The ABC drama "Pan Am" looks great on-screen because every detail is so sharp in person. From the 707 jet replica in a studio warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the constricting undergarments the stewardesses wear, everything is authentic.
On a recent blustery day, the cast rehearses the episode airing Sunday, Jan. 22. It unfolds the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Walter Cronkite's voice, thick with emotion but composed and ever professional, delivers the first news that the president "is wounded, his condition is yet unknown."
A pall falls over the set. It's called for, yet everyone here is acting; no one is remembering. One of the ways to tell if people are baby boomers is whether they recall the grim events of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963; these actresses are Gen Y.
But they learn about Kennedy, just as they have learned about the Cold War, girdles (the forerunner of Spanx) and how Pan Am hired the best and the brightest, not merely waitresses of the sky.
"A lot of what that generation chose to do was 'I'm going to take care of my own destiny,' " says Karine Vanasse, who plays Colette.
Kelli Garner, who plays Kate, says, "These were really modern women of their time."
Garner, reading Diane Keaton's autobiography and eating a bowl of pasta on her break, says, "The women represented such a healthy dose of class. (Today), you can find a strong woman dancing half naked on a table. It's incongruous. They had a healthy dose of sophistication, class and integrity."
She attributes some of it to the fashion.
"There is something really beautiful about that period," Garner says. "We are not as put together with the ritual of getting dressed. It's extremely feminine."
"The gloves make you be so much more delicate," Vanasse says. "It protects you."
During the stewardesses' weigh-ins, much is made of the girdle, but Christina Ricci's character, Maggie, refuses to wear one. She is also daring and politically aware, and she adores Kennedy. After rehearsing the scene in which the first news about Kennedy is broadcast, Ricci hops onto her personalized director's chair and says she had learned a lot about the '60s from a high-school class.
"I learned so much and how fascinating it was and how much society changed," she says.
With her Pan Am regulation black pumps kicked off, Ricci says, "I do like Maggie. She's somebody struggling. She's a very realistic character. She can't be perfectly defined. She's created this semblance of who she thinks she should be or where she wants to be, and is searching. I could see it evolving and changing. Kennedy's death is going to cause a lot of (change), and she is going to become very disenfranchised and reflect on what happened in the country."
Though there are many watershed moments from the 1960s yet to be plumbed, there was no announcement at this writing that "Pan Am" would definitely be on the air past February.
"This is such a special experience," Vanasse says. "We all want this show to work, and we all go through it together, not knowing if you will stay on the air."
Given the expense of replicating the 707 alone, with its vintage blue and white wallpaper, roomy aisles (even in coach), and magazine racks with 10-cents-an-issue Family Circle, and how the characters are developing, it would be a shame to see the drama stranded.
"It is on very late for people who have to work on Mondays," Ricci says of the show's time slot. "It is doing so well overseas, it doesn't make sense to stop making it."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun