There was a time when the job of flight attendant was one of the sexiest jobs out there for women who wanted to be able to travel around the globe, meet interesting people and, in their mini-skirted uniforms, look good doing it. The makers of the new reality series "Fly Girls," which premieres tonight on The CW, are hoping to bring those days back with the help of five attractive women and the Virgin America airline. The series follows the lives (in the air and on the ground) of Louise, Farrah, Tasha, Mandalay and Nikole as they navigate their love lives as well as their sometimes-rocky relationships with each other. Our Jim Halterman talked with Executive Producer Jeff Collins about how the show came to be, the rules for shooting a TV show with a major airline and what the criteria was for casting the ladies.
Jim Halterman: How did the project get started in the first place?
Jeff Collins: I've been messing around in this sort of docu-soap/quasi-formatted world for a while and so 'Fly Girls' was a really great opportunity to really go pure docu-soap. Peter Paige [writer/director as well as actor best known for Showtime's 'Queer as Folk'] and Bradley Bredeweg came in originally with 'Fly Girls' but it was a different show. Those guys are scripted guys so I took it and developed it into what I thought would make a great reality show because coincidentally, around the same time, I was on an airplane and was chatting with a flight attendant who was flying in the jump seat next to me. She was on her way to meet her boyfriend and she was telling me about living in the crash pad with a bunch of girls and being a reality producer if you sit next to me I'm going to ask you about your life.
When I was sitting on this plane, I thought 'Damn, that's a really fascinating option, basically, if you're not rich or living a fabulous life.' She's living somewhere else and she's on her way to meet her boyfriend in Miami and they're going to take off for the Keys for a holiday and I thought, 'I didn't have that kind of access when I was young!' The whole flight I started thinking what a great, untapped area and I thought 'This is an amazing opportunity to look at women in a different way because these are women who have options.'
JH: How did you get Virgin America on board?
JC: We approached Virgin because they were the only airline that made sense. Sexy, cool�they reminded me of the Pan Am days with the gals with tight suits and, you know, every straight guy had their flight attendant fantasy. People are fascinated with this territory. Once we got Virgin on board there were five networks that all wanted it and they all wanted it bad. The CW was the only one that made sense because they do beautiful work and I just felt like the aesthetics of Virgin and the back drop�I wanted it to be beautiful. I didn't want it to look like a badly produced show where you're chasing people around with cameras. I've done that.
JH: The girls in the show are actually Virgin America flight attendants. How did you go about casting?
JC: I got really, really lucky with casting. Virgin America let us go in and cast all the flight attendants at Virgin who made sense. Early on we talked about adding a guy to the mix but then we thought 'Nah, let's keep it centered on five women and tell the story from their eyes and their perspectives.' We did meet some male flight attendants who kind of walked in and out of the story because the girls have a lot of friends but it just seemed that the female point of view was more interesting.
JH: What was the criterion for the casting?
JC: We didn't have any going in. Obviously we were more interested in women who were single, the ones who were on the younger side because of the CW; it made more sense for their audience since they're a younger network. Other than that, we didn't really have any criteria. We were hoping we'd find girls who had a pre-existing relationship with each other so we weren't just trying to put a cast together and form chemistry. The truth of the matter was we got really, really lucky because all the girls had pre-existing relationships and they have lived in crash pads before and a couple of them were living together as we got them. There was another one who was looking to move �actually Nikole � so it just made sense. So, unlike other shows, they arrived on the doorstep with relationships both good and bad intact and ready to go. It's a producer's dream!
JH: How do you film on the actual Virgin America planes? Do you have to get consent from everyone on the plane?
JC: It's tricky and it's different every time. Usually, what we're doing on the plane is much more observational documentary where we're just observing the girls and trying to get as much of the business of being a flight attendant as we possibly could because we found through the focus groups that the audiences were really interested in actually what the flight attendants do when they're on the plane. The way that we shot on the plane�first of all, we had enormous clearances with FAA and everybody on the crew had to go into training with Virgin to make sure we all understood the rules and then we had to modify our equipment so if the seatbelt lights came on they could be stowed quickly enough because at the end of the day the pilot is in charge. If there's bumpy weather then everything stops.
JH: Did Virgin America put any stipulations on what you could or couldn't put in the show?
JC: They did not. They didn't ask for any control over what happened with the girls once they were off the clock except that they were very clear with us that we had to follow the rules and if the girls broke the Virgin handbook rules that they would be terminated and we would have to fire them from the show. They can never miss a flight or cause a flight to be late�so we could never do anything that would delay a flight. A second thing was that they had to follow the 12-hour no-drinking rule and we never had them out later if they had to fly the next day and we had to time it so we knew they had the next day off so we never were breaking that rule. We were very clear from the beginning that we aren't making a show about Virgin flight attendants but we're making a show about five girls that happen to be Virgin flight attendants.
JH: Watching the show I couldn't help but think of shows like 'The Hills' that are more scripted. Would you call 'Fly Girls' scripted reality?
JC: I wouldn't call it scripted reality because it's not but I'd call it a show that has a director in that we're more conscious of trying to light the scene and more conscious of trying to put cameras in places where they should be rather than chasing people around with cameras and then trying to cut it later and hoping it looks good. We set the bar really high.
"Fly Girls" premieres tonight on The CW at 9:00/8:00c.