Repo Man Hijacks Ratings From Telenovelas
DAVID GREENE, host:
The fuel that drives one Spanish-language television station is a reality show about a repo man. Many Spanish-language networks may be known for their soap operas that are so big they often get higher ratings than their English-language cousins in places like Los Angeles. But Nate DiMeo introduces us to a station that's bucking the trend with a repossesor turned TV star.
NATE DiMEO: When Lou Pizzaro was a kid growing up in the Bronx every Tuesday night was "A-Team" night.
(Soundbite of TV show, "The A-Team")
Mr. JOHN ASHLEY (Narrator): In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit.
DiMEO: Young Lou loved the show, loved the car chases, loved the explosions.
(Soundbite of "The A-Team" theme song)
DiMEO: And when he got a little older, his love of "The A-Team"-style action led him to the Marine Corps and later to a job repossessing cars.
Mr. LOU PIZZARO (Director, "Operation Repo: The Movie"): That's where I got that idea from. I mean, I'm flipping cars. You watch the intro to "The A-Team," they're flipping a Jeep. You know, I'm using helicopters. They're using helicopters. That's who I am.
DiMEO: For more than a decade, Pizzaro was a successful repo man, parting people who are late on their bills with their stuff. It was dangerous and it was fun. But he says as much as he enjoyed living like the characters on "The A-Team," what he really wanted to do was make "The A-Team," to make TV shows. He saw his chance a few years ago.
Mr. PIZARRO: I got a call from Telemundo News Department. They asked me if I wanted to do the day in the life of a repossesor. And then when the new segment came out, everyone was saying, hey, you are the guy, the repo guy. And I'm like, whoa. So right after that is when I really, you know, put it to work.
(Soundbite of music)
DiMEO: He created a reality show called "Operacion Repo." Each episode follows Pizarro in an A-Team-esque ragtag bunch of misfits, his fellow repossesors, including his sister and his 20-year-old daughter.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Operacion Repo")
Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): Hey, they're calling you a (censored).
DiMEO: The show is partly in Spanish, partly in English and partly in bleeps.
Unidentified Man #2: Calm down. Calm down.
DiMEO: It airs on KWHY, one of the biggest Spanish language stations in Los Angeles.
Ms. FATIMA GONCALVES (Vice President of Programming, KWHY-TV): It was totally out of the box.
DiMEO: Fatima Goncalves runs the station. She says she took a big chance by putting the show on her schedule.
Ms. GONCALVES: Since we were born we watch novelas.
DiMEO: Novelas, the soapiest of soap operas, dominates Spanish language television. She says no TV programmer wants to risk alienating audiences by introducing a new format. But she runs an independent station without much of a production budget.
Ms. GONCALVES: We cannot compete with the big players on novela-world. You need to come up, okay, what else I can do?
DiMEO: What she's done is get into business with Lou Pizarro. Repo's ratings were so good that Goncalves put it on twice a day, five days a week. Now Pizarro has two other shows on her station: one about a tattoo parlor and another about people who rush to crime scenes to sell video footage to news channels. He's also got a bounty hunter show on the national network, "Azteca America," and a Repo movie on the way. And now, through TV, a reality network owned by the Turner Company, is the English language "Operation Repo."
(Soundbite of TV show, "Operation Repo")
Unidentified Man #3: Son of a (censored). What's your problem, man? What is your problem, man?
Unidentified Man #4: Relax, relax.
Mr. ANTONIO MEJIAS-RENTAS (Editor Arts and Entertainment, La Opinion): It's a scene that they have to put people in a situation that they do.
DiMEO: Antonio Mejias-Rentas is the entertainment editor of the Spanish language daily, "La Opinion." He's uncomfortable with the show that boiled down to watching poor people get poorer. But he points out that the national networks cater to a broad international audience with shows produced in Mexico and Colombia, and actors speaking perfect accent-less Spanish. At least "Operacion Repo" sounds like L.A.
Mr. MEJIAS-RENTAS: In fact, they relish people who speak bilingually, they use a lot of slang which is not something that you would find in network television. And I think that's part of the appeal.
DiMEO: Repo man, Lou Pizarro, says he's heard all the criticisms before. And he'll tell you there's a moral to the show, don't buy which you can't afford.
Mr. PIZARRO: The phrase, (Spanish spoken). In English, it ain't no joke if you don't pay that note.
DiMEO: That's the show's tagline. It seems like it's plastered on just about every bus and bench in L.A. right below a picture Lou Pizarro. He's probably the world's most famous Repo guy.
For NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo.
INSKEEP: The company that calls itself the world's largest Repo firm had to issue an apology. This week, the Los Angeles Times told a story of a husband and wife who were sleeping on their boat. They were at Key Largo, Florida when they woke to find the boat being cast off from the pier. The husband ran on deck and discovered a crew of Repo man towing the boat away. He got police to stop them and establish (unintelligible) the wrong boat. Two months later, the same Repo company grabbed the same boat and a coast guard cutter had to chase them down. The company also said it's really sorry. Incidentally, the owners had been trying to sell the boat, but they would very much prefer to be paid.
(Soundbite of music)
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