Battle of the Network Stars
Although they share a common profession, they couldn’t be more different.
Perpetually sunny and upbeat, with All-American good looks, Mike Masterson – star of “Verminators” – is Donny Osmond in a bee suit.
Sporting sunglasses, a goatee and a black t-shirt with daunting metal studs, Billy Bretherton – star of “The Exterminators” – looks like he just stepped off the set of “Rock of Love.”
Yet first impressions can be deceiving (see “Britain’s Got Talent” star Susan Boyle). As it turns out, the two high-profile exterminators are more similar than dissimilar, sharing a passion for pest control, as well as reality TV, which has earned them a certain level of fame if not fortune.
FRIENDLY COMPETITORS. You might think two “rising stars” in the highly competitive world of network television would view one another with equal portions of envy and contempt, like Hollywood starlets vying for the same coveted role, but despite their obvious differences, Masterson and Bretherton have formed a mutual admiration society.
Masterson describes Bretherton as a “new generation of pest management professional,” someone who’s not afraid to be himself, the personification of American individualism. In fact, following the much-ballyhooed inaugural episode of “The Exterminators” which aired last February, Masterson posted a congratulatory note on PCT’s Message Board to his gator-loving colleague urging him to “stay true to who you are…because you will be attacked by many who don’t understand ‘The Exterminators’ is a form of entertainment.” (See related story on page 178.)
And it is entertaining thanks to the weekly adventures of Bretherton and his famously fun-loving family, which own and operate Vexcon Exterminating Co., a business the Arts & Entertainment Network describes as “the zaniest pest removal company on the planet.”
Bretherton, an Air Force veteran who aspired to a career in law enforcement following an honorable discharge from the military, runs Vexcon along with his younger brother Rick “who often gets blamed when things go wrong,” according to the show’s Web site. After his military service, Bretherton returned to Benton, La., and went to work for his family’s pest control business.
The company garnered some local headlines, as well as media coverage in the industry trade press, but it wasn’t until nine years later that Bretherton and Vexcon got its big break, appearing on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.” While the appearance didn’t go as planned, with the company’s termite equipment malfunctioning during the episode, it caught the attention of Hollywood producers who recognized the audience potential of a weekly reality series based on a “rock ’n roll” exterminator with an attitude.
Other family members involved in the business include laid-back father Bill and Billy’s “beautiful and sassy blonde wife” Mary who once incited a prison riot, according to the show’s Web site, when she performed an outdoor perimeter treatment and the inmates gathered around the windows to watch. Even Billy’s mom, Donnie, gets into the act. Described as the “queen bee of the Brethertons,” Donnie serves as the company’s office manager, overseeing daily operations with a quick wit and iron fist. “Mom’s a live wire,” Billy says. “She does her best to keep me and Ricky under wraps. It’s constantly a battle between generations.”
Those battles, however, have generated solid ratings for the “The Exterminators” which aired 13 episodes this past year and was picked up by the network for the 2010 television season. “Billy and his family offer the unique blend of drama and humor, which viewers have come to expect from our stable of real families in extraordinary situations,” observed Robert Sharenow, senior vice president, Nonfiction and Alternative Programming, A&E. “‘The Exterminators’ fit perfectly with our brand of eye-opening Real-Life series such as ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ and ‘Gene Simmons Family Jewels,’ representing remarkable personal stories in an entertaining but raw and honest way.”
AND IN THIS CORNER.… Mike Masterson, CEO and co-owner of Isotech Pest Management, Covina, Calif., took a very different path to fame. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Masterson spent his early years after college serving as a celebrity body guard for the likes of Olivia Newton-John and Joan Rivers. When the novelty of protecting celebrities wore off, he went to work for Orkin Pest Control, where he became one of the company’s top salesmen.
