Fall TV Preview

Crew of ABC's Pan Am Grounds Claims of Glamorized Sexism, Mad Men Mimicry

There are two things the cast and producers of Pan Am would like potential viewers of ABC’s new fall drama to know before buckling up for the premiere (on Sunday, Sept. 25): This show is not sexist, nor is it simply riding on the coattails that other ’60s-centric hit, Mad Men.

Pan Am centers on the onetime airline giant’s jet-setting stewardesses and their male counterparts in the cockpit. It’s what series creator/executive producer Jack Orman calls “sweeping and epic,” and all about “wish-fulfillment.” But at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour on Sunday, reporters targeted the sexism on display in the pilot (as evidenced by, for example, the ladies’ wearing of girdles and being subjected to weigh-ins).

“Sexism on Pan Am is a misconception, and unraveling that is actually what drew me to the role,” explains Christina Ricci (who plays head stewardess Maggie). “[Air travel] is something that’s exciting for these women. We’re as excited as the passengers are.”

Ricci adds, “As soon as anyone sees 10 minutes of this show, the misconception [of sexism] will be gone. It’s really a great message for young girls and women.”

Exec producer Nancy Holt Ganis — who herself was a Pan Am stewardess during the era depicted in the show — explains that this is what life was actually like for these women, who were admirably regarded as “hostesses at a dinner party… a movable feast.”

“Part of the irony of the profession [is] these are college-educated women who [often] spoke multiple languages,” says Corman, and yet they we still subjected to physical scrutiny to land the job. Says EP Thomas Schlamme, “For me, the show could be called The Best Years of Our Lives, because for those people, at that moment, that what this is. And that’s what the show’s about.”

In addition to defending Pan Am‘s portrayal of women, the producers poked at another instance of critical pigeonholing: The idea that simply because this and Mad Men are set in the same era, they are in fact the same.

“All I can really say is that this show has nothing to do with Mad Men,” a half-exasperated Schlamme defended. “We just hope our show is executed in a wonderful way. One [show] has nothing to do with the other — it just happens to be that they’re both set in the ’60s.”