Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Why Marry Up with Pilgrim? A ‘Super-Preferred Producer’ at WestDoc

Last week’s Westdoc Conference was a great success for attendees due to:

  • the quality of the speakers and panelists
  • the easy access to buyers and experts
  • and the very friendly environment

Johnny Gould, Pilgrim Films and Television’s vice president for Programming & Business Development gave a stimulating presentation.

Pilgrim is a powerful player in the U.S. Factual sector, and deserves to be followed very closely.

Following are our notes and Takeaways.

Pilgrim’s History and Mission
Craig Peligian established Pilgrim in 1997, bringing extensive experience as a News and Reality producer.  
  • He quickly made a mark with a successful Discovery Channel special, Inside the CIA
  • Pilgrim soon created American Chopper:
    • With more than 170 episodes, it became one of the longest-running reality shows on TV
    • According to Gould, “Pilgrim has since created 26 shows across multiple genres and formats for 14 networks, including for seven U.S. channels today.”
    • (Click here for more about Pilgrim’s history and mission, and its shows.)

“We used to be an ‘Alpha Male’ production company” said Johnny Gould.

  • “We were known for American Chopper and Ultimate Fighter.
  • “But we now deliver successful Female-targeted series, notably WEtv’s My Fair Wedding.
  • ”We can create for any demographic and in any genre.”

Leading a Stampede

According to Gould, “Bravo led the trend for networks to expand out of their niches into general entertainment.”

  • “Bravo was followed by History, MTV, E!, VH1, SyFy , WEtv, and many more.
  • “Travel recently announced that it is moving away from travelogues and destination-centered programs.”
  • “Even Animal Planet extends the definition of ‘animal’ to include the H1N1 virus.”

 “Pilgrim continues to see the ongoing rebranding and reprogramming of niche channels as an enormous opportunity.”

  • “All of these channels are seeking the character-driven series and formats at which we excel.”

And Gould added, “Our aim is to create franchises, like Ghost Hunters, and not just programs.”

Why Marry Up with Pilgrim?

Gould offered a set of reasons why producers should pitch first to Pilgrim rather than go directly to the channels:

  • Strategy
    “Pilgrim intends to grow, and that means finding new characters and ideas. We need great talent, and we can’t find these characters by ourselves.  We need partners who value our access to channels, as well as our deal-making, creative and production expertise.”
  • Investment
    “Pilgrim is a full-service production company. We can invest resources into filling out concepts. We can work on the sizzle video. Make it rock solid!”
  • Creative
    “There’s no original idea. We have to figure out how to make each concept different. We can find the time to develop a unique pitch.”
  • Financial Scale
    “Because we have earned financial scale, we can deficit-finance pilots and series, particularly for the smaller U.S. networks, and sell them overseas.”
  • Market IQ
    “We speak to the buyers every week. We have up-to-the-minute market knowledge. We know the networks’ needs, priorities, and price points.”
  • Access
    “We can find the right moment to make the pitch to executives who often have a 30-second attention span.”
  • Competition
    “It’s better to generate interest from multiple networks. We can do that. Individual producers can’t. We know how to be careful not to bruise the buyers’ egos.”

We ran out of time before discussing ‘the deal’.

  • What is left over for a producer with an original idea who ‘marries up’ with Pilgrim or another super-preferred producer’?
  • Watch out for details in a future post.


Sheffield Doc / Fest
‘What Do US Broadcasters Want?
How Much Do They Pay? Who? When?’
Alex Graham, Wall-to-Wall Productions
Tom Koch, PBS International
Dawn Porter, AETN
Lisa Heller, HBO
Moderator: Peter Hamilton,
Saturday, 06 November 2010, 10:00A


What Pilgrim Wants from Producers

  1. No Duplication
    “Bring us something that is in a new space for us. For example, we have Ultimate Fighter, so don’t bring us martial arts for Spike, or a paranormal show for SyFy where we have Ghost Hunters.“
  2. Unique Talent
    “We’re looking for somebody that we don’t have access to in LA.  A producer pitched us a series about Iowa’s gay wedding planner. The video was amazing. It would have taken us 6 weeks and a lot of expense to send out a casting director to the Mid West to find talent like that. And then we would have missed it because we don’t have the local knowledge.”
  3. Amazing Tape
    “It really helps. Handicam footage is OK. We have great imaginations. We can go out and reshoot the talent and develop a great sizzle reel.”
  4. Formats
    “We like ideas that can work in multiple countries. We often sell formats overseas as a first step. And then when it’s a hot show, bring it back to U.S. with a very different deal than if we had launched it here.”
  5. Focus
    “Don’t come in with ten concepts. Come with one — your favorite.”
  6. Brevity
    “Your pitch should be one paragraph. No more than six sentences. We want a concise explanation of your vision.”
  7. No Complications
    “For example, don’t link up with sponsors before you pitch to us – or pitch to a network for that matter. It clouds relationships with networks which have their own ad sales relationships.”


  • Maturity
    U.S. network programming is a mature industry. These are the very early sunset days. Consolidation is the rule – of network ownership and supply. Pilgrim is one of the most ‘preferred vendors’ in the consolidating supply chain.
  • Network Outsourcing
    Channels are increasingly outsourcing program development and even pre-production. Only producers of scale, like Pilgrim, have the staff and financial resources to both develop and cash flow network production. (See our posts about Preferred Vendors)
  • ‘Preferred’ May Mean ‘Pricey’
    A handful of preferred producers have the leverage to command a premium cost from channels.
  • And Pricey May Mean ‘Expendable’
    Mature networks grumble when they have to pay a premium. We often hear, “We’re developing ‘XYZ’ productions as tomorrow’s alternative to …”


  • Many thanks to the organizers of Westdoc for inviting us to participate!
  • And to CableReady and NATPE for the invitation to participate in their live webinar (see below.)


Quit Whining And Sell Your Show!

A Live Webinar From CableU and NATPE
Recorded on Tuesday, Sept 14, 6:00 PST

Cable U’s sparkling CEO, Gary Lico, moderates a programmer’s guide to pitching
… about using the right research to spur development,
… and the right information and style to sell the show.

Viewers learn tried-and-true techniques and strategies from
John Burrud, President & CEO of Burrud Productions, and
Peter Hamilton, of
who shares his unique research about what the networks pay for their factual commissions.

The result: a better focused and targeted pitch! 
Click hear to view: Quit Whining And Sell Your Show!



Comments are closed.