Where’s Sky King when you need him?

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.

Comments

  1. Great article Jamie! Of course, I’m biased. Having headed up the Air & Space TV project for years now, I know all the things you write are true: there’s a huge and underserved audience for aviation and space programming, there is tons of ‘library product’ available (we know of 3,000 hours worth, including Baa Baa and Sky King), and there are producers making new, compelling shows in the genre – with no dedicated TV ‘home’ for them.

    Even with our group’s experience launching other niche channels, it’s been a challenge to find the backers – and that includes the organizations, who even admit how good this would be for them – to move the project forward. I invite anyone interested in helping to reach out, and hopefully we’ll be able to connect to the right people to make it happen.

  2. zachary says:

    This is a great Sizzle that we are trying to get out to the General Aviation community
    http://vimeo.com/44497498
    Named: 19L
    About learning to fly in a competition based scenario at John Wayne Airport, CA

    • Zachary, this is a great sizzler! Are you the producer? Would love to connect – I’ve been heading up the Air & Space TV project Jaime mentioned in the article.

    • Looks like a good show I would watch do you have a site that would keep up posted? Also Netflix and Amazon are looking for original series if Phillip can’t get you on A&S TV

      • zachary says:

        Hello any help to get 19L out there would be great,,, I am the producer and creator,,, I have two other shows based on GA as well,, thats three alltogether ,,iam out of the country on a trip with PBS trying to sell my shows back the week of the 20th of may,,, if you know Jamie I would lobe to talk to him # 9495271555,,, thanks Zach

  3. William Roberts says:

    Fun fact: “Sky King” is alleged to have based on a real person. EAA Sport Aviation ran an article on him a year ago: http://www.sportaviationonline.org/sportaviation/201203#pg18

    • Bill Dudley says:

      I think I have about 80% of all of the Sky King video’s that were reproduced… Still love
      to watch them. Sky King and the Songbird..!!

  4. Denny Logemann says:

    You missed one of the best aviation shows. History Channel had a series called Dogfights that examined dogfighting from its beginnings to future expectations. They dissected specific dogfights and interviewed the pilots. True “Reality TV”. The graphics were excellent and interviewing the pilots after all these years made it even better.

  5. Richard Baker says:

    Sky King and Penny! Good show and I remember it fondly. Most of us responding here are showing our age and who cares?

    • OK Rich, After my intial comment, well, I too had a “crush” on Penny! More nostalgia; how bout “Whirlybirds” starring Ken Tobey, Terry & The Privates, starring John Bear, and I don’t know if this was on national TV at the time; Ace Drummond, a mid 30′s serial, shown around 52-54? on TV, but we had it here in the East.

  6. Mike Deptula says:

    This is sorely needed and a long time coming. I sure hope this moves forward. I’m hoping that the players involved are a little more forward thinking. Not just shows but an aviation “Network/Channel”. As we all know there are entire cable channels dedicated to Golf, fishing, jewelry, (go figure) and so so many on food and cooking I don’t understand how an aviation channel can’t be successful. You can get 10 hrs/wk on catching gators??!! This would be a win win for GA and Aviation in general. AOPA should be taking the lead on this. MD/KLNS

  7. Ed Watson says:

    A Flying Doctor series? A guy who flies to his job site then builds homes series? A Civil Air Patrol series where the “hero” generally, but not always, finds the lost hiker, child, fugitive, etc. As a series there would be a crisis at the end of each episode to want the viewer to catch next weeks episode.
    I’d watch for sure.

  8. Great article. I miss aviation oriented shows as well. I watch all that were mentioned, but some of them are too full of “drama” and staging for cameras for me.

  9. Doyle Frost says:

    As a person on both sides of aviation, maintenance, and piloting, I have to agree with Joseph; we need a show that will show, realistically, both sides of aviation, and NOT the new REALITY shows that are on. I’m sure a lot of people, (gearheads,) and others would actually find it interesting. For a while, I was watching a show on the DISCOVERY WINGS channel, where the protagonist, a veteranarian, was building his Europa, and after he finished that, he started on a Rotorway Executive 162. Fabulous. Even went so far as showing him working to get his ppl, in England, and the test flights of both aircraft.

  10. Thanks for sharing Air Fare America w/GenAVnews. Your sense of the spirit Air Fare will capture and broad audience interest is spot-on! I appreciate Dan’s analogy to DDD; as we’ve all seen, small airport restaurants are often so much more than diners or dives! There small business and fabulous destinations for everyone – even us “armchair aviators” ;-) Food is indeed a great equalizer and we hope it whets the appetite for people to discover hidden hangar treasures, often amazing restaurants and aviation adventures in thousands of small airports. I’ll keep you posted and invite your readers to join us on Facebook to share their stories and stay tuned to our progress.

