For more than a decade, Mark L. Walberg has been entering your home via the television as the go-to host for damn near everything. From reality shows (“Temptation Island,” “The Big Date”) to game shows (“The Moment of Truth,” “Russian Roulette”) and the much-loved PBS staple “Antiques Roadshow,” Mr. Walberg can do it all. “Antiques Roadshow” has keep Mr. Walberg employed for the last 14 years, and it shows no sign of stopping.
His latest gig is as the host of a brand-new PBS show called “Buried History,” which uncovers the history of towns from the (cemetery) ground up. I spoke with Mr. Walberg about his latest show, his love of History and how he occasionally gets confused for that “other guy,” movie star Mark Wahlberg.
Question: How did “Buried History” come about?
Answer: [Producer] George Saadi had an idea that he brought to us at the Dick Clark Company. I kinda worked out great because I was sort of looking for something to host that was in the vein of the segments I was doing on “Antiques Roadshow,” something that wasn’t collectable based but had that same feel.
We developed it a little bit, got a title and an angle on it and shot a little sizzle reel. We brought it out to commercial TV with no success. We then decided it might be more of a PBS play. It’s been received really really well.
Q: How many episodes have you shot?
A: We’ve only done the one. PBS is an interesting bird in the fact that unless you are one of their eight or nine prime-time shows — and even then they have the same problem — you have to find your own funding. There is no advertising. We are in the process of finding businesses and foundations that can underwrite the cost of production. We’re a relatively affordable show, and I think we’re gonna get there.
The show was just nominated for a Los Angeles Emmy. We aired in over 155 markets and got really great ratings.
Q: On the show you travel in a vintage hearse and spend a lot of time in cemeteries. Anything creepy about that?
A: We don’t go for the creepy. Occasionally there are some stories that are creepy. The whole purpose for the cemeteries is, look, all of us are going to end up there anyway. And when people pass, so do the stories and lore. But there is a connection. Rather than start with the present day and go backwards, it comes from the original idea that you are driving through a town, and there is a square there named after someone. There is a unique aspect of the town, and you wonder, “Why is that?”
We start the shows walking through the town like a man on the street asking a very simple question to see how many people living and visiting there know even the most basic [town] information. Or they get it twisted.
Q: You are doing this show and still doing “Antiques Roadshow.” Are you a history buff?
A: I wouldn’t have said yes, but my family would have said I am. I’m not a history buff by any means, but I find history fascinating. I wouldn’t say that I’m knowledgeable to be a professor of history, but I’m curious enough to be the inquisitor.
Q: Does anyone on “Roadshow” take joy when someone brings in something they think is priceless and it turns out to be worthless?
A: I don’t know if we take joy in it. I used to hang out at the table with Cathy Bailey, who does art glass. She would teach me whatever I could learn. One time a guy walks up with this decanter, very proud of it. She says, “Why don’t you try this one?” I look at it, and it’s beautiful. I turn it over, and there is a Lalique mark on the bottom. He looks at me knowingly. I’m holding it, and I turn to Cathy and say, “I can’t explain it, but something is not right.” She smiles. I was so excited that I got it right that I couldn’t help myself. I yelled, “It’s a fake!” [laughs] And he was crushed.
I wouldn’t say anyone on “Roadshow” takes joys in discovering the fakes. As a matter of fact, we are very careful about that. And we only put that stuff on the air when there is a teachable moment. But it happens a lot.
Q: Any plans to do more game shows ?
A: I actually have a couple I’m developing as a producer. I also tour every now and then with stage versions of “The Price Is Right,” “Family Feud” and “Let’s Make a Deal” [at] 2,000-seat theaters. That’s fun for me because I like live audiences. I would love to do more game shows as a host. There is something wonderful about the escapism of playing a game.
Q: There are two Mark Walbergs.
A: Really? First I’m hearing of this. [laughs]
Q: Have you guys ever been confused for each other?
A: There have been a couple offers that come through my management where I’ve said, “This is a little ritzy. I have a feeling this is for him.”
When I was shooting “Antiques Roadshow” in Boston, which is his town, this guy came up to me with a thick Boston accent and said, “You Mark Walberg? I’m Paul Wahlberg, the chef.” This was before their reality show “Wahlburgers.” I thought, “Is he gonna hit me?” We talked, and he said, “The craziest thing happened. We were all in Mark’s office, and he gets this offer for a TV show, and we all say, ‘What the f*** will Mark do with this offer?!’ It was for you!”
I told him, “Anytime you guys want to swap offers, I don’t need to read it. I’ll take it!”