Ed Driscoll

ABC's Pan Am Looks Great, But Will It Fly?

Found via Ultra Swank, here’s the preview clip for ABC’s new fall show, Pan Am, about which Wikipedia says

Pan Am is a television series centered around the iconic airline Pan American World Airways during the 1960s. The period drama, from former ER writer Jack Orman, will focus on the pilots and flight attendants working for the world-famous airline in 1963.

The series, produced by Sony Pictures Television, was picked up by ABC in May 2011 for the 2011–2012 television season.[1] Sony licensed the rights to the Pan Am name and logo from Pan Am Systems, a New Hampshire-based railroad company that acquired the Pan Am brand in 1998.[2]

You can see exactly how this series was pitched in a network meeting, can’t you? “OK, Mad Men is a hit on AMC. I mean, it’s not a big hit, but it’s a cult hit, and it’s copping all the big awards, and all my friends are talking about, even if it doesn’t quite play in the hinterlands. But still, maybe we could have a cool sixties series of our own. Unlike those cheapskates at AMC, we at ABC can afford to have decent special effects. The skies the limit. Sky? Airlines, that’s it! We’ll do a show about how swanky the airlines were back then. And how sexist. I mean, they called flight attendants ‘stewardesses’ back in those barbaric times, and they were all women! And all the pilots were all men! Sexist corporate bastards.”

In that sense, Pan Am is perfect. They had a huge building on Park Ave., where, as James Lileks noted a couple of years ago, is “60s corporatism at its most confident, complete with rooftop heliport so the execs can come and go without laying the soles of their expensive shoes on the common walk of the street below.” At least until 1977, when a Pan Am helicopter did a header off the roof and slammed down on the street below.

Of course, that’s a metaphor for sixties optimism in general. There was a very limited timeframe between JFK’s death and the, arguably even worse American hell of 1968, when both RFK and MLK were killed. Also that year in the business world, the Penn Central merger occurred, a shotgun marriage between two of America’s biggest railroads, whose bankruptcy two years later would be a stalking horse for the purgatorial 1970s.

In the mid-’60s, American optimism somehow soldiered on past JFK’s death and into LBJ’s Great Society, and the business world felt this as well. Tom Wolfe called ’80s bond traders “Masters of the Universe” in Bonfire of the Vanities. But setting aside how bad-ass the airline’s pilots felt, imagine how powerful a Pan Am executive felt when, as the clip above highlights, he flew into the rooftop heliport above Park Ave., and then flew back out to the Pan Am terminal at JFK.

In terms of that, the new series’ digital effects runs rings around Mad Men’s rather limited budget, which only allows for very limited views of a very stylized version of mid-’60s New York, this is sixties swank fully realized. But whereas Mad Men has gotten four seasons worth of episodes, due to Don Draper, its Gatsby-as-everyman main character, is there enough meat in this series format to get it beyond 13 weeks?

I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Cool CGI, though.