“For everyone who has ever gazed skyward.” That’s the tagline from “The Aviators,” a reality television show focusing on aviation.
Since 2010, the show has brought the wonderful world of aviation into the living rooms and laptops of thousands. Each segment is approximately five minutes in length and covers topics ranging from the life of an airshow pilot to new technology in aviation to, the number one asked question, “Can a non-pilot land an airliner?”
The brainchild of Anthony Nalli, the show premiered in 2010 on various Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) in North America. Since then, it has aired in the United States nearly 40,000 times to an average audience of 10 million PBS viewers each week. Today, the show airs in more than 100 countries, reaching no less than 50 million viewers worldwide. It is also one of the most downloaded programs at iTunes in the nonfiction TV series, second only to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
As Season 5 of The Aviators kicks off, it is accompanied by a spin-off series, “Air Boss,” starring Wayne Boggs, undoubtedly the most famous air boss in the country.
Nalli, the producer and director of “Air Boss,” describes the show as part documentary, part reality show since it follows the airshow scene in an unscripted format.
“We break the mold from the typical ‘reality show’ format since our goal is to inspire current or future pilots to achieve their goals and realize that their aviation dreams can become a reality,” said Nalli (pictured).
The idea for “Air Boss” came during the shooting of a segment during season two called “Behind the scenes of airshows.”
“Performer Mike Wiskas suggested we talk to the air boss for some inside access and connected us with Wayne Boggs,” Nalli recalls. “At that point I had absolutely no idea what an air boss did and what I was in store for. Foolishly, I thought maybe the time we were to spend with Wayne could be a two-minute off-shoot as part of the airshow segment. Within the first couple of hours with Wayne, I was in complete awe of everything he was involved in. He seemed as though he was the sun in the solar system that was the SUN ’n FUN airshow. The segment became an episode… and then a second. It was clear that ‘Air Boss’ should be its own show. And nearly three years later, it is!”
Boggs, who has been flying since 1973, became involved in airshows in the 1980s when he was working air traffic control in Chicago and was appointed the FAA representative to the Chicago Air and Sea Show.
The former Marine has been a professional air boss for more than 20 years now. His airshow schedule is often packed, giving the producers of “Air Boss” a lot of material to work with.
“I do between 18 and 25 shows a year,” said Boggs. “Some are quite large, such as the one at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, some are mid-sized and some are smaller. They come in all different sizes. At all of them the main job of the air boss is to choreograph and control the show. Safety is paramount.”
According to Nalli, it takes a crew of 20 to make an episode of “Air Boss” happen, starting with the crew on location at airshows.
“Our location crew for Air Boss is typically two shooters, a director, a producer, and one or two floating crew members, sometimes a story editor, maybe another shooter, a production assistant, our transportation captain, etc., along with the producer and the director.
“They are outstanding people,” Boggs said. “They put a microphone on me and I do what I have to do. I forget they are even there!”
The crew films everything from one-on-one interviews with Boggs to pre-airshow briefings and, of course, the airshows.
According to Boggs, the purpose of the pre-show briefings is to make sure that all the participating pilots know what is expected of them. During AirVenture he used a powerpoint presentation to brief the pilots.
“The safety briefing is where every pebble is overturned and everyone involved in airshow knows what it is going to happen and when,” he said.
Boggs has noticed a difference in the briefings once the filming of Air Boss began: More pilots are asking questions.
“They like to ask a question so they can be on camera!” he said with a laugh.
Since the show isn’t scripted, the film crew captures what unfolds naturally…with a little help now and again.
“If you have ever watched a reality show, you know that they thrive on conflict and drama,” Boggs says. “In the airshow business we have conflict and drama because of safety issues. When the tornado ripped through SUN ’n FUN in 2011, there was lot conflict and drama, but chances are slim that another tornado is going to come through, so we have to find the conflict from someplace else.”
That someplace else is often his interaction with airshow officials who have a difference of opinion on how the events should be run.
“It’s all in fun and has served itself well for the series,” says Boggs.
He notes that sometimes there are challenges during airshows when a pilot doesn’t follow procedures. In one of the upcoming episodes, there is a discussion about a pilot who strayed out of bounds during a performance at AirVenture in Oshkosh.
“I have actually grounded people depending on the severity of the situation,” he says. “We have disallowed people to fly. If safety is an issue and that pilot is getting the FAA’s attention, you pull that pilot down right away.”
Episodes one to three of Air Boss were shot during AirVenture 2013. Episode four was filmed in Memphis last fall, while episode five features Boggs at SUN ’n FUN 2011, the year the tornado came through.
“The season closes as any airshow season does with the Blue Angels homecoming shown in Pensacola in 2012,” said Nalli. “The dates don’t matter though. It’s all about stories and characters!”
According to Nalli, each episode of Air Boss takes about two weeks to write and as long as a month to edit. The first episode, he noted, took 30 months to get it ready for air.