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Cable Showdown: Pawn Stars vs. Hardcore Pawn

by Angel Cohn January 31, 2011 6:00 am
Cable Showdown: <I>Pawn Stars</I> vs. <I>Hardcore Pawn</I>

Defying all logic, not only are there two television series about pawn shops, but they're racking up record ratings. But does anyone really have time to watch both? Well, besides everybody's dad and me? As a public service, I've compiled the pros and cons of the History Channel and TruTV's competing programs to determine which pawn shop truly reigns supreme.

The Shops
Both shops are family-run businesses, with a patriarch who keeps everyone in line, a son who does a lot of the day-to-day, another family member who isn't quite as competent and a random non-family member who is featured regularly. But Pawn Stars is set at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop off the strip in Vegas, baby, and Hardcore Pawn takes place at the less sunny American Jewelry and Loan on 8-Mile in Detroit.
Winner: Pawn Stars. Viva you know where.

The Clientele
On Pawn Stars, you can find a few disgruntled people who are ticked off for not getting the money they want for an item, but the show mostly features collectors with interesting items to hawk and everyday folks who want to get rid of something that's been hanging around their grandma's basement for 50 years. The sellers generally seem amiable and happy to get a history lesson along with their cash. On Hardcore Pawn, the people trying to sell or pawn their items are hardcore indeed. Most seem in desperate need of the money and most of them are very angry that they've lost their ticket, can't get their stuff back past the pawn date limit or are just offended that the pawn shop doesn't see the value in their items. There's a lot of cursing and kicking and a full-time security staff who get a lot of screen time as they forcibly remove people from the premises.
Winner: Hardcore Pawn. We wouldn't actually want to shop there, but the visitors in Vegas are fairly sedate. The Detroit crowd provides some serious TV excitement.

The Items
On Hardcore Pawn, there's a lot of generic jewelry and electronics, but someone once did try (successfully) to sell them a real live baby alligator. But while that show deals in model helicopters, Pawn Stars handles bigger stuff like real helicopters (albeit ones that have survived a crash) as well as more rare items like classic guitars, military memorabilia, antique guns and even handcuffs that belonged to Houdini himself.
Winner: Pawn Stars. I'll take a rare Pez dispenser collection over a cheap book on improving your sex life any day.

The Staff
Pawn Stars is helmed by the gruff and grumpy guy known solely as "The Old Man." He's been in the business forever and knows his stuff. His son Rick is a history buff and does the majority of the televised transactions. And Rick's son Corey (also ridiculously known as "Big Hoss") seems to know a lot about things with engines and is learning the ropes from his dad. The comic relief comes in the form of "Chumlee," who doesn't know what anything is worth and just says the most inane things ever. Whereas on Hardcore Pawn, Les Gold is the man in charge and clearly knows his stuff and can haggle like nobody's business. Seth's a businessman and is completely focused on making money, while Ashley is Les' daughter and the general manager but is not exactly good at negotiating. Rich is the outsider, but he's not there for comic relief -- he's actually there for his knowledge of everything car-related.
Winner: Pawn Stars. Mostly because of Chumlee. He's the Karl Pilkington of the pawning world.

Educational Value
Pawn Stars has frequent guest experts on to provide background information on items and to verify their authenticity. Between their knowledge and the tidbits of facts that pop up on screen, it's like a mini history lesson. Hardcore Pawn... well, it's got security guards and has taught me some new curse words.
Winner: Pawn Stars. Though I will credit Hardcore Pawn for giving me a reality counterpart to one of my favorite new scripted shows, Detroit 1-8-7.

Entertainment Value
Chumlee is a guinea pig for shooting off most of the weapons on Pawn Stars, and I always enjoy the Old Man's looks of disdain at people who are swearing, late for work or generally misinformed when they are spending "his" money. Hardcore Pawn has Les, who is a badass, and there are always people coming in who provide any number of surprises.
Winner: Hardcore Pawn. It's shot more documentary-style and really focuses on interpersonal reactions and just hateful people. It's probably the closest thing Detroit will ever get to having its own Jersey Shore.

Overall Winner: Pawn Stars
While both are entertaining in their own right, Pawn Stars is the clear victor here. What the show lacks in crazy, angry clientele, it makes up for in charismatic personalities and general usefulness - after all, you can never know enough about the Civil War or antique weaponry.

Pawn Stars airs on the History Channel on Monday nights and Hardcore Pawn airs on TruTV on Tuesdays at 10 PM.

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