With 5.1 million viewers last year, “Storage Wars” became the highest-rated show in A&E history. Eager to cash in on the success of “Wars,” TruTV and SpikeTV followed A&E’s lead, launching “Storage Hunters” and “Auction Hunters” respectively. These shows have all seen tremendous success, but by no means are they an accurate representation of the self-storage auction business; in fact, labeling these shows as “reality” television is a complete misnomer.

The Internet blogosphere is filled with outraged fans questioning the veracity of these programs. There are claims the shows’ appraisers supply items in the units themselves, that “Storage Wars” is cast and scripted, and that Dan Dotson penned the show as a marketing vehicle for American Auctioneers, his real-life auction company based in Riverside. A quick YouTube search yields countless exposés proposing the show is a hoax. Put simply, many are aware that the events taking place on “Storage Wars” and its successors are not really reality.

That being said, according to the shows’ producers, the auctions are not totally staged either. An A&E publicist told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen: “There is no staging involved. The items uncovered in the storage units are the actual items featured on the show” – a quite carefully worded statement. Thom Beers, executive producer of “Storage Wars: Texas” said his show “has real characters in authentic situations,” and that they shoot 400 hours of footage for every hour that makes it on-screen.

Without a doubt, these shows – like all television programming – are manipulated to be as entertaining as possible. Assuming for a moment that the auctions are genuine, Beers’ comment makes logical sense: The overwhelming majority of the shows’ auction footage is discarded. Why? Because tenants who default on their storage payments are not in great financial health, and are unlikely to have valuable or interesting items in their units. The units depicted on the shows are anomalies. Unfortunately, much of the general public does not realize this.

Speaking with a former Hawaii-based storage auctioneer last week, I learned that these shows have had a huge effect on driving more auction attendees. People are under the false impression that there are treasures to be found in storage units. The reality is that unless you have the funds to bid on hundreds of units, you’re going to lose money in this game. It’s true that some players make a living on the storage auction circuit, but they are few and far between.

Photo courtesy of A&E TV