrator.”
There are three story lines in each 22-minute show.
“This is true narrative in the literary sense,” Paul Brown said. “We have a beginning, middle and end and three unique plots that are weaved throughout and all stuffed neatly in a 22-minute package that is really, really well done. I take no credit for that. That is the post-production team back in Los Angeles.”
His dad, Bob Brown, says the TV has made Gallery 63 “probably the premiere consignment auction house in the Southeast right now.”
Bob Brown is on the show occasionally as an expert and some of the material is filmed at Red Baron’s Antiques and Auction, also located on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. He said he has heard the show has already pulled 2 million viewers in a week.
Paul Brown is enjoying the attention. “At this time next year, more people will have heard of Gallery 63 than have heard of Sotheby’s and Christies combined,” Paul Brown said. “Everybody knows who the Bounty Hunter is, but nobody knows who the Supreme Court justice is. It is because of TV.”
Half of the auction business, the Browns say, is getting the inventory in, and a little celebrity helps attract customers.
“I can have an auction with a pile of rocks and people will come, just to see what is going on. You have to have something to sell. From that aspect, [the show] has really been a boon,” Paul Brown said.
His newfound fame has attracted some unusual things.
Among the items he collected recently were two large jade bird statues of cranes that were in the World Trade Center until just a month before it was struck by jetliners piloted by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. There is a 1943 Jeep with the dash signed by its former owner, stock car racer Richard Petty.
The gallery recently was offered a momento from the surrender at Appomattox signed by both Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant that has been in the possession of an Atlanta family.
“To a Civil War collector, that is really like a big deal,” Bob Brown said. “It is the white flag that they flew at the surrender. The Smithsonian wants it, but the owner wants to sell it on TV.”
In one episode that recently aired, a couple from Montana brought in three items—including a tooth and jawbone—that were reputedly 65 million years old. The items sold for a total of $6,300 at auction on air.
In another episode, a young soldier dressed in fatigues brought to Gallery 63 a Japanese rifle and Samurai sword that a World War II sailor had wrapped up and sent to his wife back home. The items had been purchased years ago by the soldier’s father. The soldier wanted to sell them to raise money for his marriage.
The items, wrapped together, sold for $1,500. They might have brought more unwrapped, Paul Brown said on air, but they would have lost their historic significance.
“There is a wealth of things out there and people are not going to go to New York, London or Paris, where the large national auction houses are located, [to sell their items],” Paul Brown said. “So it has really stirred up a lot of calls.”
And, when Paul Brown looks back 14 months, he realizes all of this almost didn’t happen. He said he thought that first call from California was trying to sell him something.
“I literally hung up on him. I thought the next line was going to be ‘you can have all of this for $50,000.’ They called back and said they were serious. They sent me a little flip camera to shoot kind of a day in the life of Gallery 63. I did it, sent it back and they liked it,” he said.
“Next they sent a team down and shot what they call a ‘sizzle reel’ and they pitched that reel to the Discovery Channel,” he said. “Discovery only bought a pilot at first. They got the pilot back and liked it and ordered some more segments.”
Discovery Channel took it to market research.
“We played really well and they bought 20 episodes,” he said.
As they say, the rest is history…or at least may be TV history.