TruTV Strikes Pure Gold With ‘Hardcore Pawn’

Hardcore Pawn at 100

Family drama and thousands of clients draw millions of eyeballs and a ratings hit for niche net

Perhaps not even the expert pawn team at Detroit’s American Jewelry & Loan could estimate the value that their personalities and business operation would offer to TruTV upon the launch of reality series “Hardcore Pawn.”

Since its series debut in 2010, “Hardcore” has brought record-breaking ratings to the cabler, routinely drawing more than 3 million viewers in its Tuesday 9 p.m. timeslot, besting even some competitor programs on broadcast.

Now approaching its 100th episode on April 16, “Hardcore Pawn” continues to draw fresh eyes to the program with each run.

The first season of “Hardcore” averaged about 1.5 million viewers at 10 p.m., and in 2011, Tru bumped the program up to its 9 p.m. timeslot on Tuesday nights. Today, “Hardcore Pawn” at times pushes up against the 4 million mark in total viewers, terrific ratings for a niche network. Its season seven opener in March 26 drew Tru’s largest 18-49 aud ever, with 1.6 million adults in that coveted demo. That episode was the No. 1 unscripted program in its time period among all basic cable networks for adults and men 18-49, as well as total viewers.

The skein, produced by Zodiak Media’s subsid Zodiak New York, has become the backbone of TruTV’s lineup, steadily building upon its viewership and even spawning TruTV spinoffs “Hardcore Pawn: Chicago” and “Combat Pawn.”

Before the series, American Jewelry & Loan was familiar to local Detroit auds for its ads that ran during daytime runs of “The Jerry Springer Show.” It was “Springer” vet and independent producer Richard Dominick who saw star potential in the American Jewelry & Loan family business, run by Les Gold and his son and daughter, Seth Gold and Ashley Broad.

Dominick, now a series exec producer, recalls his first trip to the shop: “I went to their store and thought, when do you see a pawn shop this big? You always picture a storefront in an alley in a major city.”

When Dominick left Springer to pursue other ventures in 2008, the first people he thought of were the Gold family, phoning them just weeks after his departure.

“There was no pawn shop show at the time,” Dominick says. “Les is a great personality and as a producer, you get a gut feeling about someone. I had that gut feeling about Les — I knew he would work on TV. You would love him or hate him, but he would work, and that’s what you need for success.”

One sizzle reel and pitch from Dominick to RDF TV — which would later be acquired by Zodiak — and “Hardcore Pawn” began to take shape. TruTV was impressed by the reel and immediately ordered a pilot for the show, which aired in late 2009. After a solid performance by the pilot, TruTV officially debuted “Hardcore Pawn” as a series in August 2010.

TruTV exec VP/chief operating officer Marc Juris believes that “Hardcore Pawn” has become a ratings hit for the net because it resounds with two of its three primary demographics: “urban blue collars,” “fun seekers” and “heartlanders.”
“Urban blue collar is a great transition audience for us, and they’ve helped us move towards the fun seeker audience and build our brand more with shows like ‘Killer Karaoke,’” which debuted last year, says Juris.

While the program has drawn comparisons to History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” Juris and Zodiak New York chief creative officer/series exec producer Mike Gamson contend that the two shows are distinct. Pawn Stars focuses on the provenance of an item, which resounds with History’s mandate, while “Hardcore Pawn” centers on familial relationships and loud personalities, thereby complementing TruTV’s brand.

Despite all the success, the skein still faces a PR problem that plagues much of the reality TV landscape: that the program is scripted, and encounters in the American Jewelry & Loan store are salted beforehand, a production strategy employed by some shingles in order to decrease production time and costs.

Juris admits that some reality programs are “salt-scripted,” but adds, “we are fortunate with Hardcore Pawn because it’s so crowded in the store — there’s so much volume when it comes to items, and a brother and sister working together gives you enough drama in one day that you don’t need any script. … We have plenty to choose from.”

Gamson, who exec produces the series, notes that the loans offered for items at the pawn shop is the Gold family money alone.

“They put down their money for real,” Gamson says. “I couldn’t imagine trying to tell Les to buy something.”
While speaking of the veracity of the series, Gamson recalls the season five finale, when a store thief was discovered to be a store security guard.

“We were shocked as we watched it unfold, just as the family was,” Gamson says.

Zodiak and TruTV have discovered through “Hardcore Pawn” their similar sensibilities, and this has led to a partnership on other successful Tru shows including “Lizard Lick Towing” and “Killer Karaoke.” “Lizard Lick” and “Hardcore Pawn,” specifically, have helped put Zodiak’s Gotham branch on the map, which launched at the beginning of the year.

