The A&E cable TV channel found a gem when they aired the reality-television show “Storage Wars” in 2010. No one thought that a TV show featuring abandoned storage lockers could spark such huge interest from the viewing public. It not only became one of the most-viewed cable shows in the US, but it also inspired many other unscripted TV series with a similar theme, along with seven spin-off series over the years. Not unusually with reality TV series, many viewers were curious as to its authenticity, most especially when a star who was abruptly let go claimed that some or nearly all of it wasn’t real. Some of its stars and its executive producer, on the other hand, claimed that it was real. The big question that continuously hounded the TV show was ‘how real was real?’
- 1 The premise of the show
- 2 Meet the cast of “Storage Wars”
- 3 The 12 Seasons of “Storage Wars”
- 4 Most valuable items found in “Storage Wars” History
- 5 Off-camera hauls told by auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson
- 6 The allegations about the authenticity of “Storage Wars”
- 7 How real was “Storage Wars?”
The premise of the show
A TV crew would follow professional buyers who participated regularly in auctions of certain storage lockers, which owners had abandoned by not paying rent for three consecutive months.
A locker would be opened so that potential buyers could gauge if they wanted the contents or not, but they couldn’t touch anything. After they won the bidding, they would sort out all the items inside, and most often than not, find valuable pieces that they could sell. The potential to earn more from the contents was huge, since they usually only needed to pay a little. However, not all the storage units produced valuable items; buyers could end up with worthless units.
Meet the cast of “Storage Wars”
The success of a reality-TV show in part depended on the charisma of the main cast. During the first few seasons of “Storage Wars,” the cast was comprised of six professional buyers – Dave “The Mogul” Hester, Barry “The Collector” Weiss, Darrell “The Gambler” Sheets, Brandon “The Sidebet,” and the couple, Jarrod Schulz and Brandi Passante whom they called “The Young Guns.” They were joined by the American Auctioneers team, Dan and Laura Dotson.
Over 13 seasons, the show had recurring guests, and new stars replaced some of those who left the show for good. All in all, around 20 buyers participated, along with three teams of auctioneers to conduct the auctions.
The 12 Seasons of “Storage Wars”
“Storage Wars” premiered on 1 December 2010 on the A&E cable network, and generated over two million viewers; all through the first season, it had an average of 2.4 million viewers. It surprised everyone that it had become A&E’s number one non-fiction show. When the second season premiered with 5.1 million viewers, it had become the cable network’s highest TV rating for an episode at that time. It even outperformed other TV premieres from mainstream channels such as “Nightline” on the ABC, and “Love in the Wild” on NBC. Since then, viewers were hooked on the thrill of discovering treasures in each storage locker that was auctioned. Over the years, they saw some big hauls, but also some of the worthless storage lockers that were bought.
The show lasted for 12 seasons, during which it spawned many spin-off series. While the A&E executives never gave any cancelation announcements, fans believed that it ended on 30 January 2019. The cable channel usually offered a new season each year, but there were no new episodes for the rest of 2019 and 2020. However, there was hope that it would make a comeback sometime soon, as other canceled TV shows were rebooted after the pandemic situation became less dangerous.
Most valuable items found in “Storage Wars” History
The show continuously attracted viewers due to the valuable items they discovered after opening the storage units. The satisfaction of flipping them for a big profit gave the viewers something to look forward to at the end of each episode. Here are just some of the most valuable storage lockers that they bid on successfully:
Vintage Video Games Collectible – $50,000
During the opening episode of Season 10, first-time buyer Rene Nezhoda was quite lucky enough that he got a storage container full of collectible vintage video games just for a bid of $1,500. The collection was massive, and anyone could tell that the original owner of the storage unit knew what he was doing, as there were no duplicates. Everything was there including SEGA, Nintendo, and many other classic game consoles. There were even unopened game cartridges in pristine condition. After being appraised, this collection was valued at $50,000.
$90,000 worth of old magazines
Who would have thought that a bunch of old periodicals would turn out to be one of Dave Hester’s biggest payouts in “Storage Wars?” All of them were dated 16 August 1977, and for every single devoted fan of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, they were pretty much aware that it was the day that Elvin Presley died, and it was the headline of the thousands of newspapers in the storage unit, with the legendary singer’s face plastered all over them.
