Producer snatches rights to reality show

Dirty Jobs” exec producer Craig Piligian has nabbed the rights to turn the dangerous work of airplane repo man Nick Popovich into a TV series.

Piligian is shopping the show to cable nets. Likely homes include Discovery Channel or Spike TV, both of which have aired several programs over the years from the producer.

Popovich is the co-partner of Sage-Popovich, a repossession firm that specializes in taking back big-ticket items — mostly airplanes. According to a recent profile of Popovich by Salon.com, the company’s clients include Citibank, Transamerica and Credit Suisse, and the firm nets $600,000-$900,000 per job.

Popovich’s business is booming in this weak economy, as he travels the globe to grab Gulfstreams, Learjets and even 747s from cash-strapped owners who have defaulted on their payments. 

“Every case is different,” Piligian said. “Maybe it’s a small airline in Scandinavia that bought a 747. He has to figure out how to get past airline security and grab the plane. He plans it like a military operation. Sometimes he’s in disguise. Often it gets a little hairy.”

He recently managed to grab 203 helicopters from a flight school that went belly up and also grabbed planes from disgraced investors Edward Okun and Arthur Nadel. The company, which has been in business for three decades, employs 105 “super-repos,” a motley crew of pilots and mechanics who find ways to take these planes, as well as support teams.

Popovich has spent time in jail when his repo jobs have gone awry; he is also no stranger to being held at gunpoint by security teams anxious to hold on to the planes on their watch. 

Piligian had been negotiating a deal with Popovich for months, but the Salon story — which came out earlier this month — nearly derailed the whole arrangement. After the story went online, Popovich received inquiries and pitches from virtually every nonscripted producer in town.

“That threw a monkey wrench into things,” Piligian said. “Why couldn’t this story have waited one more week? We (had nearly closed) with him. Then every other producer tried to make a deal, but (Popovich was) incredibly honorable. This could have gone a totally different way. But we’re a blue-collar production company, and they appreciated that.”

Piligian will exec produce the project, along with Popovich and Bill Rancic. Rancic, the season one winner of “The Apprentice,” had earlier befriended Popovich and was advising him on the show. Rancic originally created the show with Popovich, and Piligian later came on board.

Piligian’s credits also include “Ghost Hunters,” “The Ultimate Fighter,” “Sandhogs,” “Extreme Loggers” and “American Chopper.”

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