How ‘I Love Lucy’ Inspired ‘American Chopper’

occPilgrim Studios produces a ton of programming for a bunch of networks like Discovery, HISTORY, Syfy, Lifetime, OWN, Animal Planet, WE TV and National Geographic Channel.  From concept development to network delivery, they do it all. Dina Gahchman, contributor at Forbes, interviewed Pilgrim Studios’ owner Piligian about reality shows and the new Orange County Choppers series on CMT starting tonight November 16 at 9/8c. I publish below highlights of this interview.

“The website for Piligian’s company Pilgrim Studios unabashedly states that they are “Production Company of the Year” and “the most diverse production company on the planet.” Those are bold claims, but when you consider that they’ve created shows like American Chopper, The Ultimate Fighter, Dirty Jobs, and My Fair Wedding, maybe it’s not the craziest claim someone in the entertainment industry has ever made. James Cameron did declare himself “king of the world” during the Titanic era.

Piligian’s new show, Orange County Choppers, premieres on CMT this weekend. American Chopper ran on Discovery for ten years, and it followed Paul Teutul Sr. and his sons Paul Jr. and Mikey as they built custom bikes and engaged in some pretty dramatic infighting. Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. had a very public falling out, and now the focus is on Paul Sr. and his team. Even without the father-son feuds, Pilgrim promises “state-of-the-art drama.”

I talked to Piligian about Orange County Choppers, the state of Paul Jr. and Paul Sr.’s relationship and how I Love Lucy inspired American Chopper”

Forbes: When you first set out to make American Chopper, how did you know Paul Sr. had what it takes to be a reality star?
Piligian: That’s a very good question – I didn’t. They were not my very first choice. I switched the motorcycle shop the night before shooting. It was a Tuesday night and in my last conversation with the shop that I was going to do in New Hampshire I didn’t feel that they had the right mindset. The next morning I woke up early and I called Paul Sr. and said, “Do you want to do this pilot for Discovery?” I changed all the tickets, changed the crew, and on Thursday we were shooting the pilot for American Chopper. We didn’t initially tell Discovery about the switch. It was just a gut feeling.

Forbes: Did the pilot surprise you at all, once you actually saw the footage?
Piligian: We shot the pilot and started cutting the rough cut, and Discovery was looking for a motorcycle build show to compete with Monster Garage. This was an East Coast version of that. What we started to see was that it was a relationship show more than it was a build show. The bike was a by-product of the relationship with the father and the son. It just came out of nowhere and was hugely successful. It was the first family docu-soap.

Forbes: You didn’t set out to make that type of show, so what did you learn from those early days?
Piligian: We know a lot more now than we did then. Look at Duck Dynasty, or our show Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s on OWN. In the beginning when we were figuring out American Chopper, I went back to I Love Lucy. Every Lucy episode was: Lucy gets a job. Lucy spends too much money. Ricky needs whatever. I decided we should make the loglines real simple: Junior goes missing. Mikey doesn’t show up. That’s what we built the show around. Simple loglines. It was the inspiration for the whole show. I wanted the audience to engage; I wanted to make it personal. Every person can relate to the family dynamic.

Forbes: Guys like Paul Sr. haven’t necessarily been toiling for years trying to become famous stars, and yet they’re suddenly thrust into this surreal world of celebrity. How do you handle that transition with them?
Piligian: There’s the big question. It’s difficult. You take an actor who has worked for 10 years at the Actors Studio, who has gotten 300 rejections every year for 10 years and all the sudden they get a movie that does well and he becomes an overnight success. Well, he knows he’s not an overnight success. The actor gets it. There’s an appreciation of it and all that comes with that. When we do this, the people never had the 10 years prior. You’ve got to be a life coach and a money manager. You have to say, “This is a long game so don’t lose it in the short game. We want to be here for 10 seasons, not two.” There are all these talks that happen. Sometimes they become resentful, sometimes they don’t. It has happened in every one of my shows. Once we get to the fifth and sixth season it all starts evening out and it all starts to become big picture. By the fourth season everything works. That’s the season you want to get to – the fourth and fifth season. After season two it’s difficult, and season three is the worst.

Forbes: Are Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. talking now? Do you know what’s going on with them?
Piligian: I don’t know the relationship between Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. We finished American Chopper and it had a great run. I can’t comment on their relationship since post. Before that I know it wasn’t very good. Now I have no idea. Hopefully they’ve repaired a lot of their issues and they’re a family.