The newspapers were in pristine condition that his bid of $750 on a storage unit was appraised at $90,000.
Holy Grail of Collectible Toys – $40,000 to $90,000
“Storage Wars” resident buyer Darrell Sheets, known for being “The Gambler,” purchased a storage locker that gave him what he called the “Holy Grail of Collectible Toys.” It had action figures still in original boxes, and a huge collection of comic books in mint condition, all 3,000 of them. Initially, it was appraised at over $40,000 but it kept increasing as more valuable pieces were discovered, and the value finally went up to $90,000.
The Frank Gutierrez Artwork – $300,000
Darrell Sheets was fortunate again yn season three, as he won a storage container that he felt interesting, and bid $3,600 to win it. There was nothing really special just looking at the container, but his intuition told that something special was inside. Imagine his surprise when he discovered a bunch of artworks painted by Frank Gutierrez safely tucked inside it.
🌟Watch tonight @AETV 9-10pm Season Premiere #StorageWars w/ @paytheladylaura @auctionguydan @ItsBarryWeiss @JackiesFamous @Brandipassante @DarrellGambler @storagewarsivy @Rbargainhunters @Cbargainhuntershttps://t.co/oJXPhUKzCuhttps://t.co/m1fWpP2qrv pic.twitter.com/co9qI0TWj4
— Dan Dotson on A&E (@auctionguydan) November 2, 2021
When he had them appraised, he was told that the collection was valued at $300,000. While there were people who didn’t think it was worth that much, it was one of the most valued finds in “Storage Wars.”
Off-camera hauls told by auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson
While the TV crew of the show chronicled the daily lives of the cast of “Storage Wars,” it didn’t mean that they documented every single auction that happened. Here’s a couple of treasure finds from auctions hosted by American Auctioneers:
Pirate’s treasure booty – $500,000
When auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson unloaded one storage unit full of what they called ‘pirate’s booty,’ it wasn’t included in the TV show. Dan said that it was unfortunate that no one from the show was given an opportunity to bid for it.
The Dotson couple shared that a buyer came to purchase two storage units from an owner who had died; one unit was worth $600, and the $1,100. They said that it took three people from their crew to carry a blue Rubbermaid tub to the pickup truck of the new owner.
They didn’t know what was inside, but were quite curious. Later on, they found out that it was full of Spanish silver and gold coins used for trading between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Apparently, not every pirate’s booty was encased inside a wooden treasure chest, as some were stored in huge blue plastic bins. When they had them appraised, the haul was valued at a whopping $500,000.
A safe with cold, hard cash of $7.5 million
In 2018, Dan Dotson unsuspectingly off-loaded to a buyer a storage unit that had a safe inside it. It turned out that the safe, after being forcibly opened by a locksmith, contained cold hard cash amounting to $7.5 million. He only knew about this massive find when an old Asian lady approached him and informed him that he sold a storage unit to her husband for a meager $500. The lady was seated at another table, and kept on looking at him as if she had something to say.
She further told him that a lawyer representing the original owner of the storage unit contacted them offering $600,000 if they returned the safe along with the money. They refused, after which another lawyer called them up to offer $1.2 million. This time they agreed, and returned the $6.3 million. Whether the story was true or not, Dan said that it was the biggest haul he had in American Auctioneers. The auction for that unit didn’t coincide with the filming of “Storage Wars”, and so no buyer from the cast was there to place a bid for the said unit.
When the story broke, the buyers in the TV show said that when money that huge was hidden in storage lockers, it only meant one thing: it was probably drug cartel or mafia-related. Anyone else would have placed it in a bank.
The allegations about the authenticity of “Storage Wars”
With its consistently high TV ratings over the years, it had proven that people love the idea of discovering treasures from mystery boxes.
Earning a huge profit by bidding on abandoned storage lockers had stirred the imagination of the viewers. However, reality-TV critics had long been accusing these types of shows of being scripted and staged.
