It occurs to me that aviation has been a player in the entertainment industry for some time. And I’m not just talking about stunt pilots plowing Jenny’s into barns for the spectacular visual it creates when a moving vehicle slams into a structure that’s not meant to move. I’m talking about television, baby.
The great communicator. The magic box that sits in every living room in America. Aviation has been there since the beginning – but almost always in a cartoonish parody of real life, which has done little to enhance the image of aviators or aviation enthusiasts as real people.
The Bob Newhart Show was a hit in the 1970s, and a recurring character in that show was Bob’s odd, party loving, often lonely neighbor, Howard Borden. Howard was an airline pilot and for comedic effect he was often seen holding a drink and acting more or less befuddled by all aspects of life.
A few years later the tube brought us Baa Baa Black Sheep. This highly fictionalized program focused on World War II fighter pilots in the Pacific theater, operating under the command of Pappy Boyington. While Pappy was a real person, the show revolved around dysfunction, drinking, and fist-fighting in a way that suggested the best fighter pilots were functional alcoholics with a penchant for spontaneous donnybrooks. It didn’t do much for the reputation of airplane mechanics, either.
The theme changes from one show to the next but one thing remains constant – pilots are generally portrayed as odd-balls. Whether it’s the semi-militaristic Air Wolf, or the nutty guy from the A Team who could apparently fly anything with wings or rotors, but couldn’t quite differentiate between fantasy and reality – pilots are generally portrayed as being anything but normal. That’s been a constant on television and in the movies.
I mention all this because television matters. It is the most effective marketing tool of all time. Heck, if television can make household names out of the Kardashian clan, Snookie and JWoww, imagine what it could do for someone or something of real substance.
Recently I’ve run into two groups of serious people who are working hard to change the way aviation is depicted on television. One, the producers of Air Fare America, have embarked on the creation of a unique series that uses aviation to tell a story of adventure while touching on America’s affection for antiques and treasure hunting, and they combine all that with our love of food. Their sizzler reel is stellar. The photography is colorful, rich, and sharp. The personalities are intriguing. And the destinations they’ve selected are both picturesque and inviting.
Still in development, Air Fare America shows real signs of knowing exactly what they’re doing. Rather than throwing salacious ideas at the wall to see what sticks, they’re planning a program that combines the interests of non-aviation enthusiasts with those of us who are dedicated aviation nuts. By mixing audiences and providing programming that genuinely appeals to a diverse demographic, these folks intend to produce a television program like no other, one that depicts real people going places and doing things the audience could do, too. In effect, they are developing a day-trip extravaganza on video that anyone with access to an airplane and a little bit of an adventurous spirit could replicate.
The other group is working on developing an aviation centric network called Air&Space Television. Based out of Orlando, Florida, and staffed by knowledgable aviation professionals, as well as key people who have a background building television networks from the ground up, these folks are looking to create something that would be inspirational, motivational, educational, and downright entertaining. Aviation has that potential, surely.
One can only hope these folks find the right talent, the appropriate investors, and the opportunities that allow them to get these ideas off the ground and onto the magical box in our living rooms. Because aviation has the power to do something that few industries do – it has the power to make people dream big and to believe they can do something momentous.
I’m hoping Air Fare America and Air&Space Television both find success in the coming year. Who knows, maybe they’ll find a way for one hand to wash the other and levitate to greatness together. Wouldn’t that be great?
Maybe one day in the not too distant future television viewers could tune in to Air&Space Television for a presentation of The Aviator with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Howard Hughes, followed by a classic rerun of a Sky King episode, capped off by the latest installment of Air Fare America.
There are a lot of nights when I’d be thrilled to have that lineup available from my satellite set-up. At least there would be something more interesting on the tube than Bridezillas – finally.