Forbes: What can people expect from the CMT show?
Piligian: Paul Sr. left to his own devices is insane. It’s creative, the bikes are great, but he runs a crazy shop. What I love about him is that he’s just raw. He doesn’t care what he says. What he thinks in his head is logical and reasonable to him. That’s what makes it special, and funny. He actually says when everybody is thinking and doesn’t want to say.

15 Responses to “How ‘I Love Lucy’ Inspired ‘American Chopper’”

  1. 1 Highrider Nov 16th, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I was at Sturgis one year and both father and son were out back taking a break from signing the 1000s of autographs. Paul Sr was friendly and talkative Paul Jr, basically ignored everybody, didn’t even crack a smile. That’ shows the difference

    But Paul Jr is a creative genius no Doubt, I respect his creations, as they are first rate.

    There is enough money for both of you, show the world you both can be bigger than you are.
    I kinda doubt t it will happen, but it should.

    I miss choppers

  2. 2 Terence Tory Nov 16th, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I think its a slim link with I Love Lucy.If Paul senior starts sprouting:”Rickee,Rickee.Rickee”,I might believe it.Or when Mister Fairless turns up on set.

  3. 3 Brutus Nov 16th, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Great interview. But all reality shows are bs.

  4. 4 P. Hamilton Nov 16th, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Senior still needs more money?

  5. 5 SIGFREED Nov 16th, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Wish they would have a show/s on Paul Cox Industries and/or Keino Cycles – I prefer Brooklyn over OCC, as I prefer meticulous masters over manic melancholy and shop owners with hands permanently stained by old oil over steroids induced fits of hypertension.

    Discovery via OCC gave the entire industry an exposure it never had before, granted, but Snr is getting seriously old and so is the show – I will rather make an effort not to watch it than the reverse…

  6. 6 Peter Davenport Nov 16th, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Sigfreed. Unfortunately, none has a personality made for a tv large audience. It’s the reality of reality shows.

  7. 7 roadkingajb Nov 16th, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I think the term “reality shows” is a bit of a stretch they are scripted like wrestling. What I find funny is that people love Sons of Anarchy which is all acting but come down on Paul Sr like he is the worst thing that ever happened to motorcycling. Correct me if I am wrong but Paul Sr was building bikes before the show started he rides bikes a lot he loves bikes and by most indications is a good guy. I would rather watch him than The Real Housewhores of “pick a city”. And really who doesn’t need more money.

  8. 8 fuji Nov 16th, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Some of what Iwanted to say. Well put.

  9. 9 Boots Nov 16th, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Anyway you look at it, it’s going to be the same show as before. Sr. has come close, on several occasions, to losing his big World Headquarters so who can blame him for trying another show. Someone should have come up with something a little different to keep the viewers attention.
    Pilgrim promises “state of the art” drama! I bet it will go like this, Sr. gets an order for a bike. They start running out of time and Sr. throws a fit. The bike miraculously gets finished in time and everybody is happy!

  10. 10 Dave Blevins Nov 16th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Where is a celebrity plane crash when you really need one?

  11. 11 Rodent Nov 16th, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    If you don’t want to watch it change the channel!

  12. 12 nicker Nov 16th, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    Enough already………


  13. 13 Scott Nov 17th, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Remember the biker build offs? Jesse James riding with Kid Rock in Mexico? Arlen Ness building a bike in about 2 days with 4 days to spare? Whether it’s the new Cafe Racer shows, Philly Throttle, Zach Ness, or OCC reinventing itself, I just like to see cycle shows on TV. It brings attention to the industry, drives trends, creates excitement, and gets people riding.

    Sure I’d make more show more like a combination of this old house, but I’m not in charge, so I’ll just take what I can get and sift out the Pilgrim studios packaging.

  14. 14 takehikes Nov 18th, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Bike shows if we ever get one would be great. these things are nonsense. Anyone that has worked at a real shop knows what really goes on and its at times entertaining but 95% of the time its tough work. I’m glad the producer admitted its not a bike show though. I watched way back in the beginning as I was toked to maybe see bikes built but I deep six’ed it pretty quick. Same with Sons of anarchy. I was at my sons the other day when the recent episode of SOA was on and they blew up the club house. My son was half watching it and I was too as we talked….then I realized they were about to blow the place up and started yelling ” the panhead, the panhead!” . A-holes didn’t even save the only bike on that show worth having (pale blue pan inside the lcubhouse…oh I’m assuming pan as I never could get a clean look at it).

  15. 15 garagedog Nov 19th, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    It would be fun to watch the daily goings-on at a real bike shop. A place that repairs/restores bikes. You could do H-dS but an old Bonneville, a KZanything, whatever. That could be interesting but it must be hard to keep it real, with cameras and crap. Probably not do-able.

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Cyril Huze