It’s All About the Family Thing

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Craig Piligian likens making of “American Chopper’s” pilot episode to his experience working as co-executive producer during the first season of “Survivor.”
“I had absolutely no idea how people were going to react to this,” said Mr. Piligian, whose Pilgrim Films and Television produces “Chopper” for Discovery Channel. “I had the same feeling that I did with `Survivor.’ I thought, `They’ll either love it or they’ll hate it.”’
When he first discovered the father-and-son duo of Paul Teutel and Paul Teutel Jr. on the Internet, Mr. Piligian’s mission for Discovery was to find East Coast bike builders who would continue Discovery’s earlier success with shows about motorcycles and such personalities as Jesse James, host of Discovery’s “Monster Garage.”
“When we shot a pilot and saw the characters, we realized it wasn’t about bikes. It was about the father-son relationship,” Mr. Piligian said.
The tears, shouting matches and other tensions between the Teutels have resonated with viewers. “American Chopper” ranks No. 1 in both the male 18 to 34 and male 18 to 49 categories during prime time among nonsports cable programming, with 1.62 and 1.49 ratings in Discovery’s homes, respectively, according to Discovery’s analysis of Nielsen Media Research figures for the third quarter.
Clarke Bunting, Discovery Channel’s executive VP and general manager, said the show’s audience built largely through chat rooms and word of mouth. He was surprised at the strong female response. He chuckled as he recalled the Discovery’s research department explanation: “Because they’re hot.”
Mr. Bunting said audiences reacted to the show because the Teutels are “larger than life” and passionate about their work.
“That’s something that prime-time [broadcast] television hasn’t tapped into-the private passions of America,” said Larry Gerbrandt, chief operating officer at Kagan World Media.
Discovery and Pilgrim have created a spinoff series of “Chopper,” called “American Hot Rod.” Slated for debut in January, it centers on a guy whose ex-wife is his business partner.
“He’s a little neurotic,” Mr. Piligian said of the main character, “an interesting head case.”
American Chopper
Network: Discovery Channel
Premiere date: Two pilot episodes aired Sept. 29, 2002, and Jan. 19, 2003; regular series debuted March 31, 2003. “Sneak previews” of season two episodes are slated for Dec. 8, 2003, and Dec. 15, 2003. Season two starts January 2004.
Studio/production company: Pilgrim Films and Television
Time slot: Monday, 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) and 1 a.m., with repeats on Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Cast: Paul Teutel, Paul Teutel Jr.
Credits: Craig Piligian, creator for Pilgrim and executive producer; Sean Gallagher, creator for Discovery; Judy Plavnick, executive producer for Discovery