After two years of running the EZCars101 used car dealership on Coast Highway in Encinitas, Karen and Gene Ventura knew they were sitting on a gold mine — of compelling stories and fascinating characters, set against the picturesque backdrop of a typical Southern California beach town.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘You can’t make this stuff up,’” said Karen. “We said it should be a reality show.”
Now, the Rancho Santa Fe residents are turning that idea into reality. Shooting for a reality show pilot began this week, and once the program is edited, the couple will shop it to various TV networks, hoping to bring it to the airwaves.
“The interest is very strong,” by networks, said Gene. “They see this concept as very unique. They love that it’s in Southern California and something like this has not been done before.”
Not only would the show, called “Life on the Lot,” be the first reality series centered on a used car dealership, but it would also be the first set primarily in Encinitas, the couple said.
As the Venturas described it, the show would chronicle the daily ins and outs of the business, as told through the stories of people who come to their lot shopping for a car.
The couple are producing and bankrolling the pilot in the hope that it will be picked up by a network and turned into a series.
The Venturas moved to San Diego County about seven years ago from Chicago, where Gene ran a successful real estate development business. They had owned other businesses, such as a restaurant and jewelry store, but got into the used-car business when the dealership that formerly occupied their location on Coast Highway came up for lease.
Gene “has always loved cars,” said Karen, so they took over and rebranded the dealership with a beach and surf theme. Along with selling to local customers, the dealership caters to clientele nationwide, shipping vehicles to buyers who spot their dream cars online. In fact, some 80 percent of the dealership’s business comes from the Internet, said Karen.
EZCars101 is picky about the cars it buys, and fixes them up before putting them up for sale. They also offer a 90-day power train warranty on the cars they sell.
“We don’t want people to have a headache when they leave here,” Karen said.
Shooting on the reality pilot began this week, and will conclude with a public event on Saturday, Oct. 4. The lot will be cleared and ramps set up, and X Games skaters will attempt to jump three cars in a row. The skaters will be towed by a motorcycle to build up their speed.
The event will be judged by a panel of pro athletes, and a cash prize will be awarded for the best jump. The entire contest will be filmed for inclusion in the reality show pilot.
The show will also feature stories of the used car lot’s customers, such as the Los Angeles TV producer who startled Karen by driving behind her, screaming. As it turned out, he wanted to use the Range Rover she was driving for one of his projects.
Or the hotel developer who lost his $70 million fortune in the great recession, and spent half of his last $10,000 on a car that he and his golden retriever could live in.
Another time, the Venturas loaned out a 1962 orange Chevy Nova for a music video shoot that featured three women dressed as nuns.
“These are all real people,” said Gene.
A family friend in the media business helped the couple get started, putting them in touch with professionals to work with them on the pilot.
Each episode will also feature an educational segment about some aspect of the car business, such as appraising a used vehicle, financing or repair.
“The goal is always at the end of the show, to leave them with something that is informative and interesting,” Gene said.
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