After 18 years with the industry giant, Masterson got the urge to start his own business, joining forces with longtime friend Kevin Alden, whom he met in a Bible study class, to launch Isotech. Masterson and Alden shared a common business philosophy – personal service delivered by knowledgeable service technicians at the most cost-effective pricing possible.
Masterson’s introduction to reality TV originated from a routine service call in May of 2007. James Ricci, a rental property owner, put a call into Isotech on a Sunday morning, complaining about a rodent problem.
Robert Roman, an Isotech service technician who works weekends, promptly called Ricci back and said he could stop by that same day. Ricci said that wouldn’t be necessary since the problem wasn’t urgent, but if he could stop by on Monday that would be great. First thing on Monday morning, Roman’s regular day off, he was on site solving the problem. After capturing and disposing of the rodent, Roman took some time to speak personally with Ricci, offering a variety of rodent-proofing tips to prevent a recurrence of the problem.
Impressed that Roman not only showed up on his day off, but also provided such stellar customer service, Ricci called Masterson to rave about his experience. Ricci, it turned out, was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and the experience persuaded him to write a story about Isotech for the newspaper. Masterson arranged for Ricci to shadow 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 front-page coverage in the 740,000-circulation newspaper.
Masterson said Isotech received more than 225 phone calls after the article appeared resulting in substantial new business, but it was the calls from TV producers that proved most intriguing. “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 Alden chose Original Productions, producers of reality shows such as “The Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Monster Garage.”
After agreeing to do the program, Masterson said he met with producers to discuss their vision for the show, understanding “Verminators” needed to educate viewers, while provide a sufficient “yuck factor” to entertain the audience. During pre-production, Masterson and Alden discussed their concerns 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.
Since the show first aired in the 2008, Masterson said he has been pleased with the way Isotech and the pest management industry has been portrayed. And “Verminators” has been good for the pest control industry in other ways – referrals. Throughout the airing of season one of “Verminators,” Masterson said he passed along to other pest control companies 30 to 40 phone calls per week from viewers interested in pest control services.
Masterson said he’s excited about the second season of “Verminators.” He said the producers made two important changes. The first involves showing pest problems more from the customer’s perspective. “You get to see what they are dealing with and how pest problems have caused them to change how they live their lives. And you also see them debate whether or not they want to get pest control (services).”
The other significant change is providing viewers with more entomological and medical descriptions, including discussions about the link between pests and human health. For example, a medical assistant appears in every episode to explain things like the link between cockroach allergens and asthma.
“I think this helps bring the show full circle,” Masterson says. “You’ve got the (Isotech technicians) who I think of as Jacques Cousteau-like because they explore places most people haven’t been before; then you’ve got the fear factor with the customer; and lastly you’ve got the Dr. Phil (the medical assistant) to talk them back down.”
CONCLUSION. While some are critical of this new age of celebrity PMP, Masterson says it’s good for the industry. “It shows how much we (the industry) actually help people,” he says. And despite the inevitable criticism, Masterson says overall response to his show has been largely positive. “We’ve gotten tons of emails and calls from PCOs thanking us for drawing positive attention to the pest management industry.”
The authors are publisher and manager editor/Internet editor of PCT magazine. Some of the information in this article appeared in a previously published article in PCT magazine.
Dean Martin vs. Motley Crue?
American popular culture requires that we know virtually everything about celebrities who find themselves – either intentionally or unintentionally – in the white hot spotlight of fame, whether it’s the ubiquitous Brad and Angelina, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, Jon and Kate, or Internet phenomenon Susan Boyle. To ensure you’re “in the know” should Billy Bretherton or Mike Masterson’s name come up at your next cocktail party or neighborhood barbeque, PCT asked the two reality TV stars to share some little-known facts about one another. Their answers may surprise you. Then again, they may not. In either case, PCT magazine will be able to brag it got “the scoop” on the country’s two most famous exterminators for our readers. Eat your heart out, People magazine.
Billy Bretherton, Vexcon Exterminating, Benton, La.
