Pan Am, ABC’s stewardess drama, didn’t exactly light up the ratings the way the network would have liked it to, and so as these things go, ABC has decided to air just one episode between now and Christmas, with the remaining episodes airing in January.
One of the show’s stars, Karine Vanasse, tweeted "Well, we received THE call, #PanAm is only coming back for one more episode after Christmas. But up to the end, we’ll give it our all." Within a couple of hours, ABC had already begun damage control, stating the show had five more episodes to air before February, according to this article in the Washington Post. Beyond that, the future of the show is uncertain.
This shouldn’t come as a huge suprise. After a massive promotional push in September, the show simply failed to catch on. Critics had already seen the show before (with many stating the obvious – that it’s basically Mad Men in an airplane) and despite a strong start it, became apparent that viewers weren’t exactly clamoring for a show about stewardesses, despite the appearance of much-loved Christina Ricci and a gaggle of equally beautiful actresses.
In an attempt to be hip and “now,” network television has turned to the 1960’s for relevancy. NBC and ABC’s two big dramas for the fall season, The Playboy Club and Pan Am, respectively, both tap into that decade for instant cachet. Assuming they aren’t canceled, these shows will be joined by an adaption of Jacqueline Susann’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. NBC has bought the television rights to the 1966 book, and if it’s anything like The Playboy Club and Pan Am, it’ll follow the tried and true formula of copying Mad Men’s visual cues and then sitting back and hoping the ratings will follow.
While Mad Men gets to the root of 1960’s culture by following the white men who dictated it, The Playboy Club and Pan Am seem to be blindingly endeared by the products those men tried to sell. Both shows are about real-life companies, and while watching the pilots, you can’t help but think of an hour-long commercial Don Draper would dream up. Now the decade itself has been commoditized, and you can buy the Pan Am handbag or visit a reconstructed Playboy Club if watching the shows doesn’t satisfy your need to buy into the swingin’ sixties. Oddly enough, Mad Men doesn’t get astounding ratings. It does well enough in key demographics, is a critics’ darling, and happens to be very, very, good. While some of this may be related to tie clips and indoor smoking, most of the show’s quality and originality comes from the storytelling and characters. Just like The Godfather is a great movie that happens to be about the mafia, Mad Men is a great television series that happens to be set in the 1960’s. Pan Am and The Playboy Club’s mixed ratings seem to reflect this. While Pan Am had a strong showing for its premier, the inferior pilot for The Playboy Club tanked and was widely panned, leading many to predict a mid-season cancellation. Where does this leave Valley of the Dolls? The book dealt with celebrity, pharmaceuticals, politics, and even cosmetics. Hopefully the show will dig deep into these facets, rather than just use them as an excuse to market a colorful cultural pastiche. Still, check the NBC gift shop for Valley of the Dolls pill cases; those would be an ace tie-in.