Operation Repo's Lou Pizarro
A Latino television series success!
A few years ago a new reality based show began hitting television. With the rapid popularity of the show's syndication, the series now have millions of television viewers and fans worldwide.
Published on LatinoLA: August 18, 2011
Operation Repo portrays the world of car repossessions, with a team of professionals, who operate out of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. If a car owner does not pay his or her note, the finance companies turn to licensed repossessors to recover their loss. In the show they also do repossessions of other amazing and strange items. Items repossessed have included luxury boats, planes, limousines, ATVs, Zambonis, tow trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, hot air balloons, and tanning beds.
I am sitting here with Lou Pizarro in San Fernando Valley, California, the brain child behind the show. Being a true and very likeable Gentleman, our conversation focuses on his series, in a low key, relaxed setting. Constantly being interrupted by enthusiastic fans of the show, with people giving compliments, Lou's claim to great fame is evident! Incidentally, Lou and I used to work for the same company. Years later, myself still working for the same company, Lou has now found great success with his hit TV series. Lou has a slogan for his series, which quotes "it ain't no joke if you don't pay that note".
Les Rivera: Where were you born?
Lou Pizarro: I was born in the Bronx, at the old Lincoln Hospital.
LR: You served your country in the United States Marine Corps?
(Lou's face lights up like sunshine, expressing his immense pride of his past.
The first word coming out of his mouth is a proud Marine Corps expression)
LP: HooRah! When I was in high school I wanted to be an astronaut. My dream was join the Air Force, but that didn't happen. I had to get a job early on to help out the family, like every other Latino has to do. While working for a couple of years I had my first child, got married, and then decided I wanted to serve our country. We were in a war, and my buddies were overseas. I felt a little guilty about that. All my buddies were in the Marines, and I was a fan of the Marines.
So I joined the Marines, just for that specific reason. I wanted to go to the Gulf War to join my buddies. But, by the time I was done with boot camp the war was over!
LR: How long did you serve in the Marine Corps?
LP: I served in the Marine Corps for three years. It was a short stint in the Corps, but it was the best three years of my life; all the training, all the people. To this day I tell everybody, that if it wasn't for the Marine Corps, I probably would not be alive today, because of the many things that were happening in my life. Even now I promote the military hugely. I now do the Bob Hope USO comedy tours for the troops.
LR: When did you come to California and what brought you to the San Fernando Valley?
LP: My mother and my father divorced early, so my mother came out to California. My grandparents had moved here from New York. We moved in with our grandparents. That's why we came to California. It was in Pacoima, so in a sense I grew up out here in the San Fernando Valley.
LR: Fans I've spoken with, say Matt "makes" the show, his personality loved by millions of viewers; yet he is so dependent on your professional guidance. How did you meet Matt?
LP: I met Matt when he came looking for a job. He was recommended to me by another repossessor.
Matt wanted to get into the repo business. He was a bus driver before, I believe he said. I interviewed him and I talked with him. I had just started this pilot, this show idea with other people. So I said, well, let's see how he works. Who knows, maybe I can use him not only as a repossessor, but he may have a role in the show!
That also meant he needed a place to live, as he was living in this camper he had. He would park the camper on the streets and live in his camper. So I told him, come work for me, I am going to train you. You can park your camper outside my yard. You have a place to plug in power and water, and you are hired as a repossessor and security guard. That's what I did for him and that's how he became a part of the team.
LR: The program states that the series is a re-enactment. Did the events featured actually happen, then to be reproduced with added drama for the filming?
LP: Yes, the events are re-enactments; it's exactly as you said. Sometimes we have to add a twist, based on actual events. I have been a repossessor for seventeen years, and I have experienced everything and more than what you see on TV. What really makes the show is that we are repossessors by trade. We are not actors.
The other thing too is that there are so many different things that have happened, which we cannot even show you on TV. We are really stuck at cases where statue of limitations haven't passed. In that case we can't re-enact the show.
LR: The people whose cars are being repossessed, are they actors?
LP: Yes, the people who are having their cars repossessed are actors. Some of them are bad; however, they only pretend to be actors (laughter).
LR: Are physical altercations legal in actual repossessions?
LP: Yes, here is what people don't understand; at least not in California, and I believe, in most of the United States: If someone assaults you or physically hits you or touches you, you have the right to defend yourself. That's the law. If you see the repossessions on the show, with someone either pushing us, pulling a gun, knife, or a bat, then we have the right to defend ourselves; and that's what we do.
I would say, maybe once or twice has Matt jumped the gun and pushed someone first. And that's when we get the fireworks. If we hit someone first, then that's a Legal problem. But for the most part, if you look, everyone either pushes, hits or runs a car into us. When it happens you have the right to defend yourself.