Dave Hester’s lawsuit against A&E network about its authenticity
In December 2012, Dave Hester filed a complaint in the Los Angeles Superior Court, and TMZ got hold of a copy of the complaint. It said that according to Dave, ‘A&E network committed fraud on the public and its television audience in violation of the Communications Act of 1934.’ This law prohibits broadcasters from rigging contests of intellectual skill, intending to deceive the audience. He gave examples of how the TV producers staged some scenes, including planting the Elvis Presley newspapers, and the discovery of a BMW car under piles of trash in storage containers.
Dave even pointed out that the plastic surgery of one of the cast members was paid for by Original Productions, the company behind “Storage Wars.”
He said that the surgery was to make the cast member more appealing on TV. He further accused the production company of manipulating the auctions that were done in the show in its entirety, and even paid the bids of some of the weaker buyers who didn’t have enough money, so that they could participate actively in the auction. When he complained to the producer and said that he wouldn’t be part of what they were doing because it was illegal as well as unethical, he was fired.
A&E TV producers responded
It wasn’t the first accusation that the producers of “Storage Wars” received. A season before Dave’s lawsuit was filed, Thom Beers, the show’s executive producer, was asked during a panel discussion sponsored by the National Geographic Channel if it was true that those storage containers in the show were manipulated. He said, ‘Nope, I can honestly tell you that the stuff found in those containers are found in storage containers.’
— KC2SJM▫️ (@kc2sjm) October 26, 2021
Thom further elaborated that the show had around 20 to 30 auctions, and that sometimes to avoid wasting time, they would combine all the finds into one locker. This wasn’t done to deceive the viewing public but to avoid filming all of them individually.
Thom also said that some lines of cast members came from a script only because he didn’t want everything to be narrated in the show. That being said, they made sure that their personal stories weren’t fabricated, but only scripted in such a way that it would sound more appealing to the TV audience, and the context was essentially the same.
After the lawsuit was filed, the A&E network released a statement that there was no staging involved, and that the items recovered were actual items from the storage units. They also said that “Storage Wars” was covered by the First Amendment, and so whatever claims Dave had about it didn’t apply to the show.
They didn’t violate the Communications Act of 1934 because “Storage Wars” wasn’t a game show, therefore no intellectual knowledge or skill was involved.
The decision of the court – Dave Hester vs A&E network
Eventually, in March 2013, the court decided in favor of the A&E network; the only part that Dave had success in was with his complaint of wrongful termination. The Los Angeles Superior Court judge told him to refile his complaint with specific details, however, it was reported that in 2014 the parties were settled their differences, and he returned to the show. Ironically, the so-called whistleblower was part of the main cast of “Storage Wars” until it was canceled in January 2019.
How real was “Storage Wars?”
The production company behind “Storage Wars” claimed that it was about the unscripted real-life situations in the world of abandoned storage containers being auctioned publicly.
It might be true to a certain degree and the initial intent was to be as real as they could be, however, for a reality-TV show to last long in the highly competitive world of TV ratings, it had to offer some sort of cohesive presentation sprinkled with entertainment.
From the words of its executive producer, one could easily deduce that there was some degree of creative maneuvering. Sure, the items recovered by the buyers came from the abandoned storage containers, but were sometimes already combined in one storage unit because they couldn’t film all of them individually. The auctions might have been staged for better TV presentation, but who could blame the TV producers, since people wouldn’t find it engaging if they showed the boring aspects of the auction process. They had to inject a little drama with competing buyers outbidding each other, for what might actually be worthless storage units.
There were allegations of a paper trail from a company that provided items found in the storage units, that the show passed on to be authentic vintage collectibles, but no one came forward to challenge the TV show legally; they would be forever regarded as rumors unless the claims were backed up by evidence. “Storage Wars” fans continued to watch the new episodes as the A&E network greenlit the 13th season, which aired in April 2021, but it had only 10 episodes. They were testing the waters to gauge if it could still generate the same interest from the viewing public.
Reality television shows have become a huge part of our culture. Fundamentally, these shows should have no actors, writers, or scripts to follow, and that a TV crew would just document real situations. If that was the case, then the reality-TV genre wouldn’t dominate cable television and series like “Storage Wars” wouldn’t have lasted for so many seasons. It has to be entertaining to make money for everyone. Some TV insiders jokingly suggested that people should rename the genre to ‘re-enactment TV’ to avoid any future allegations of faking.