“For us in New York,” Gamson says, “’Hardcore Pawn’ and ‘Lizard Lick’ are the foundation of the company because we’re building a new development team here. Obviously without that foundation, you can’t build a company, so the relationship with TruTV is hugely important. … Those shows have to remain the central focus for our company.”

But can these characters translate into lucrative overseas rights and format deals? Hardcore Pawn falls into the unscripted gray area: the show itself thrives in foreign countries but is a format version also possible when the personalities are the show’s centerpiece?

Gamson notes the show has been sold to 120 territories including Norway, Australia, Canada, Italy and South Korea, and that its cast has even done spots for Spanish-language networks. Yet, Gamson does not view the show as a truly exportable format because of how unique the Gold family is.

“There are pawn shops everywhere, but at the heart of the show are Les, Seth and Ashley,” he says. “You could replicate it — it’s been made in Chicago. But at the end of the day, it’s about the characters at the heart of the piece. It would never have gained the success it has achieved without them.”

Detroit booster, family referee

Les Gold is the partiarch of the family behind American Jewelry & Loan in Detroit. He’s the guiding force behind the deals and steps in like a blustery Solomon to resolve disputes between his kids, Ashley and Seth, who also work at the shop and sometimes knock heads. “There was never any doubt about Ashley coming into the family business. She wrote her first loan at 7. I made my first sale at 7.” But there was doubt about Seth. “Seth fought it and Seth had the same perception (of pawn shops) as everyone else when he was growing up. We proved to him the importance of pawn shops to the community and he bought into it” his senior year in college.

The Origins Of The Show
“Once (the producers) came in, they saw the dynamics between Ashley, Seth and I and they said, ‘Wow, this would make a great TV show.’ And then they saw the 40,000 items back there in the shop and said, ‘Wow, that’s an even better show with 40,000 stories.’ ”

Age Of Enlightenment
“I have been a pawnbroker all my life. The stigma of a pawn shop is that they’re dark, dirty and have a criminal element, but what people never understood is that we’re a well-lit shop… a legitimate business that caters to the needs of the city. We knew the customers had stories, and the Gold family has some issues — that’s the drama…when you have a family business, it’s not about the business — it’s about the family.”

Detroit Impact
“At first, we had a concern (the show) would make Detroit look sleazy but it actually shows the people
of Detroit as resilient. Detroit is coming back. People are still frequenting pawn shops, though. When
the economy was sinking, people still needed birthday presents, engagement rings… we’ve shown that it’s cool to come to the pawn shop. Now people come from the suburbs. They understand why people come to a pawn shop.”

Father Figure
“I find a lot that people come up to me and say, ‘Les, my kids are just like yours. I understand what you’re going through.’ People come up to Ashley and say, ‘We love you, you’re such a great example of what we want to be,’ and because of her strength, women say she’s their favorite character on the show. Or the young guys who come up to Seth and talk about the business. Every age bracket has a favorite character.”

Femme touch in a man’s world

Ashley Broad has been working with her father, Les Gold, at American Jewelry and Loan since she was a little girl. “I was always the child who came to store with my Dad,” she says. She graduated from Michigan State U. and immediately joined the business full time. Because she is a successful female in what’s traditionally been a man’s world, Ashley brings in lots of femme viewers and her presence gives the series a twist. “I bring something different to the show,” she says.

Stay Calm. Stay Focused
“I have stay calm and have to stay as businesslike and professional as I can” when customers get belligerent and yell. “I want the customers to come back but it’s my business. It comes with the territory.”

Bringing In The Female Demo
“I am in a male-dominated industry. You don’t see many — or basically any — female owners of a pawn shop. You have to be hard-nosed… and know what you’re doing. I get a lot of customers saying, ‘Let me talk to the boss. Let my talk to your father.’ And I say, ‘I’m the boss. You can talk to me. Just because I’m a female doesn’t mean that I am going to give you a different answer than my father or brother.’

Knowledge Is Power
“You have to know the items in the shop. I gotta know about jackhammers, TVs, jewelry, I have to know about cars, HDTVs — all kinds of stuff. I started out in the warehouse, schlepping TVs, rotating the merchandise, carrying out stuff to the customers. This is something I always wanted to do!”

Sibling Rivalry
“I was there way before Seth. He always wanted to be a doctor. When I found out Seth wanted into the family business I was like, oh my God, why is he here? We both want the business to succeed but in our own ways. That’s where our heads bump.”


