Atlanta’s TruTV is truly not above copying a successful TV concept.
History Channel hit the jackpot last year when it introduced “Pawn Stars,” focused on the bickering Harrison family and its Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. The reality show quickly became the network’s biggest draw ever, regularly bringing home 5 million-plus viewers for each new episode. On July 5, it hit a network record 6.3 million. It airs on Mondays at 10 p.m.
TruTV, while steadily improving its ratings with male-oriented reality shows, is still seeking that monster hit. Welcome to “Hardcore Pawn.”
The show is focused around Detroit’s American Jewelry and Loan and the rough-and-tumble clientele in that down-and-out city. It debuts at 10 p.m. on Monday, same time as “Pawn Stars.” The “pawn”-”porn” pun is exactly the same, too.
Marc Juris, general manager at TruTV, made a valiant attempt in an interview to say this is not a copycat show at all, that they are “different shows. It’s not as extreme or bold a move as you think.”
The Detroit store is owned by the appropriately named Les Gold. His operation is enormous: 50,000 square feet, the largest in the city and much larger than the “Pawn Stars” shop. They have 45 employees and 1,000 customers a day. They do, on average, 700 loans a day and buy 20 items straight out.
Juris likes the Gold family because Gold and his two adult children Ashley and Seth provide both drama and comic relief.
“The scale is different” from “Pawn Stars,” Juris said. “And it’s more about the interplay among the people than the individual items.”
TruTV aired a couple of test episodes last December and got a good reaction. “When viewers tell us what they want to see, we oblige them,” Juris said.
The sample episode TruTV gave us (which will air first on Monday) shows that Gold’s sensibilities are a bit rougher than the Harrisons. When a customer brings a home-made cannon, Gold gleefully tests it out in the parking lot. He actually lets a horse traipse into the store, a horse his daughter Ashley (also an employee) seriously considers buying. In an interview, Les said the customer brought the horse inside for “shock value. I was just shocked the horse didn’t knock over anything or poop on the floor.”
Then there’s the stripper pole. With Ashley’s insistence, he buys it for $150 and plops it in the middle of the store.
“The customers just congregated around it,” said Les.
One more thing: don’t you dare threaten Gold. It won’t be pretty.
“Les is a tough cookie with a heart of gold,” Juris said. “He’s in a very rough business. People are always fabricating stories, trying to hustle him.”
The reason his store is so large? Michigan laws limit loan interest rates to a mere three percent per month, among the lowest in the nation. “We need to work off volume,” said Seth, Les’ son. (In Georgia? Loans are capped at 25 percent per month or 300 percent per year.)
Customers and employees don’t negotiate for long. The store also does not hire outside experts to check potential products. “We are the experts,” Les declared. “We do it fast and furious.”
The loans are set up as such: you have a $1,000 diamond ring. The pawn shop will hold it for you for up to three months and hand you, say, $300. You pay back about $330 in three months or give up the ring. More than 80 percent of customers do pay the loan back, Seth said.
Discovery Channel is taking a slightly different tact on a similar concept this fall with “Bidder Rivals,” featuring Buckhead auction shop Gallery 63.
Here are a sample of reality shows who have very similar concepts:
- “Wife Swap” on ABC debuted in 2004, same year as “Trading Spouses” on Fox. The ABC version is still on the air. “Trading Spouses” on Fox and moved to CMT.
- “Supernanny” on ABC debuted in 2005, same year as Fox’s “Nanny 911.” Again, the ABC version is still on the air on that network. “Nanny 911″ moved to CMT.
- “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” debuted in 2007 on Fox and lasted through 2009. A syndicated version starts next month. “The Singing Bee” on NBC debuted about the same time in 2007 but was moved to CMT in 2009.
- “Ace of Cakes,” focused on a fancy cake maker, on Food network debuted in 2006. In 2009, TLC started “Cake Boss,” focused on a fancy cake maker.
- “DC Cupcakes,” focused on a cupcake shop, debuted on TLC on July 16. Tomorrow, the WE Network debuts “Cupcake Girls,” focused on a cupcake shop.
-”Ghost Hunters” on SyFy Network debuted in 2004. “Paranormal State” on A&E debuted in 2007. Both are still in production.
- “Intervention” on A&E debuted in 2005. “Addicted” debuted on TLC in March this year.
-”Hoarders” on A&E debuted in 2009. “Hoarding: Buried Alive” debuted on TLC in March this year. “Confessions: Animal Hoarders” debuted earlier this month on Animal Planet.
“Hardcore Pawn,” 10 p.m. on TruTV