Favorite band:I have so many. I like HED PE, Brian Werner, Ville Valo, Wednesday 13, Wendy O. Williams, U.D.O., Motley Crue, WASP and 69 Eyes. I could go on and on!
My best feature: I make my own clothes and weapons.
In high school I was: Absent, running from truancy officers.
My bad habit: I lose my temper and I can get pretty nasty if I’m pushed too hard.
What I’m reading:Mostly religion, philosophy, pole shifting in 2012, chemical immobilization of animals and entomology (books).
Industry colleague I admire most: Mike Masterson,he’s really trying to give the industry a show we can all be proud of. Mike and I take a lot of criticism and he always handles himself with class.
Favorite industry memory: Killing about half a million German cockroaches in a 15-story apartment building. I covered three city blocks with roaches in every direction after a clean out a decade ago.
Most outrageous pest control job:I got a call for flying snakes hitting military jets in mid air! After two weeks of inspections I finally spotted a falcon dropping a snake into a flying jet. I couldn’t do too much. ButI could explain why these pilots were witnessing something impossible and that they weren’t crazy!
Something the pest management industry doesn’t know about me: I am an entomologist and certified in animal chemical immobilization.
Favorite TV show: Verminators, Most Shocking Videos, Married with Children, South Park, Robot Chicken, King of the Hill, Family Guy andAmerican Dad.
Mike Masterson, Isotech Pest Management, Covina, Calif.
Favorite band:Well, I guess I’ll show my age here. I don’t have a favorite band but I do have a favorite singer and that would be Dean Martin.He was one talented entertainer.
My best feature:My wife.It’s amazing how many looks I get when I’m standing next to her.When she’s not there, I’m invisible.
In high school I was:A guy who couldn’t get a date, struggled for every C+ I received, was looking for direction and always wondered if I would ever amount to anything.I had big shoes to fill because my father and hero was the dean of DePaul University.
My bad habit:I eat way too much dark chocolate.
What I’m reading:A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and They Call Me Coach by John Wooden.Two great books that can change a person’s life and help you influence the lives of those around you.
Industry colleague I admire most: I truly appreciate all the researchers, entomologists,PMPs, industry manufacturers, media publication companiesand the people that have dedicated their lives tomaking ourindustryso great.However, theone person that has influenced me the most and the one that I admirethe most is mypartner Kevin Alden.Kevin’s support, wisdom, friendship and brotherly love have impacted my life, allowing me to hopefully impact other people’s lives and our industry.
Favorite industry memory:The day my partner Kevin Alden and I opened Isotech and prayed, “God, build Isotech deep and wide and perform a miracle that only you could get the glory for.” Four and a halfyears later we have 50 employees and an international TV show.I do believe in miracles!
Most outrageous pest control job:Themost outrageousjob was the firstmajor cleanout I performed with another technician back in 1985 at a four-star French restaurant.German roaches were our target pest.Due to the severity of the infestationwe decided to fog the ceiling and see what would happen.We openedthe firsttile and started fogging; nothing happened so we decided to open a few more tiles and continue to fog.Well, after a few minuteswe noticed the roaches startfallingfrom the ceilingand within 10 minutes the ceiling turned brown and roaches started piling up on the floor.At the end of the evening you couldn’t see the floor and where the tiles were removed the dead roaches were piled 8inches high on the floor below.However, the worst part of the job was pulling the dead roaches from my hair, egg capsules from my belly button, and nymphs crawling out of my ears.Not a good evening and an uncomfortable ride home with roaches crawling all over my body and areas they shouldn’t be.
Something the pest management industry doesn’t know about me:I used to be a personal bodyguard for celebrities like Joan Rivers, Olivia Newton-John, Larry Holmes and several other stars and sports figures.
Favorite TV show:Sorry, I can’t pick just one.I like CSI, The Exterminators and, of course, Verminators.