LR: Is TRU TV the only U.S. channel showing the English version of the series?
LP: TRU TV is currently the only English channel broadcasting the show. With that being said, we have also been syndicated within the past year. You can now see Operation Repo in the United Kingdom and many other parts of the world as well.
LR: When was the Spanish and the American version of the show first aired?
LP: The Spanish version on Telemundo's sister station, Channel 22, aired its first episode on October 16, 2006. And to this date we have produced over 500 episodes in Spanish for Telemundo.
We started our English version of the show in January of 2008 for TRU TV. To this date we are TRU TV's number one rated show. We broke their records on their 17th year history of Court TV/TRU TV, as far as being the highest premiered show on TRU TV.
LR: How did you get the idea of becoming a repossessor?
LP: Well, being Puerto Rican, I am a natural born car thief.
(Burst of laughter from the joke. At this time we had to take a break from the interview, as we just could not stop laughing.)
I've always been very stealthy and street smart, for sure. I was in Florida one day in 1994. There was a Gentleman at a gas station with California license plates. This was in Florida, so I was naturally curious. I've got a fellow Californian there and wanted to see what was going on. I was living in Florida with my wife and my kids.
The guy tells me he is a repo man, and he had moved to Florida to start a business. I said, oh, you're a repo man? Wow, I can do that! Then he asked me if I wanted a job. So that day at midnight he picked me up, and I went on my first legitimate real repo with him. I became hooked, and I did that with him for a year. Then came back to Cali and started working repo here, started my own company, and it was a success!
LR: How did you get the idea of producing this television reality show?
LP: It started with a phone call in April of 2003. I got a call from the Telemundo news department. They wanted me to do a "day in the life of a repo man" special, a news segment. And I say sure. My Spanish is not that great, but I would love to do that. They went out with me for two days on repos.
Then they released a news segment, a special segment, and it was a hit! Everywhere I went in the Valley Latinos came up to me and said "hey, we saw you on operation repo". I said, what operation repo? They said "the news repo". So the idea was born, and the title was a no-brainer.
LR: Is there anything else you'd like to tell your worldwide fans of the show?
LP: There are a couple of other things I'd like to say. The first thing is how the show came to be. I didn't get to finish the story. When the new segment of "the day in the life of a repo man" came out it was a success and a hit. That year I did four other segments for the Telemundo news department: How to steal a car in under thirty seconds, What car is stolen the most during the summer, The top ten most stolen cars, and Identity theft by stealing cars.
I developed a relationship with the Telemundo news department. With that I got a couple of guys from church that went to film school to help me get footage of myself repossessing cars for my team. The tradeoff with the guys is that they would do it as long as I would buy them sushi every day, while we were filming.
I put it together and went to the same people that I did the news segments for, and I showed it to them. They were impressed, and they directed me to their program director. Once I showed it to her she bought it in two weeks. The process took years to accomplish. But once I got it into the right hands it went very fast. So, that's how Operation Repo came to be.
There is another thing too, that I would like to mention. This is something people don't know. I used to live in Puerto Rico. There was a point in my life where we ended up moving to Puerto Rico, to the rain forest. This was 30 years ago. Here's the crazy thing: We lived in a wooden shack, since we were poor and we had no money. My mom was a single mom.
Every day for two years or so we got up at 5:30 in the morning. Sonia would make the coffee. From there we would go and pick coffee beans. We did not go to school. It was an awesome adventure. I was a kid out there, exploring. I remember the land being so green and the ground being so red and rich.
I was also stung by a scorpion in the knee there. I had this "curandero" (quack doctor) surgery there with a drill! It was a very interesting childhood. I believe it's what developed my character. After picking coffee beans all day you still had to peel them when coming back. Two days later we would take the prepared coffee to town for cash or food. It was at a purpose that God put me there. And the funny thing, I don't drink coffee!
(After the interview I ask Lou to tell us a joke. In his usual jovial self he immediately starts telling us his experience from a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, simply referred to as "TJ" for those of us in Southern California)
LP: I went to TJ with some buddies to have a good time. I don't drink much, but they bought me some beers. Being by myself I met some girl, and we started talking. After a couple of beers I am about to pass out. I woke up and these Federales have me duct taped. They kidnapped me!
Then they were trying to get a ransom from Telemundo. This is when we were doing the Spanish version only. They were trying to charge Telemundo per pound! (laughter). Telemundo's response? Well, put that guy on Jenny Craig's for six months and call us back! Well, that's my TJ experience; just a joke, of course (more laughter).
By the way, Lou would enjoy seeing you on his Lou Pizarro Facebook fan page. Writer Les Rivera's personal Facebook page is: "Les Salsarican".
Les Rivera is an airline captain for a major airline, based in Los Angeles. He enjoys freelance writing and publication contributions as a hobby.
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