Iconic TV sets and artifacts up for auction

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For decades, James Comisar collected memorabilia from the television shows he grew up watching. Now, nearly 1,000 pieces from his collection is hitting the auction block in Dallas, Texas at Heritage Auction. The collection includes the sets of “All in the Family”, “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and “Cheers”.

When Johnny Carson retired from “The Tonight Show” after 30 years, Comisar was determined to make the iconic set part of his burgeoning collection of television memorabilia.

However, it took some convincing. According to Comisar, Carson thought he had the tackiest set in Hollywood and didn’t think anyone would ever want to see it.

That set is among a dizzying number of items from Comisar’s collection of props, sets and costumes from beloved television shows that will be sold in early June by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions — from the bar where Sam Malone greeted customers on “Cheers” to the pink confection Barbara Eden wore in “I Dream of Jeannie” to the set from Archie and Edith Bunker’s timeworn living room from “All in the Family.”

Other items on the block when online bidding starts Monday are a tunic worn by Superman in the 1950s TV series, barware from “Mad Men,” tools used to cook meth on “Breaking Bad,” costumes from “Star Trek,” and costumes and props from the 1960s TV series “Batman.” The auction, which features about 1,000 lots, wraps up with live bidding on June 2-4 in Dallas.

Comisar said artifacts from iconic TV shows were usually thrown away in the past.

“There was no system in place to save or archive anything,” he said. “I started doing this in 1989 and I sort of have to set the scene for what things were like in 1989. None of these pieces had any art market value. They didn’t even have any historic value. When a show went off the air, the studios would either sell the props and small things on a folding table in the parking lot to the cast and crew, or they would throw it away.”

Comisar — who has been tracking down and preserving television memorabilia since 1989 — had dreamed of creating a museum to house his collection, but when that failed to come together, he decided it was time the items leave the temperature-controlled warehouses where he’s been caring for them.

“I just decided these pieces should go back to the fans and let them enjoy them and then when that good day comes when a TV museum is effectuated, these pieces will be well cared for in the hands of passionate fans and collectors,” said Comisar, 58.

Comisar, who grew up in Los Angeles, said that after school each day he sat down in front of the TV set to watch characters who felt almost like after-school friends.

After graduating from high school, Comisar became a comedy writer and began spending time on studio lots, where he realized that items from the TV shows he loved were languishing, with no system in place to save or archive them. He said that when shows went off the air, props would be sold or thrown away, or end up back in the costume department for rent.

“When I tell you they were being actively shoveled into landfills in the early nineties, I am not. I mean, that’s not an overestimation,” he said. “I knew that the clock was ticking and if these great pieces were going to be saved, I’d have to do it.”