There’s been a bit of discussion on this blog regarding the Discovery Channel series Combat Cash, including a few concerns about the veracity of some of the transactions seen in the series. (The series as we’ve seen it thus far ends Wednesday, Jan. 25.) To that end, and to get a better picture of the motives behind this series in general, I got on the phone with Rob Lihani, executive producer of the series, to discuss the show’s concept and what it means to him – as well as to ask about the allegations of staged transactions as encountered elsewhere on this site.
So far, Lihani is gratified at the response to Combat Cash, particularly from people who previously had no idea that there was such a subculture as the one surrounding the collection of militaria. “It’s raised an awareness to the public that there are things in your family’s service history that are worth something,” he explains. “Not just to somebody that deals in this for buying and selling, but for historical purposes as well. There might be things that are hidden away in that abandoned footlocker in the attic, or deep in the back of somebody’s closet that might mean something to somebody out there, and it might mean something financially to you, as well. That’s been the fun part of it, just seeing that awareness spread like crazy.”
Collectors of military memorabilia aren’t of any one particular stripe, either, Lihani stresses. “There’s crossover with stamp collectors,” he says. “There’s crossover with coin collectors. There’s crossover with toy collectors. There’s crossover with fabric/uniform people, medallions and medals. People that collect fashion look at military stuff. Guns — firearms are huge. … They all find something of value to take away from a show like Combat Cash. So it does tap into a lot of these communities.”
But beyond collecting and the monetary values that get attached to the items surveyed on Combat Cash, Lihani asserts that there are larger reasons that this show, like militaria collecting itself, is likely to find a connection with the public at large who doesn’t participate in the world of war memorabilia. “It’s something that most families can connect to,” he says, “because it doesn’t take much probing in your family history to find that you’ve maybe got a cousin that’s in the military, serving on active duty right now, or certainly somebody had a relative that was in the service in Vietnam, or Korea, or World War II. I think it’s one thing that people can connect to. … Wearing the uniform and serving your country – you don’t want that trivialized. You want that respected, and I think people hold these artifacts as tangible connections to that family member and that person’s sacrifice very carefully, wanting to make sure that stuff like this is treated properly.”
Proper treatment and representation are often central concerns to those involved in the world of military memorabilia collecting, and might be why some take issue with what they feel are staged incidents on the series. Where authenticity is a prized commodity, the appearance of anything disingenuous could undercut not just the series, but misrepresent the community as a whole. “Every transaction that takes place on Combat Cash and that you’re going to see coming up as well are legitimate activities that [hosts] Bob [Chatt] and Owen [Thornton] engaged in,” Lihani emphatically states on this point. “Money changed hands — or, in an upcoming episode, there was a swap of things — but those transactions were legitimate activities that these guys were doing. … We didn’t hire a [professional actor] to pretend he owned this. You know what I mean? That’s the part that we want to make sure people understand. There isn’t any of that going on.”
Of course, to actually make a TV show like this, some circumstantial staging is inevitable if only to plan shoots for the series, Lihani explains. “We needed to be able to say, ‘Look, if you want to sell this to Bob and Owen, be there on Tuesday, because that’s when we’re going to be there with the camera crew.’ That’s making it for TV.
“But they come in,” Lihani says. “We talked to those people. They either wrote checks or handed them cash, or they swapped an item. Those are legitimate people that had stuff that they were really selling, either to Bob and Owen, or on behest of a client. … You just try to facilitate it so that it happens on everybody’s schedule, that’s all.”