RALEIGH — Watch Jason McCoon show off a stack of John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe pop-culture artifacts, and you can see why the Raleigh auctioneer was courted by the History Channel for a new television series called "Real Deal."
McCoon has an effusive personality and a penchant for cracking quick jokes. In the series, which debuts tonight, he displays his negotiating and auctioneering skills while working with people who want to turn cherished items into cash. Four other auctioneers also are on the show.
He was reluctant when History Channel producers contacted him in February. But after some back and forth, McCoon found himself nervously prepping for a live online audition in his Tory Hill Auction Co. office on Hillsborough Street.
McCoon blames fidgety nerves for an unfortunate pre-interview encounter with his wife Maggie's tinted lip balm. It gave him a "clown-like halo" around his mouth, he says, and prompted him to send producers a "disregard the lipstick" email the next day.
But, considering the nature of the television business, it's possible the "ranting and raving clown" routine may have helped win him the gig. Producers waited just three days to officially offer him a spot on the series.
McCoon thinks the History Channel saw him as a good fit with its programs focusing on collectibles that appeal to men - the stuff they call "mantiques."
"That's their term, not mine," McCoon said. "But I've sold a lot of them (mantiques). I'm big on collectibles and sports and historical items, like guns and Civil War stuff."
McCoon made the trip to California to record the pilot episode that same month, leaving his wife behind to run the business and to care for their 11-year-old daughter, Landon.
About six months later, History Channel picked up the series and McCoon headed west again to film nine more episodes at Don Presley's Auction house in Anaheim.
An element of suspense
The premise of the show is that five real-life auctioneers meet one-on-one with regular people who have valuable items they want to sell. Items such as a 1960 Jaguar Mark II, a World War II-era bike, or a football signed by NFL players.
The auctioneer examines the piece and discusses it with the owner. If he's interested, he makes an offer.
The seller can accept the offer or turn it down, and take his chances at an auction. Sometimes the auction brings the seller a better price, and sometimes it doesn't. There's an element of suspense while viewers wait to see if the seller made a good decision.
The auctioneers work independently of each other and do not compete for anything. They bring their own money to the negotiations, so the stakes are as real for them as they are for the sellers.
"That's the best part of the show," said McCoon, who took almost $30,000 with him to California.
McCoon can't say how much he bought, because that would spoil the fun of watching the show. But he admits to sometimes getting caught up in the moment, and says he probably offered too much on some items.
The auctioneers received stipends to appear on the show, and their expenses were paid. History Channel also paid to have whatever they bought shipped back to them.
McCoon said the show was fun and he'll definitely do it again if he's invited to return for a second season. And if his wife says it's OK.
His daughter is neutral on the issue, unimpressed by his potential celebrity status.
"She is entirely, 100 percent aloof," McCoon said. "She couldn't care less. I would love to say it's an act, but it isn't an act. She clearly is just not impressed, so far."
Internet drives sales
McCoon and his wife have been in the auction business for a little more than three years. Before that, Maggie McCoon worked at IBM and he ran the bar in a local restaurant. All that time, they bought and sold items on eBay and other online sites.
McCoon's parents and grandparents also were fanatical collectors and dealers.
"I've been going to auctions my whole entire life," he said.
It was Maggie McCoon who said they should make the jump to doing what they loved full time. So they renovated an old window-and-door store on Hillsborough Street. After Jason McCoon got his license through Mendenhall School of Auctioneering in High Point, they were ready to open.
The McCoons credit much of their success to their wholehearted embrace of technology in their auctions.
"We sell online over the Internet at the exact same time we sell in the auction house," McCoon said. "Which was the biggest thing we wanted to do from the get-go."
When he's conducting an auction in their auction house, he can have up to 600 people watching the auction stream through a site called liveauctioneers.com. The Internet viewers can bid against the people in the crowd, phone bidders and absentee bidders.
'Man-up' and watch
While they're excited for the TV show and what it might mean for their young business, McCoon and his wife are busy preparing for a big auction in January. That auction has listings that include items autographed by John Lennon and the early Rolling Stones. And there's a young model who signed her name Norma Jeane Dougherty in 1946 - but is remembered today as Marilyn Monroe.
Still, they're taking the time to have friends over to view the "Real Deal" premiere tonight. Thanks in part to his traumatic clown-lipstick audition video, McCoon is undecided whether he'll actually watch.
"Based on the commercial, I definitely will not be watching the show," he said.
"I don't know. No. I don't know. I really don't know. I'm so up in the air about it. I should just man-up and sit there and watch it."