The reality-television show, “American Chopper,” featured the bike-building prowess of the people from Orange County Choppers in New York, which premiered in 2003. The father and son duo of Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. mesmerized millions of viewers as they tackled each custom chopper-style motorcycle build not only with their unique design and excellent fabrication techniques, but also with their soap-opera-like personal dramas. The shouting matches, the lawsuit, and the falling out were all captured on TV. They changed the way automotive-themed TV series were produced, and TV executives loved it as ratings soared. However, these family issues within the Teutul family were also the reason why the show officially ended in 2019.
- 1 The Teutuls were inspired by another motorcycle builder’s success
- 2 “American Chopper” pilot episode scored two million viewers
- 3 How “American Chopper” changed the Orange County Choppers brand
- 4 Reasons that led to the demise of “American Chopper”
- 5 Understanding the Teutuls
- 6 The Teutuls after “American Chopper” ended
The Teutuls were inspired by another motorcycle builder’s success
Without enough money or a network of contacts, it was difficult to get a brand out there in the market, most especially during the years when social media apps weren’t yet widespread.
"This season, my father and I worked together on restoring a '51 Buick Roadmaster, which is the same kind of car his…
When Paul Sr. saw the effect of the power of television exposure in Jesse James after “Motorcycle Mania” was aired, it gave them hope that they too could enjoy the same popularity if given the same opportunity. In his book, “Orange County Choppers (TM): The Tale of the Teutuls,” he shared that he and his son witnessed the way people reacted to Jesse each time he attended the annual bike conventions. There were long lines of fans buying his merchandise in his booth located at the center of the venue while the Teutuls’ booth would be located at the back end of the venue hall.
“American Chopper” pilot episode scored two million viewers
“American Chopper” became an easy favorite among its contemporaries, as the pilot episode attracted two million viewers when it premiered in September 2002 as a TV special via Discovery Channel. The TV show’s main star, Paul Teutul Sr., said that they accepted the TV deal, as they knew it would help promote their shop, Orange County Choppers, as it did with other automobile and motorcycle builders.
It was reported back then that the show had the highest TV ratings on its timeslot, but it was quite interesting that the Teutuls initially thought it would tank badly when they watched the pilot, as they were shocked that the producers from Pilgrim Films & Television actually included the arguments between Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. in it. They thought it would be detrimental to their reputation, and no one would take them seriously.
Truth to be told, the TV producers believed that they’d struck gold when they witnessed the family drama unfolding right before their eyes when they were filming. They instantly knew they had a hit in their hands, although some TV executives were skeptical that it was just a one-time statistical fluke, so they aired another pilot episode in January 2003 and the result was the same. There was no doubt that the Teutuls were excellent motorcycle builders, but the arguments added spice that many people found extremely intriguing.
Unlike other reality-TV shows that resorted to scripted scenarios just to hype interest, the volatile relationship between father and son in “American Chopper” was 100% real. Since viewers were fascinated by the working dynamics inside the shop, the Teutuls stopped being conscious about it, and continued as natural as they could be in front of the camera.
How “American Chopper” changed the Orange County Choppers brand
It didn’t take long for the Teutuls and the crew of Orange County Choppers to feel the difference between the before and after airing of the pilot episodes of “American Chopper.” During the Daytona Bike Week in 2003, there was a constant flow of people at their booth asking for photographs and autographs. It wasn’t yet in the pandemonium level, but they were noticed as compared to past years of attending the event. Little did they know that fame was just around the corner, and so weren’t prepared when it hit them.
When they attended the Louisiana Bike Expo, the first few episodes of the first season had already aired; it was also the first time that a bike convention promoted them because of their TV show.
The result was more than they expected and they experienced the full meaning of popularity inside the motorcycle community. They brought their famous bike builds including the Fire Bike, the Cody Project, Twelve Up, and the Black Widow to the event – there was so much interest in the Fire Bike as it was the bike build featured in the episode that aired prior to the three-day event. So many fans stopped by at their booth that they signing autographs for 10 hours and there seemed to be no end to the long lines of people waiting for their turn. All the 5,000 T-shirts they’d brought were sold out during the first day alone, and they needed to get a local printing shop to produce more shirts for the remaining two days.
