Emmy-winning producer Craig Piligian founded Pilgrim Films & Television in 1997. Launching his career in the news business, Piligian delved into non-scripted programming in 1991, with Emergency Call and Real Stories of the Highway Patrol (with 625 episodes produced, Real Stories became the first successful launch and sustained production of a syndicated reality strip).
Pilgrim initially focused on producing documentary programming for Discovery Channel, beginning with Inside the CIA; the special on the inner workings of the Central Intelligence Agency did so well, that Discovery also ordered from Pilgrim additional specials, including CIA Files, CIA Magic, and CIA Secrets.
Fully entrenched in producing projects for Discovery, Piligian in 1999 segued into producing a new kind of reality show, serving as co-executive producer on CBS’s mega-hit, Survivor. Shooting for three months in the jungles of a remote island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo was worth it, as 55 million viewers tuned in for the finale of Survivor I, giving CBS its biggest non-sporting audience ever. Piligian went on to produce the show’s second season in Australia, and its third in Africa.
In 2001, Pilgrim acquired the rights to Chronicle Books’ best-selling “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook,” and in 2002 the company produced the series Worst Case Scenario for TBS. Hosted by a then-relatively-unknown Mike Rowe, the show followed people who set out to face their worst fears, with stunt men also re-enacting death-defying situations.
Pilgrim continued to produce series and specials for Discovery, including Discovery Channel World Championship Adventure Race (2001), a documentary that tracked teams competing in an extreme, six-day multi-sport race; and Covert Action (2002), which delved into real CIA case files detailing top-secret, anti-terrorist missions.
The company went on to produce some of Discovery’s most successful and longest- running series, including American Chopper (2003), which tracks the daily tensions, tirades and triumphs of a father and son team who create custom motorbike masterpieces (the series premiered in 2003 on Discovery and moved to TLC in 2007), American Hot Rod (2004), which provided an inside look at the life and work of the late Boyd Coddington as he and his team raced to complete their classic cars, and American Casino (2004), taking viewers behind the scenes at the Green Valley Ranch hotel and casino, minutes away from the Las Vegas strip.
In 2004, Pilgrim began producing for Syfy (formerly Sci Fi Channel) the hit series Ghost Hunters, which introduced viewers to Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, plumbers by day and Ghost Hunters by night. Premiering in 2004, the show has delivered record ratings throughout its run, including its season six premiere (March 3, 2010) which also coincided with the series’ 100th episode. Ghost Hunters has evolved into one of Syfy’s most successful franchises, spawning Ghost Hunters International (which premiered in 2008) and Ghost Hunters Academy (which premiered in 2009). These series now represent the #1 paranormal franchise on television.
In 2005, Pilgrim produced for Discovery the ultra-popular Dirty Jobs, featuring host Mike Rowe, which profiles America’s unsung laborers who make their living doing some of the country’s most unthinkable, yet vital jobs. Since the series debut, it has provided a behind-the-scenes look at more than 250 jobs (and counting) from construction to sanitation to manufacturing. Dirty Jobs has earned multiple Emmy nominations, including nominations for Best Reality Program in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Pilgrim’s ability to create franchises also shines at Spike TV with the series The Ultimate Fighter. Turning the once obscure sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) into today’s multi-billion dollar industry, The Ultimate Fighter premiered on Spike in January 2005 and, over 12 seasons, has become a major franchise for the channel.
Pilgrim went from battles in the ring to battling Mother Nature with the series Greensburg, which premiered in 2008 on Discovery’s Planet Green and ran for three seasons. The show chronicled the unprecedented rebuilding of the town of Greensburg, Kansas, following total destruction after a massive tornado struck in May 2007, on principles of economic and environmental sustainability. The popularity of the series and its compelling story even reached the White House, with President George W. Bush inviting Greensburg City Administrator, Steve Hewitt, to the White House for the President’s second State of the Union address, and President Barack Obama citing the town in a 2009 address to Congress as a green energy leader to emulate.
Broadening Pilgrim’s production genre, the company also produced the extremely popular My Fair Wedding in 2008 for WEtv, featuring celebrity wedding and event planner David Tutera, who rescues weddings headed for disaster and turns them into platinum-style affairs. The show’s recent third-season run was its best yet, reaching 5.9 million viewers, up 14% from season two.
From wild weddings to the Alaskan wilderness, Pilgrim also produced the Emmy award-winning Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment (Best Cinematography, 2009) for Discovery. Premiering to stellar ratings in April 2009, the show follows nine strangers who agree to abandon the comforts of home in order to test their physical and mental limits in the Alaskan wilderness. Given no food, and armed with just three days of training and a few essentials, the only “prize” for the winner is the satisfaction of having survived. Season two of Out of the Wild will premiere on Discovery in 2011.
In 2010, Pilgrim also produced the highly rated Top Shot for History, a marksman competition show and History’s first competition series ever (Pilgrim is currently in production on the show’s second season) as well as the series Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy (also for History) which follows the comedian as he travels the country immersing himself in different jobs, lifestyles and experiences.
Additional Pilgrim shows currently airing include the popular Destroyed in Seconds, Extreme Peril and Swamp Logging on Discovery.