Passion for pawn shops

Seth Gold joined the business after college, and after he shook off the stigma he had associated with pawn shops. He had intended to be a doctor. To his parents’ credit,  they didn’t shove the irony in his face: “Growing up, all my friends’ parents were doctors and lawyers and I got caught up in the negative stigma of  ‘pawnbroker.’ It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized I had no passion for medicine, and called my parents and said I wanted to join the family business. They were floored.”

Heritage Site

“There’s something to be said about longevity inside the business. I’m fourth generation in this business. Nobody has your back like family but nobody can get under your skin like family.
There’s lots of pressure in this place and you throw in the elements of 1,000 costumers inside and making deals, there’s going to be drama.”

Ground-Up Education
“I came in and started from the bottom.  I kept my mouth shut for two years, learned the business. Being the boss’ son you get a certain amount of respect but it wears thin if you don’t prove yourself. When my sister left the shop to start her family, that’s where I grew into myself.”

Another P.O.V.
“I think I help more people in my business than by being a doctor. Twenty-five million people in this country don’t have bank accounts. We provide money for our customers to feed their families, get their car repaired. If we didn’t exist there wouldn’t be anything for them.”

Sibling Rivalry
“Maybe you have some history with pawn shops or you have a dad like me or sister like me and you can relate. I have a saying at the shop: If you want something done quickly ask Ashley. If you want something done correctly, ask me. But the show it doesn’t show every aspect of our relationship!”

Giving Back

While Hardcore Pawn has put Detroit back on the TV map, the show’s stars use their fame for the Heat and Warmth Fund (Thaw). They recently held a benefit in their store to raise money for the fund, which helps local families pay their heat and electricity bills.

“That’s going right back to my customer base. Anytime we can link up to a charity that gives back to the community, we try to get involved,” says Seth Gold. Other Thaw events may follow. The event raised more
than $40,000 for the org, he says. — Carole Horst

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  1. Mandy says:

    It’s scary that people actually believe that the Gold family are good role models. The Gold’s cause most of their own problems and Les encourages Seth and Ashley to clash by pitting them against each other in bets and competitions. Then he complains about them not getting along together, he clearly doesn’t understand that their hot headed, implusive stupidity links directly back to his own anger issues. On top of the hot headed behavour you’ve got what is clearly narssasistic and egotistical behavours which are fed by staring in their very own reality TV show.
    The Gold family are terrible role models for any new families, unless you’re looking for a model of dysfuntion. Yes most siblings do fight, yes they’re compedative with each other but I can tell you from personal experance that if siblings are constantly at each others throats then something is seriously wrong. The Gold family are good buisness people and clearly smart people but they really shouldn’t be working together and the public should not encourage their narssasisim.
    That said, they make fantastic subjects for psychology students because the verious traits are so easy to spot.

  2. Maxcroft says:

    I’m glad to see that the result of Hardcore Pawn has somehow benefitted the local community. Reputable pawnbrokers will support and be a part of the community. Not to be mixed up with faceless loan telesales.

  3. karmo says:

    wont watch your show anymore as your drama and fighting is getting old and boaring

  4. William Stevens says:


  5. Marie Hanes says:

    I love your show I watch it all the time sometime I watch reruns I can’t wait till the day I can come meet les seth and Ashley im a big fan I really enjoy your show I lived in Chicago IL and was only 4 or so hours away and was so upset I couldn’t save enough money to come see my husband and I got transfer before I could get the chance

  6. W. M. Willoughby says:

    Watched a HP marathon yesterday. The storyline of Seth’s learning curve re personnel management was interesting; however, after watching these 2013 episodes focused on Seth’s decision to impose a “new” policy of nightly body searches and bag checks of employees (and the disruption Seth’s “new policy” caused the business) I was shocked to then see on the same evening an episode from 2009 (the pilot I suppose) where Les explained to the camera that employee theft is the biggest problem they face at AGJ and thus AGJ performs bag and body searches of employees every night. They even showed clips of AGJ employees being searched as they left work. That means the 2013 storyline re an employee revolt over the “new” search policy was entirely fake. Now, I don’t mind a “work” in the context of, say, professional wrestling, but a show claiming to be “real and unscripted” when that’s not true insults its audience. So in the future I’ll treat Hardcore Pawn like I do the other “reality TV” show–I’ll just flip the channel.