Paul Sr. was shocked that families came to see them, and they were extremely puzzled by it as families didn’t necessarily attend bike conventions together.
They realized later on that the interaction between father and son probably struck a chord with the viewers, as people could relate to them not just as bike builders, but more so as real people. The Louisiana Bike Expo was just the start, as their presence in other bike events replicated the same result. Despite the volatile relationship that the Teutuls showed in “American Chopper,” people seemed to understand it. The Teutuls became one of the most recognized faces in the motorcycle construction industry, and OCC earned a reputation of being one of the best chopper-style motorbike producers. While Paul Sr. felt great about the whole thing, he also couldn’t help but wonder at that time what would be the ultimate consequence of the fame that they’d achieved.
Reasons that led to the demise of “American Chopper”
All in all, the “American Chopper” TV series franchise had 12 seasons, which aired from 31 March 2003 to 2 April 2009 on Discovery Channel; the original series lasted for six seasons before it was canceled in February 2010.
Six months later, a spin-off series was created entitled “American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior,” which lasted for four seasons before it ended in December 2012. Fans thought that was the end of the Teutuls’ presence on TV, but the show was rebooted in 2018, and two more seasons were aired before the TV producers pulled the plug.
There were several reasons why this popular series officially ended, but the root cause was the explosive and mercurial relationship between Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. Here are some of the most significant fights that contributed to the demise of the father and son’s personal and business relationship:
The final brawl – Paul Sr. fired Paul Jr. in 2008
Viewers of “American Chopper” were shocked that Paul Sr. fired his son on national TV in 2009, although it was filmed back in 2008. It was a blowout fight that started because the father had enough of his son’s tardiness, and said that it had to end.
They exchanged words and a shouting match ensued with Paul Sr. saying, ‘It’s a f–king quarter to eight. Everybody is in here at 7 o’clock and you come walking in at quarter to eight. When the f–k is it going to stop?’ He then proceeded to question his son’s work ethic, and enumerated things Junior did which violated the contract he signed with him. Paul Jr. responded with ‘I don’t really give a s–t because at the end of the day, you know what matters, everything gets done around here….we’re partners.’ Paul Jr. also said that they had been arguing about it for ten years, and that if he wasn’t involved in the shop, it would have burned to the ground.
It was a bit difficult to decipher what they were saying as they were shouting pretty much at the same time. Paul Jr. then threw a chair to express his frustration, and that was what triggered Paul Sr. to tell his son to get out of the office. He also told him that he no longer needed to come back the next morning, as his services had been terminated, to which Paul Jr. said, ‘It’s about time.’
Junior also threw more things on his way out of the shop, while his father reciprocated as he was quite annoyed. The rest of the OCC crew witnessed the whole thing, but didn’t intervene.
After Junior was fired, he never returned to the shop during filming, and that violated his contract with the TV network. Instead of forcing the two of them to work together, the producers just made some modifications to his contract, so that he could return as an independent contractor in January 2009, and so avoid any cancelation of the Teutul’s TV deal. The new contract also gave Senior the option to buy his son’s shares in OCC for a market value appraised by an independent party. By May 2009, Senior had the shares appraised by MPI, and said that Junior’s 20% shares were valued at zero. He then filed a lawsuit against his son so that he could legally resume the shares.
However, Junior filed a counter-lawsuit against his father’s claims in December 2009, including allegations of improper expenditures, inappropriate use of corporate funds, and unfair corporate earning distributions.
OCC motorcycle role call.
What are you riding? pic.twitter.com/Yz90KtlER9
— Paul Teutul Sr (@paulteutulsr) December 7, 2021
In April 2010, the lower courts ruled in Senior’s favor, but appointed an independent appraiser to assess the value of the son’s 20% share. Junior filed an appeal the following month, and in December 2010, the appellate judge overruled the lower court’s decision, and ruled in favor of Junior.
