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Verminators

Behind every door, in every wall, just out of sight…the enemies lurk.” This everyday scenario for pest management professionals is something few in the public have seen first-hand, but that is changing thanks to a new reality TV series titled “Verminators,” which began airing last month on the Discovery Channel.

“Verminators” stars Mike Masterson and his team at Los Angeles, Calif.-based Isotech Pest Management. The program is produced by Original Productions, which provided the following description: “‘Verminators’ follows Mike Masterson and his elite team of pest-busters to the front lines of their never-ending battle against infestations of all kinds: Rats, roaches, killer bees, bats, black widow spiders, termites, bed bugs, flies, fleas and fire ants. As they crisscross Los Angeles, the Verminators track their prey through warehouses, hotels and houses, and with the help of remote cameras, inside walls and plumbing systems.”

OPPORTUNITY CALLS. Isotech’s TV opportunity originated from a routine service call in May 2007. James Ricci, a rental property owner put a call into Isotech (on a Sunday) requesting that a service technician stop out on Monday to retrieve a rat caught in a trap at his home. Robert Roman, an Isotech service technician who works weekends, promptly called Ricci back and said he could stop by that day (Sunday).

Ricci said it was not an urgent problem and it could wait until Monday. First thing on Monday — which actually was Roman’s day off — he showed up. After disposing of the rodent, Roman educated Ricci about rodents and rodent control, and also provided rodent-proofing tips such as sealing off potential rodent entry points.

Impressed that Roman not only showed up on his day off, but also provided such stellar customer care, Ricci called Masterson to rave about his experience. Ricci, it turned out, was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and this experience persuaded him to write story about pest control for the Times. Masterson arranged for Ricci to shadow Isotech service technicians Ray Alegre and Miguel Garcia for a “day in the life”-type article for the Times. The result was “They scamper, we stalk,” an article with photographs that the Times deemed worthy of the front page.

TV PRODUCERS COME CALLING. So what does a front-page article in a major daily newspaper mean to a business like Isotech? Masterson said that Isotech received more than 225 phone calls after the article appeared. Isotech does 99 percent commercial work, but the response from the Times article caused the company to change its business model to fulfill a variety of service requests.

In addition to service requests, Masterson said Isotech began being courted by TV producers interested in making the company the subject of a reality TV series. “At first I just played it off like it was no big deal,” Masterson recalled, “but as the days wore on (the calls) kept coming.”

After reviewing several offers, Masterson and his business partner, Kevin Alden, chose Original Productions, producers of reality shows such as “The Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Monster Garage.”

After signing on to do the program, Masterson said he met with producers to discuss their visions for the program and provide input on what he thought viewers wanted to see. “We realize that with the Internet and with the high quality programs found on the Discovery Channel we had to educate and also provide the ‘yuck factor’ for the audience,” Masterson said.

QUALITY CONTROL. While Masterson realized the importance of providing the audience with the “yuck factor,” he wanted to ensure that the pest control industry was accurately portrayed. During pre-production, Masterson and Alden discussed this concern with the production company. “We said, ‘We know you want to see all these cool things like busting through walls and spraying all over the place, but that’s not how it’s done,” Masterson said.

So Masterson and his team explained to the producers how the products and equipment they use work, and also how and why they make those decisions. “(The producers) really turned it into an interesting educational program that I am really proud to be a part of — a program that really is going to make a difference in educating the audience,” Masterson said.

An example of the educational factor in “Verminators” was an episode in which an animal-loving homeowner struggled with the decision to use a pest management professional to take care of a rodent problem. “You can’t help but get caught up in the emotional roller coaster ride she goes on trying to decide if she is doing the right thing in killing the rats that are damaging her home,” he said.

A REWARDING EXPERIENCE. Masterson said he and his company have completed all 13 episodes and he was really pleased with the finished product. “Nothing was set up. We never knew what we were going to run into,” he said. “We had some really unique customers. Whenever we had to shoot, the production company would tell us where we needed to be and the type of problem we had to solve,” he said.

Perhaps of greatest enjoyment from Masterson was watching his service technicians mature on camera. In the beginning, Masterson observed that it was nerve-racking for Isotech technicians to do their jobs while having cameras sometimes within inches of their faces, but that they eventually became more comfortable over time. “Watching them be able to do their jobs with all these things happening around them was really gratifying,” he said.

Masterson also said the real educational value of “Verminators” is that it shows viewers that anyone can have pests. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. You are surrounded by pests every single day whether you are in your home, at your business, in your car — they are everywhere.”

The author is Internet editor of PCT magazine.

Long Days, Long Nights
While most reality TV viewers see the final product on TV, few realize the sacrifice it takes for those companies participating in these shows. Isotech’s Mike Masterson now knows first-hand just how challenging it is to run a company while shooting a TV program

“It’s been tough, but as any successful business person will tell you it is all about your support team,” he said

Before Isotech underwent this massive undertaking Masterson met with all Isotech employees and explained to them the opportunity they had been given. He said that even though they will reap the benefits of being on a national television program, “it would come with a heavy price and long hours of work.”

Masterson said his team really deserves the credit. “As any World Series-winning manager will tell you, ‘I am surrounded by an unbelievable team that shares collectively in our vision.’”

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