Ty Pennington Channels His Inner Flea Market Junkie in ‘Great Big American Auction’

by | December 8, 2011 at 10:29 AM | Interviews

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” handyman Ty Pennington gets suited up on Thursday for his new role as host of “The Great Big American Auction,” a show which will change the lives of several deserving Americans.

“The Great Big American Auction” is a new, unscripted show in which the design guru criss-crosses America with experts in tow. They search through flea markets, attics, cellars and yard sales to find unique items that may be worth a fortune to the unsuspecting owners.

Then these valuables are brought to “The Great Big American Auction,” premiering Thursday, Dec. 8 at 10 p.m. on ABC, where they are auctioned off to a group of buyers, who by paying top dollar can change the previous owners’ lives forever.

Pennington will follow that up on January 6, with the one-hour daily talk show “The Revolution,” when it premieres in the 2 p.m. timeslot. He will join a dream team of experts including Tim Gunn, Harley Pasternak, Dr. Jennifer Ashton and Dr. Tiffanie Davis Henry, who will help viewers change their lives in areas including relationships, family, food, style, home design, and finance by providing tips and essential tools to motivate them. Additionally, each week the show will highlight one woman’s personal journey over the course of five months.

Now, Pennington talks to XfinityTV.com about unearthing treasures, helping people change their lives and his family’s unique holiday tree-throwing tradition.

Do you have the expertise yourself to go to a flea market and pick out an item that would be valuable?
I like to think so… absolutely.  Here’s the thing, I have been a flea market junkie for years. I collect not only vintage clothing but furniture, especially the Scandinavian/Danish kind, but I also look for rare albums, vintage amplifiers and guitars. In fact, I collect Silvertones, which is old sort of Americana. Not the highest quality guitars, but they are sort of cool because Sears made them back in the day. I would say I have a pretty good eye for certain things. But if you get into crystal and antique silver, you are out of my range. But if it is vintage Americana, I am kind of good at it.

Since the purpose behind the show is to change people’s lives, is there a story you can share about one of the contestants that maybe touched you?
That is what I love about this particular show. Not only is it about changing their lives and something from the past effecting their future, but some of the items tell stories themselves. One guy when he was 12 or 14 years old took a picture of Marilyn Monroe with his Brownie camera. Then he went, got it developed and took it back to this hotel where she was staying and had her sign it. It is just amazing that he has never shown these pictures to anyone. That sort of blew me away, but I think what you are talking about emotion-wise for me is there was a soldier who came in at the end of the day and he has the Warren Report, which is about the JFK assassination. At the time, his mom was working at the White House and she had everybody sign the report. He just wanted to get it into the right hands and make enough money so he could spend some time with his daughter. There are certain stories like that that are really emotional.

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There was another family who were having a tough time with having to take care of their grandmother, but it was the grandmother’s husband who had actually held on to these checks that they had found in the garbage that were signed by Ty Cobb. They were hoping the money would help them take care of her.

There is a lot of emotion involved, but what I loved is the stories of the items that really helped change the lives. I love anything that tells a story, especially if it is something that can go for huge dollars because other people want to collect it. There are certain things that I have like an old painting by Paul Klee that for all I know is just a random reprint lithograph, but I almost don’t want to know because I still want to hold onto the idea that it could be worth tons.

I think there is some of that, too, because a lot of people got let down. Someone thought they had a Rodin sketch and it ended up being a fake. At the same time, this lady brings in a painting she got at a flea market and it ends up being this Dutch masterpiece. I love the ups and downs of not knowing.

What can you tell me about your role on “The Revolution” and will you have to cut back on “Extreme Makeover: Home Improvement” to do all these shows?
That is a good question. I think “The Revolution” is really cool. I started in daytime with “Trading Spaces.” For me, what I love about “The Revolution” is they have done a good job of pulling together five different people. “The Revolution” really is a show about a journey of transformation — anyone who wants to change their life. We not only follow the journey of these women, who have a five-month transformation that we see in five days, but it is also about that journey at home and really wanting to make some changes in your life, but we do it in a really fun way.

Already I have boxed with Muhammad Ali‘s daughter and we have done the rock-climbing wall. It is also the fun cast they have put together. Harley Pasternak is really funny. You have Dr. Tiffanie and Dr. Jen — one is a psychiatrist one is a medical doctor. Then you have Tim Gunn of “Project Runway,” so we cover all aspects, whether it be health, fitness, mental, fashion or interiors. It is fun for me to interact with these guys. Yes, we are going to give you advice to change your life, but I am the guy who is with the audience and the viewer at home, saying, “Really, you want us to eat apples?”

We want to help, but I know how real it is and how difficult sometimes it is to make that commitment. Not only that, we are into reward. If we do this, what are we going to reward ourselves with? The main thing is about making the goals and wanting to change. What I love about this show is you are going to see that anything is possible.  With my experience with the shows that I have done, I do know what change looks like and I know it is possible. But I think there are people out there who really do want to change, but sometimes they think they really need someone else to do it. This show is about making the change yourself but knowing that you’ve got a team of people to help you. I think it is powerful. It is going to show if you want that change, we are going to help you get there.

What is the best part of all your TV jobs right now?  What kind of joy does it bring you?
For me, the work schedule is tough and the hours are grueling but I am blessed to have the kinds of jobs that do change someone’s life, that have an impact and that you can see make a difference. There are not many opportunities in life that you get a chance to do that. As an artist, we can all do paintings that go on a wall, we can all do sculptures that people praise and say, “That is really good,” but to be able to do something that has an impact on somebody’s life, that when you walk away it is still there and that has really altered the outcome of their family’s life, it is rare that you ever get a chance, so why not? For me, the greatest part is I do get to do that and any part I can lend a hand in, I want to be a part of that.

Any holiday traditions you can share?
In Germany — when I was three or four – we started the tradition that we throw our tree out of the window. It is something we think that the Germans started but it could have just been my dad’s Army buddies. So this year, we will be throwing our tree out the window, which I am very excited about. Of course, we leave all the ornaments on … I am kidding. That is something I have been trying to start for years, but it doesn’t catch on.

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