Dueling Reality Shows Appeal to
Network: Arts & Entertainment
Company: Vexcon Exterminating Co.
Headquarters Location: Benton, La.
The Cast: Former U.S. Air Force Sergeant Billy Bretherton; younger brother Rick; father Bill Sr.; sassy mom Donnie, who runs the office; and wife Mary
Network: The Discovery Channel
Company: Isotech Pest Management
Headquarters Location: Covina, Calif.
The Cast: Co-owners Mike Masterson and Kevin Alden; technicians Erik Alden, Joey De La Rosa, Lawrence Federico, Michael “Miguel” Garcia, Jamie Poveda and Robert Roman
Reality TV: Their Peers Sound Off
While pest management professionals have a wide variety of opinions of Vexcon’s portrayal of the industry, readers on PCT’s message board were generally supportive of both “The Exterminators” and “Verminators.” A sampling of comments following the premier of “The Exterminators” appears below:
“Overall it was good, but I like the Verminators’ professionalism. (I) could do without the family issues.” – David Helm Jr., Protreat Pest & Lawn Service, Forney, Texas
“All of the office and family issues are part of the deal for this kind of show. At this point I can’t stand that stuff, but probably will get into it as these type(s) of reality shows are addicting.” – Phil Oliver, University of Maryland, Laurel, Md.
“Imagine when someone calls and expects the Orkin man to show up, and get(s) these guys. Billy looks like he fell out of a 1980s hair band with all the leather and studs. I like the show though, the way it shows the family – albeit dysfunctional – dynamic.” – Glen Robertson, Robertson’s Wildlife & Pest Control, Orilliia, Ontario, Canada
“Here is a guy (Billy Bretherton) that wants to differentiate himself from our somewhat honorable profession by turning himself into a ‘character.’ Is it working for this guy? Well, he’s on TV all across the country and I bet his phone rings all day. Good for him.” – Michael Crose, MrBugGuy.Com, Clearwater, Fla.“Your show (Mike Masterson’s ‘Verminators’) is really cool and extremely professional! I would like it if you all were not so good though. It just seems that your really nice and expensive brochures keep showing up at my industrial customers. Oh well, I guess I will have to just step up my game and stay on my toes, so as to fend off the competition.” – Joseph Wilson, Buggs B Gone, Saugus, Calif.
“Stay True to Who You Are”
With such dramatically different public personas, not to mention corporate cultures, one would expect Mike Masterson, president of Isotech Pest Management, not to be particularly enamored with Billy Bretherton, the rock star owner of Vexcon Exterminating Co. But you would be wrong. Shortly after the first episode of “The Exterminators” aired in early February, Masterson posted a congratulatory message to his leather-clad colleague on the PCT Message Board. A complete transcript of the supportive message appears below:
Greetings Billy and the Vexcon Team:
I just wanted to congratulate you and your family on a very entertaining reality TV show. Your show outlines the challenges every business is faced with (i.e., co-worker personalities, challenging work assignments, business decisions and constant criticism). However, Vexcon is your dream, your passion, your company; stay true to who you are.
On your road to success you will be faced with many obstacles, people telling you what to do and when to do it. However, don’t forget they don’t know what your dream is. They don’t know where your heart is and they will never understand the challenges and sleepless nights you have already encountered in your quest to conquer your dream.
Billy, you have achieved where millions have failed. You have your own TV show! There are only a handful of people that can ever say they know what it feels like to have a national TV show and they are all standing behind you because you will be attacked by many who don’t understand “The Exterminators” is a form of entertainment.
Billy, you are a very unique personality. You have a chance to entertain the world by opening your life to them. You have a style that is yours; it is who you are. Don’t change a thing as you have an audience that thinks you’re pretty cool.
Wish I could wear a belt buckle like yours!
Your Friend and Industry Partner,
Isotech Pest Management
Battle of the Network Stars in Los Angeles
Serving the Los Angeles Metro Area