Anew reality show about a colorful bail bondsman would fit right in amidst the unscripted programs about bounty hunters, exterminators and extreme pack rats on, say, A&E. In fact, The Real Ride to Freedom, set at Freedom Bail Bonding in Fairfax, Va., is preparing to air on a prime local Verizon FiOS channel—representing a unique arrangement between a marketer, telco and cable giant in the Washington, D.C., region. Freedom Bail Bonding principal Dave Gambale, a hulking, tattooed former Marine, looks and acts the part of a reality star, and the cast of characters that visit his storefront in search of bail money is colorful as well. “People have been telling me for years, you need a reality show,” says Gambale, 49. “People would not believe what happens in there.”
It’s uncharted territory for Gambale, his executive producer and FiOS. The Real Ride to Freedom’s premiere on FiOS’ channel 1, known as FiOS1, is slated for 9:30 p.m. on June 22. But people on the telco’s end stress that managers must first OK the final cut and make sure the show passes muster with FiOS decency standards, which one sales rep says are comparable to those at a basic cable network. It is not a done deal.
The venture came to be when Faith Poe, who runs Fairfax-based Pure Advertising, pitched the idea to Gambale, a longtime client. Gambale had used primarily Spanishlanguage radio spots and signage at community events to promote his company. But Poe, seeing an outsized character in her client, suggested he put his marketing spend into a reality program.
“On any given day, it’s straight-up chaos,” Poe says of Freedom Bail Bonding. “I said, ‘Dave, why don’t you have your own reality show?’”
Pure Advertising is buying the half-hour slot from FiOS. Poe, a former account executive at CBS Media Group, says Gambale has put up $2,000 a month, while a trio of sponsors—criminal defense attorneys, naturally—are paying the same, for an $8,000 monthly budget. “Their messaging is, if you’re in a jam, call us and we’ll defend you,” she says.
Z Productions produces the show, and Poe is an executive producer. They hope to air The Real Ride every other Wednesday night on FiOS1 for three to six months. Poe says they’ll shop the program to a traditional cable network, such as Discovery or A&E, with national distribution.
According to Poe, FiOS reaches around 350,000 households in the D.C. market. FiOS1 airs a mix of news and weather and high school and college sports, with pro sports on now and then too. Gannett’s WUSA Washington produces a pair of local news cut-ins twice a day, Monday through Friday. Other clients have bought half-hours on the channel before; churches like the slot for airing their services, says a sales rep.
But reality shows are a different story. “It would be groundbreaking—if it actually happens,” says the rep, who asked not to be named until the deal is done. “It’s an interesting story—I hope it works.”
Verizon FiOS and Comcast have a sales partnership in Washington and several other markets where both offer TV service. Two years ago, the pair announced that Comcast Spotlight would sell time for FiOS in at least 10 markets, with Comcast’s then-COO Steve Burke calling it “a natural fi t for both companies,” and a similar arrangement to what Comcast had with other video distributors.
Gambale, the subject of a recent Washington Post Magazine feature, offers his background on freedombailbonding.com, including his boxing exploits, his lengthy Marine career and his start in the rough-and-tumble world of bail bonds. “‘Gunny’ Gambale was a Marines’ Marine who pushed his guys to the breaking point, but underneath that Leatherneck’s tough skin was a man with a huge heart and true character who would do anything to help his fellow man,” his bio reads.
Rounding out the cast are a handful of coworkers that Gambale describes as a young Italian, a tough Dominican girl and a tough redneck. Gambale’s taste in reality TV includes Discovery’s man-against-the-elements program Survivorman. The straighttalking bondsman says he hopes the show offers an honest depiction of a misunderstood industry (“we’re here to help people,” he says), while also turning up new clients for his business.
While A&E’s Dog the Bounty Hunter shows a man chasing down fugitives around the globe, The Real Ride is more of a workplace drama (emphasis on drama) depicting a line of work that, unlike exterminators, pawn shops and repo men, hasn’t had its definitive reality show yet.
“I don’t think there’s anything else like it out there,” says Gambale. “It’s total, all-the-time drama.”
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