  7. i watch the show, but i cringe, when seth and ashly are so mean hearted to each other, les has said they have been like this since there child hood, well with they would show more love to one another, maybe they do off camera; seth gets mean, example frisking is redeem ladies, checking there purse’s is one thing, i did not see the frisk of the redeem ladies, a metal detecter would of been better, if they were frisked by seth, cops do not frisk women, they call on women to do this, and the redeem ladies took a stand, love the redeem ladies, glad they stood there ground, ashly can be a B-, but i know this is a mans world, so my hats of to her, seth disturbed me when an episode aired and he put a bill board out to tell ashely to quit and get 20% off, that was very mean of him, because no deals were made and all of these people were escorted out by security, is that good business, heck no!!!, very stupid seth, you really showed your sister love by doing that, if my brother did this, i would be mortified, he’s not perfect, but he would never do this for the better of the business, i feel they are spoiled rotton and spend their dads money, very stupidly, with these kinds of stunts., now this is for les, omg les, how many white sweaters do you own, every episode he has on the same clothes, white sweater, gold necklace, same jacket, and i watch history channel pawn stars, they have experts come in to make sure that a fair deal is made, the less gold really low balls people, a few come in (i mean very few) with a really great item, they use the internet, no experts involved, and i can’t believe some really great items come in that are worth a lot, some worth $30.000 grand, and les will not even give them 5% of what they are worth, i feel they prey on the poor, because they know what is is worth, but the low balling with no experts (because they cost money) and les is a cheap man, and i loose respect for him, when some people really bring in something a one of a kind beautiful thing, and he says “why did you come up with that #”, i feel he does rip a lot of people off, i wish some of these people would come to my home and i would give them a reasonable offer and i could still make 50% on the item, and i hate it when less gets these poor customers, that really need help to get the heck out of detroit and get back home, wish they had a little more heart, for example the episode that had that huge beautifuly made humadora, sorry spelling, the huge cigar case, it was compelling and so beautiful, and les really robbed the guy on that one, most pawn brokers believe in Karma, but not les, this is why he has so many problems in his store, but i watch and i learn, from pawn brokers all over, and les is a cheapskate, maybe in his next life a pimp would be a better life for him, but i would fear for the ladies, they would work all day and night, and the gal might end up with one dollar for a nights work, in other words, i cant wait ffor him to retire, he can work until his death, and you can’t take everything with you, half of his crap is in a building, and just sitting there, no body is out there, selling the expensive cars that he bought for pennies on the dollars.

    • Mandy says:

      I think you will find that Seth and Ashly have developed in a hostile and compedative enviroment which is causing the hate. Most likely one of them feels that the other was favored more, regardless of weather that is true or not. As a result of that feeling they would compete for attention and the behavour patterns become set and though change is possible it’s difficult to rewrite years of what is natural behavour to them.
      I was abused by my mother who never once hit my brother the way she did me. As a result of that I developed in an enviroment which was hostile. I left home in August 2009 but even now I can’t stand my brother, I get defensive and hostile because he reminds me of what I missed out on and I hate him for it.

  8. virginia eldridge says:

    I love this show along with my husband,I think Les is very Nice looking! And Ashley is just so BEAUTIFUL when she smiles.We would not know what to do if they went off air.Hope you get a Million shows! And tey are all GREAT making us laugh!

  9. Robert K. Snyder says:

    I think Hardcore Pawn is The Best Show that has ever been on cabel Tv. I find myself watching the reruns all the time. Ashley is a great actress what she does on camera reminds me of Oliver Hardy and Spanky Mcfarland what they used to do , making those funny expressions on film . Lol”

  10. “Salt” scripted? Yeah, pepper too. I watch this show because it can be entertaining to have as background “white noise” while I do other things. One thing is for sure, it does make Detroit appear to be a hotbed of ignorant people while I know that it is probably not the truth. It’s not the family fights that make me glance up to the TV, it’s the customers that act like idiots and their security hustling them out the door that amuses me the most. Les with his leather jacket an d gold hanging on his neck brings back memories of 70’s hustlers. All that is missing is a hat with a feather on it and some high heel white shoes and he would be the pimp he aspires to be. For us intelligent people, Tuesday nights are a night we can turn on this show, shake our heads and realize how idiotic TV has become and I thank God I am getting older and look forward, with no hurry, to the day they stick me in the ground and no longer have to stand witness to the further erosion of this once great country that is being fueled by a lot of things up to and including shows like these.

  11. just a awesome show i simplely love HARDCORE PAWN

  12. AMC says:

    I like Hardcore pawn, but I find a need to change the channel when ashley and seth argue.. I’ve worked in the same situation with my older brother, but we would never treat each other like that! It’s like a compatition, ( prob. Bad spelling sorry) lol , since than my father passed away, and we lost everything, not saying that’s gonna happen to yous, but charish every moment you have with the ones you love, it’s not worth it. Who cares who’s better or selles more… Come on your a team, you all work together.. I’ve also resently lost my eldest daughter at 18. But I have two other beautifull children, so who’s to say what in store. So stop fighting , I’ll change the channel. Kk

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