'Pan Am' Producers Address 'Mad Men' Comparisons

Pan Am
Patrick Harbron/ABC

Who’s In It: Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Michael Mosley, Margot Robbie, Jonah Lotan

What It’s About: Set in the mid-1960s at the height of Pan American World Airways, the period drama centers on stewards and pilots, some of whom live double lives as spies. (One-hour drama)

When It Airs: Fall; Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC

For the crew of ABC's Pan Am, the comparisons to Mad Men is just mere coincidence.

"Television is just execution," executive producer and director Thomas Schlamme told reporters Sunday morning at the Television Critics Assoc. press tour. "It's not the time period it takes place in, it's not the characters. It has nothing to do with Mad Men."

Pan Am centers on a group of stewardesses and pilots working for the perennial airline in the 1960s, led by Christina Ricci, the recently-announced Mike Vogel (replacing Jonah Lotan, who played Dean in the pilot), Kelli Garner and Margot Robbie as the jetsetters.

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"It was a time where we were treated like hostesses," executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis, who was a Pan Am stewardess, replied when asked about the message of the series. "It was much more friendly and interactive. Nearly 80 percent of Pan Am crews were from all over the world."

The panelists fielded several questions relating to the show's "escapist" fare and mission of "wish fulfillment," Schlamme observed that the queries about the events/issues surrounding that time period (jet age, civil rights, etc.) was "a great reason to set it in the '60s."

Schlamme noted that they had spent about four or five days reshooting scenes from the pilot, with the bulk of it being the Cuba-set portion of the episode. And it was pure kismet when producers found out that Vogel was actually a pilot in real life.

"Aviation has always been a very big part in my life from a young kid," Vogel said. Recalling the blend of TV and remaining accurate to a pilot, "There's this blend between what we're doing and inevitably there's going to be a lot of freedom with it," he added.

Plot-wise, Pan Am just isn't about the jet age, which the producers and cast waxed poetic about. A darker element was introduced in the pilot that will continue.

"The espionage aspect is a part of Kelli's character [Kate]," creator and executive producer Jack Orman said. "[Pan Am] had a cozy relationship with the state department. On a show that can go anywhere, it's an aspect. We weave it in pretty effectively so it isn't just its own storyline."

Asked whether Pan Am would follow the structure laid out in the pilot, the producers alluded to flexibility with the way the story is rolled out throughout the series. "We have episodes that emulate the structure the pilot," Orman said. "There is no real template. The first six, eight episodes of a series you want to be as open as you can." In fact, in the next few episodes, they will take place in Berlin and Paris.

When asked whether minority characters would be introduced into the show, Schlamme said, "We want to make it an event. There is an absolute intention." He added that the first African-American stewardess was hired in 1964/65 -- and the series takes place in 1963. "When we introduce the stories, we want to be [hopeful]," he said.

Orman noted that the storylines would not be addressing terrorism "at the moment." "It's sweeping and epic and wish-fulfilling," he said. "Pan Am, later, was the victim of a lot of that stuff in the 1970s."

"We have a long way to go," he added.

Email: philiana.ng@thr.com