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New show a hunt with heart

Mention the word "antiques" to many people, and their eyes immediately glaze over with boredom.

That's probably one reason you won't find the A word anywhere in the title of "Buried Treasure," a new four-week Fox series premiering Wednesday.

The series, which wasn't available for preview, follows contemporary treasure hunters and collectibles experts Leigh and Leslie Keno ("Antiques Roadshow") as they travel America to go into homes in search of hidden valuables. Some of the stuff trotted out by homeowners is truly valuable, while some of it is, well, trash. But along the way viewers also will get some engrossing insight into what makes an object valuable (or not) as well as a moving human-interest story about the owners of each piece.

And make no mistake, some of the Americans spotlighted in this series are long overdue for some good news.

"These are real-life situations with, in many cases, people in dire need of help," says Leslie Keno, who came up with the idea for the show with his twin, Leigh, and executive producer Tim Miller, a longtime colleague. "In some cases their house is about to be taken away from them, or they can't pay for their daughter's operation that she needs to live, or their business has burned down and they've been left with almost nothing. We go into their home and find centuries-old heirlooms that bring them over six figures, giving them a chance to get started again."

"It's like an epic treasure hunt show with heart," Leigh Keno says, "because we get to go into people's homes and change their life. When we wake up in the morning and go to a shoot, we don't really know what we're going to find. We may have seen a few photos of what they have, but often it's the things in the background that turn out to be the really good stuff. We get to go into their homes and find the true nuggets, the real treasures, and change their lives. Ninety-nine percent of the time these people are selling because they really, really need the money."

Sometimes, however, the object in question may hold such a powerful emotional connection for the owner that ultimately he can't bear to part with it, Leslie adds.

"Occasionally, the owner turns down an offer of a few hundred thousand dollars and just says, 'No, I can't sell it.' It's a true reality show in that sense," he explains. "We don't know what's going to happen, and I think that's what viewers are going to love. You never know when there's going to be a really emotional moment. Sometimes the objects are like family members themselves, because these heirlooms have so many associations for the owners. We're the catalyst to give them choices about what they want to do."

Sometimes, of course, the Kenos are forced to deliver bad news, but fortunately there's usually a silver lining even in disappointing moments like that, Leigh points out.

"That happens quite a lot, unfortunately, where the cherished object they've always been told was something great is actually a fake or a copy," he says. "That's part of the show, but the good news is that the vase next to it, or the painting hanging behind it, or maybe the jewelry that was hidden away in that drawer is the high end of the roller coaster."

Creator and executive producer Joe Livecchi, to whom Miller brought the idea for the show about 3 1/2 years ago, says he is convinced the time is right for "Buried Treasure," with the economic downturn forcing many Americans to search everywhere for extra cash to get them through a rough patch.

"The truth is that anyone out there could have something that is worth a lot of money, and we find it almost every time we go out on a story, Livecchi says. "Almost everyone has at least one thing in their home that they think holds some potential value, whether it's something as pedestrian as a baseball card or maybe some kind of bowl that could be from some ancient Chinese dynasty."

On the cover: Leigh (left) and Leslie Keno host "Buried Treasure," premiering at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Fox.