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‘Chopper’ successors in Discovery’s hopper

Cabler expands 'American' reality franchise

Discovery Channel is getting into the family business with “American Chopper” exec producer Craig Pigilian.

Riding the success of the serial family drama-reality skein “Chopper,” cabler has greenlit several projects as part of the channel’s planned “American” franchise.

“Chopper” tells the real-life story of a father-son motorbike-building team based in Orange County. Show to-date has attracted an average 2.2 million overall viewers in its 10 p.m. Monday timeslot. Skein scored 1.6 million in the key adults 18-49 demo.

Succeeding series in the “American” franchise — all already in production — will be similarly centered on the familial operations behind such blue-collar enterprises as a Savannah, Georgia-based salon (“American Beauty Shop”), a car shop (“American Hotrod”) and a casino in Vegas (“American Casino.”)

Veteran reality producer Piligian is also producing the limited series “Dirty Jobs” and “Kevin & Drew,” starring the bald “Amazing Race” duo, for Discovery.

Discovery Channel’s VP of programming and development Abby Greensfelder told Daily Variety that the network hopes to create a destination “American” night anchored by some of Piligian’s projects in first quarter 2004.

“We want to have a night dedicated to the American family,” Greensfelder said. “These are real American success stories about people who are the best at what they do. And that is what Craig’s team excels at — finding great characters who are the top in their field.

“The difference in network reality shows and ours is the take-away value. It’s not just human combustion,” she added. “These are people our viewers can relate to and subjects they would be necessarily be interested in.”

Piligian initially teamed with Discovery’s director of development Sean Gallagher on “Chopper.”

“Sean came to me and said, ‘We want to get into the character business.’ And that’s what the ‘American’ projects are — character-driven dramas about America,” Piligian said. “This isn’t a competition reality show, the participants aren’t backstabbing each other and they’re not going to win a million dollars at the end of it. These are regular people who are living their lives and we’re right there with them.”

Greensfelder added “Hot Rod,” “Casino” and “Beauty Shop” seem to follow a well-worn trend of successful skeins revolving around small, family-run businesses.

“In a way, they’re like ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Six Feet Under.’ ” Greensfelder noted. “These are all shows about family business in the wake of commercialism, and networks have been able to drape great stories around them.”

“Kevin & Drew” trails the travels of the balding pair, and is set to bow in January. Set for a fourth quarter premiere, “Dirty Jobs” will follow host Mike Rowe (“Worst-Case Scenario”) as he takes a crack at such professions as cleaning sewers and artificially inseminating horses. Greensfelder said both limited series have the potential to be picked up to full seasons should they perform well for the cabler.

Piligian, who heads up his own Pilgrim Films and Television shingle, recently exec produced “Cupid” for CBS and the TBS skein “Worst-Case Scenario” from Sony Pictures TV. He also co-exec produced the first three editions of CBS’s “Survivor” and is developing the pilot “Etiquette for Outlaws” for Showtime with Howard Stern and manager Alan David.

Piligian is repped WMA and attorney Tom Hoberman.

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