  11. I am a western entertainer in Houston, Texas and known by many as Cowboy Bob, The Fun Roper. I since started flying this year and many of my friends now call me Sky King. I’ve been on Good Morning America, America’s Got Talent and other local shows. I wonder what if I could be the next Sky King?

  12. Chuck M. says:

    Actually, Howard Borden was a Navigator.

  13. Dan Bierwirth says:

    I loved SKY KING!!!!!! Kirby Grant is why I fly today. Well actually Sky’s niece Penny is why I fly today. I had a crush on her when I was young. Anyway, How about that show Diners, Drive In’s and Dives… but focusing on Airport diners? I’ve had some fantastic food at little out of the way airport restaurants. Put the host in a C-172 or a Cherokee and send him out to find the best airport food in the nation. Then throw in a good Air Show with a BBQ cook off sponsored by the show and make it interesting… to the lay person. This would place them in the aviation community for a half hour a week, keep their attention and spark some interest that segment of aviation that doesn’t get much press.

  14. Fred Boyns says:

    We have a few very healthy modern equivalents …
    Flying Wild Alaska
    The Aviators

  15. Surpised the author didn’t mention the late 1950′s series “Steve Canyon.” It’s out there on DVD and I’m waiting for the release of Season 3 (soon.)

  16. Really looking forward to Air Fare America and Air&Space Television. Another amazing producer is Mark Miller of Air Dogs fame. He is working on another great aviation show to be announced soon. Can’t wait!

  17. Sky King was one of my childhood heroes…………very cool indeed!

    We’ll look forward to these new TV show with great enthusiasm.

  18. Magic Pat says:

    Interesting that you mention Sky King….My first solo was at Sky King Airport in Terre Haute, Indiana. The actor who played King was from there, and was a friend of Mr. Brown, who’s son was my instructor.

  19. Excellent article Jamie. With your permission, I’d like to include a link to your article in the upcoming issue of The Texas Flyer, e-newsletter of the Texas Aviation Association. Sky King was my hero. Sky King lives!

  20. I thought that Howard on the Bob Newhart show was an Airline Navigator. As all pilots know Navigators are flakey.

  21. I would love to see a show like the shows that come on Spike or Speed network where they are rebuilding cars etc but with airplanes. I think a show would succeed on one of these networks where they build kitplanes and restore old planes. Gearheads will watch, children will watch, I might even sign back up for cable… well probably not I would just buy the episodes or watch them on netflix. Hopefully the Air&Space channel will offer their shows streaming online. I’ve been watching “The Aviators” on Amazon Prime and Flying Wild Alaska on netflix the latter is unfortunately typical Discovery “reality” TV. I found that paid TV has become useless even the “educational shows” are nonsense over dramatized junk that with cable you just end up watching over and over, without cable you have to seek out and choose what you watch so you end up watching better quality and less reruns.

  22. This certainly is good news, Jamie, of two potential true-to-life aviation series. Hopefully, they will be receptive to the new millennium TV viewer who seems only captivated by unreal “reality” shows. As an avid waterfowler, I’m dismayed over the popularity of the show “Duck Dynasty.” But when I posted a comment on a duck boat/hunting forum that this show does nothing for our public image, the opposing opinion was overwhelming.

  23. Michael Dean says:

    “Heck, if television can make household names out of the Kardashian clan…”

    Yea. I never did get that?

  24. “Sky King” – had the privledge of working with the real deal, Kirby Grant, the charactor actor who potrayed the “flying rancher/cowboy”‘in the TV series of the 1950′s. In 1975, co-produed several aviation theme events at three shopping malls in northern New Jersey and we featured him at a nostalgic guest – “kids” of the black & white TV generation loved it.
    “Out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky KIng – brought to you by Nabisco”!
    I’m bet I’m not the only one who thought his Bobcat and later the 310B were real “cool”!
    Sadly, Mr. Grant died in an auto accident on his way to an event at Cape Kennedy in the fall of 1985.

  25. Hey! I love Howard Borden! He was one of the most realistic airline pilots ever depicted on TV and I should know — not only have I been an airline pilot for a long time, I have also owned various TVs!

    Sure, he was a lovable dolt, but he always stayed near the phone when he was on the job (great episode when he got his beeper), never wore his stupid airline hat when he didn’t have to and loved his job — remember the episode when he was practicing flying under the hood on Bob’s couch? Favorite part of that episode? When he noticed that Bob had accidentally turned on the imaginary “no smoking” light instead of the imaginary “fasten seat belt” light when they hit imaginary turbulence!

    Also, I am sure that Howard kept coming over to see Emily, as I would have in the same situation. I am sure they had a thing — after all, how could she resist an airline pilot?

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