From singing competitions and bake-offs to strangers trying to find romance, our TV screens are full of reality TV options. Reality TV shows are so popular these days you can likely name any aspect of daily life and find a reality show about it!

The same is true about pawn shops. Who would have ever imagined that the day-to-day workings of the pawn shop industry would make for captivating TV? But it’s true. Let’s dive into the fascinating world of reality TV and take a closer look at five of the most popular pawn shop reality TV shows.

Pawn Stars

When it comes to pawn shop reality TV shows, this is the one that started it all. Debuting in 2009 on the History Channel, the show’s premise was simple—an intimate look at the inside operations of Las Vegas’ largest pawn shop and the family that runs it. Pawn Stars took us inside the colorful world of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop as three generations—patriarch Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Rick, and Rick’s son Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison—and Corey’s childhood friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell, appraised items and interacted with their customers.

While the show featured unique items to be evaluated and educational insights from local experts on an item’s history, authenticity or potential value, the relationships and conflicts between the Harrisons and Chumlee became the show’s real appeal.

By January 2011, Pawn Stars was History’s highest-rated series. The show quickly became the second-highest-rated TV reality series with more than 7.5 million viewers. With 22 seasons spanning from 2009 through 2023, the series is a global phenomenon that has been dubbed into 38 languages and has aired in 150 countries. It also spawned seven spin-offs, including the Pawnography game show featuring Rick, Big Hoss and Chumlee, and five other similar series that follow the show’s original format.

Hardcore Pawn

Around the same time, producers at truTV were also looking closely at the concept of a pawn shop reality TV show. Hardcore Pawn, which premiered in August 2010, featured the day-to-day operations of family-owned American Jewelry and Loan in Detroit, Michigan. Located in the 8 Mile neighborhood of Detroit, the show initially featured various vignettes of customers pawning various items to get through tough times in a tough neighborhood. By the second season, producers lightened the feel of the show, focusing more on people selling unusual items and the sibling rivalry between the pawn shop owner’s son and daughter, who also work in the store.

The show premiered to two million viewers, setting a record at the time as truTV’s most-watched series premiere. After nine seasons, truTV decided not to renew the show, citing the network’s new focus on comedy programming. The show was never picked up by another network, and production halted in 2014. Hardcore Pawn generated two spin-offs: Combat Pawn, a series about the employees and customers at a gun shop near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., and Hardcore Pawn: Chicago, which featured another family-owned pawn shop whose family has been in the pawn business for more than a century.

Cajun Pawn Stars

In 2012, the History Channel debuted its second Pawn Stars spin-off: Cajun Pawn Stars. The show revolves around another family-owned pawn shop, the Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center in Louisiana, owned by Jimmie “Big Daddy” DeRamus, his wife Peggy and daughter Tammie.

Featuring a similar format to Pawn Stars, Cajun Pawn Stars put a southern spin on the pawn shop industry, with the same array of unusual transactions, expert appraisals, colorful customers and family conflicts that made the original show a huge hit. However, the show only aired for four seasons before contract disputes put the show on permanent hiatus.

Hardcore Pawn: Chicago

Capitalizing on the success of Hardcore Pawn, truTV announced Hardcore Pawn: Chicago in 2012. Debuting on January 1, 2013, the series captured the daily operations at Royal Pawn Shop, one of the city’s oldest and largest pawn and gold-buying establishments. The short-lived show featured brothers Randy and Wayne Cohen, who as co-owners with often vastly different ideas on doing business, often waged war with each other, their kids, and their customers in the pursuit of the best possible deal.

After one season, truTV canceled the show in early 2014.

Pawn Queens

Not to be left behind, TLC announced its own pawn shop reality show, Pawn Queens, following a pilot episode in 2010. Also located in the Chicagoland area, Pawn Queens followed owners Nikki Ruehl and Minda Grabiec as they navigated the male-dominated pawnbrokering industry by operating a pawn shop that catered to women. The family-friendly boutique shop specialized in merchandise that appealed to women, including jewelry, vintage Barbie dolls and hard-to-find antiques.

When it debuted in late 2010, the show earned 1.2 million viewers, leading TLC to give the show its own series, which first aired in May 2011. Despite the show’s family-oriented theme and more than one million viewers each week, it failed to attract the kind of popularity other pawn shop reality TV shows enjoyed and only aired for one season.

Are pawn shop TV shows real?

As with a lot of reality TV shows, there’s always some debate about how much of these popular pawn shop TV shows are real.

The answer is: it depends. According to show insiders and various media interviews over the last decade, many of these show’s stars and crew members admit that while there are elements of reality in their shows, there are also some moments that were coached or staged to “make better TV.”

So, while these pawn shop reality TV shows make for great entertainment – and sometimes even some great history lessons – they don’t always accurately portray what you can expect at your local pawn shop. However, don’t let that dissuade you! Your local pawn shop serves a vital role in the community, and the services they provide are legal, ethical, and highly regulated. Pawn shops help neighbors get the cash they need quickly for emergencies and partner with small business owners, local organizations and government leaders to help fund new ideas, drive the local economy, and invest in the safety and prosperity of the greater community.

At Gene’s Jewelry & Pawn, we specialize in offering you the best prices for your items. For more than 30 years, we have provided our customers with the high level of service they deserve. Visit one of our locations in North Charleston, Moncks Corner or Goose Creek, SC, today to see how we can help you.