B&C and Multichannel News Producer of the Year Craig Piligian, founder and CEO of Pilgrim Studios, has had his hand in a long line of hits in unscripted programming. From the castaways of Survivor and motorcycling men of American Chopper to the celebrity blowouts with party planner David Tutera, below are highlights from Piligian’s unique career.
Premiere Date/Run: May 31, 2000-present
Seasons/Episodes: 31 seasons
Why It Worked: Piligian helped launch reality television into new territory as a coexecutive producer of Survivor and stuck with the series through the third season. The finale of the first season grabbed a monstrous 55 million viewers dying to know which way the tribe had spoken. Though ratings have declined from those early years—December’s finale earned a solid 2.2 rating among adults 18-49—viewers still tune in to see their favorite castaways compete for $1 million.
Title: American Chopper
Networks: Discovery Channel, TLC
Premiere Date/Run: 2003-12
Seasons/Episodes: 233 episodes
Why It Worked: When the series premiered in 2003, American Chopper spearheaded the family docu-soap genre and sparked an interest in viewers that launched countless mechanic-centered reality series. Chopper followed the family drama of the mustachioed Paul Teutul Sr. and his son, Paul Jr., as they built motorcycles and argued in their Orange County Choppers shop in Newburgh, N.Y. The series concluded its 10-year run with 3.91 million total viewers for the finale in 2012.
Title: Ghost Hunters
Premiere Date/Run: October 6, 2004-present
Why It Worked: Though it has inspired spinoffs and numerous paranormal impersonators, Syfy’s longest-running unscripted series is still going strong. The inspiration for the show came when Piligian read a New York Times story on two plumbers who investigated the paranormal. The series follows paranormal investigator Jason Hawes and his TAPS team (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) as they investigate paranormal activity around the country at the request of clients. The spooky season finale on Nov. 18 pulled in 626,000 total viewers. The network renewed Ghost Hunters for an 11th season, set to debut in 2016.
Title: Dirty Jobs
Premiere Date/Run: 2005-12
Seasons/Episodes: 8 seasons
Why It Worked: From turkey farmer and coal miner to bug detective and dairy cow midwife, Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe took on the toughest professions to the delight of viewers every week. While some of the jobs were common, others were peculiar and not well-known; regardless, everyman Rowe would learn the ins and outs of the world’s grimiest professions. Though slipping toward the end, the lighthearted series managed to lure 1.15 million viewers for its finale.
Title: The Ultimate Fighter
Networks: Spike TV, FX, FS1 (current)
Premiere Date/Run: January 17, 2005-present
Seasons/Episodes: 22 seasons
Why It Worked:The Ultimate Fighter follows mixed martial arts fighters as they live and train together to compete for a contract with the UFC. Though the violent series has travelled across a few networks, ratings remain strong. Thanks to star coaches (the most recent season featured Urijah Faber and Conor McGregor) and the booming popularity of the UFC, the December finale of The Ultimate Fighter reeled in 883,000 total viewers and a 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demo.
Title: Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s
Premiere Date/Run: October 15, 2011-present
Seasons/Episodes: 6 seasons
Why It Worked: The docuseries Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s follows the life of matriarch Robbie Montgomery, a former backup singer for Ike & Tina Turner who had to stop singing due to a collapsed lung, and her family at their soul food restaurants in St. Louis. The show took a personal look at Montgomery and her son Tim’s reaction to the Michael Brown shooting in nearby Ferguson.
Title: Wicked Tuna
Network: National Geographic Channel
Premiere Date/Run: April 1, 2012-present
Seasons/Episodes: 4 seasons
Why It Worked: With nautical action and quirky personalities, Piligian’s keen eye for fascinating blue-collar workers extends to National Geographic Channel’s top-rated series Wicked Tuna, which returns for a fifth season on Feb. 1. The series follows commercial fishing vessels as they compete to get the biggest haul of Atlantic bluefin tuna in Gloucester, Mass. With a successful spinoff to its name (Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks), the series has kept up strong ratings over its four seasons, pulling in a 0.54 rating among adults 18-49 in Live+3 through Aug. 6 in 2015.
Title: Fast N’ Loud
Network: Discovery Channel
Premiere Date/Run: June 6, 2012-present
Seasons/Episodes: 10 seasons
Why It Worked: With viewers seemingly always ready for the combination of loud cars and personalities, Piligian tapped into the gearhead genre again with this Discovery Channel favorite. The hit series follows the mastermind and mechanics behind Gas Monkey Garage, Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman, as they travel around Texas in search of rare cars, while also racing to meet the demands of clients in their garage. The most recent season premiere of Fast N’ Loud attracted a 1.2 rating among adults 18-49 and 2.95 million total viewers.
Title: David Tutera’s CELEBrations
Network: WE tv
Premiere Date/Run: August 1, 2014-present
Seasons/Episodes: 3 Seasons
Why It Worked: Building off popular unscripted series My Fair Wedding and David Tutera: Unveiled, Piligian spotlights the life of event planner and celebrity party planner David Tutera in David Tutera’s CELEBrations. Tutera took on celebrations for several celebrities throughout the show, including a party for Jersey Shore star Jennifer ‘JWoww’ Farley and a wedding for Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong. The third season finale in December earned 444,000 total viewers.
Title: Kocktails With Khloé
Premiere Date/Run: January 20, 2016
Seasons/Episodes: 1 season
Why It Could Work: Piligian’s newest series looks to tap into the Kardashian magic with Kocktails With Khloé. The series stars Khloé Kardashian as she chats with celebrity guests—including her family—about pop culture, fashion and celebrity gossip. Set in a functional kitchen, she’s joined by Sharone Hakman, who will assist with the menus and entertainment. Though it’s too early in its eight-episode run to tell if it’s a hit, the series has a promising premise and star.
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