Paul Jr. opened his own auto shop, Paul Junior Designs (PJD) in 2010
Paul Jr. opening his own custom chopper shop and launching his own brand didn’t come as a surprise to many people, including his father. In fact, Paul Sr. knew that it would happen sometime, aso he made sure that his son’s contract with OCC indicated a one-year waiting period of “not to compete” clause. It meant that Paul Jr. must wait for one whole year after leaving his former employer before he could establish his own auto shop, at least which competed directly. The thing that probably made his father even madder was that Paul Jr. opened a shop located 300 feet away from OCC; a case of being too close for comfort.
Paul Sr. failed to attend Paul Jr.’s wedding
When Paul Jr. married in August 2010, in the spirit of trying to reunite as a family, he sent an invitation to his father. Paul Sr. contemplated and even asked his other sons if he should attend or not. Unfortunately, it happened during the peak of their legal battle, and the father chose not to attend the wedding.
The competition between OCC and PJD in the spin-off series
In fairness to the Teutuls, they tried to be civil to each other, and somehow found a common ground in bike building and reality television, so they both agreed to be part of a spin-off series called “American Chopper: Senior vs Junior.” The TV show was a hit, and both of their brands benefitted from it; it lasted for four seasons until they decided to end it. They both realized that while it helped make their customs shops stay relevant, the continuous competition between them in the show aggravated their situation, as they continued to irritated each other, so their personal relationship deteriorated instead of improving.
Understanding the Teutuls
Viewers of “American Chopper” witnessed only a fraction of the overall situation within the Teutuls’ dysfunctional family. The numerous blowout fights weren’t just a result of creative differences or a difference of opinion on work ethics, but more of a deeply-rooted problem that could be traced from Paul Sr.’s growing-up years. The old man said that his parents were German-Italian-Hungarian immigrants who believed in corporal punishments, so he was whacked both in school and at home, along with his sisters, a normal thing around the house. If he didn’t deserve it, it would be brushed off as something for the next mistake he would do. Screaming and yelling was a normal occurrence in their home – Paul Sr. said that the word dysfunctional was practically invented by their family.
Alcohol became a family legacy too, as his mother was a drinker and should have been treated for mental problems, but Valium was her go-to pill. Just like his mom, Paul Sr. became an alcoholic, and experimented with drugs for 15 years. He only stopped when he was already married with kids. Paul Jr., being the eldest, witnessed all the not-so-good things that happened in the family, with his father always drunk and getting into accidents.
Drinking alcohol became Paul Jr.’s coping mechanism too, but fortunately he was treated in rehab when 16 years old, and lived in sobriety afterwards.
The father and son relationship was never mended completely, but they learned to live with it. Paul Jr. became religious when he accepted Jesus into his life, which made him more understanding of his father. The last time they were seen together building bikes was on a two-hour TV special called “American Chopper: The Last Ride” aired on 28 July 2020. Senior demanded that Junior wouldn’t be allowed to contribute to the design for that one last bike build they did, and Junior didn’t complain; he only agreed to be in the special just to spend quality time with his father. He wanted to enjoy what they used to do together, when they were still establishing their brand.
The Teutuls after “American Chopper” ended
Paul Jr.’s brand became more successful, including collaborating with other companies not only in the US, but also internationally. He built a bike for Blizzard Entertainment, which was incorporated in the famous video game “World of Warcraft.” Recently, he launched his first electric bicycle in partnership with German bicycle manufacturer, Ruff Cycles.
His net worth as of December 2021 was around $17 million according to some authoritative sources.
Paul Sr. was reportedly in dire straits financially, since it was rumored that he filed for bankruptcy and was selling OCC. However, it was later cleared that he’d just decided to close his New York shop, and open one in Florida. He was also rumored to have been involved in a fatal accident – to the surprise of the family, fans then sent their message of sympathies and condolences to their official social media accounts. The family quickly announced that Paul Sr. was very much alive and well, and the whole incident was just a hoax created by some online gossip sites.
When “American Chopper” officially ended, it was not because of one single reason, but a combination of a series of bad decisions over the years that led to a problematic relationship between its stars. However, some fans believe that 2020 wasn’t the last time the Teutuls would collaborate for a bike build.
With all the reality-television reboots going on after the pandemic restrictions loosened up, fans are hopeful one of them would be “American Chopper.”