Air Force jets to ABC

Skein crosses 'Top Gun' with 'West Wing'

ABC and Touchstone Television are headed into the wild blue yonder, pacting with producer Mace Neufeld (“The Sum of All Fears”) and the Greenblatt Janollari Studio (“Six Feet Under”) to create an hourlong ensemble drama exploring the world of the U.S. Air Force.

Former Warner Bros. TV current programming exec Trent Jones will write the pilot and serve as exec producer. Project — described as a cross between “Top Gun” and “The West Wing” — reps Jones’ first small-screen endeavor since ankling the studio a little more than a year ago.

Bob Greenblatt, David Janollari and Neufeld are also on board as exec producers. ABC has given a premium script commitment to the project, which was packaged by Endeavor.

Pilot will be centered around the Air Force Academy in Colorado, focusing on both the teachers and students at the school as well as the generals involved in setting military policy. Characters will be both civilians and military.

“We’ll be able to follow the young students from the day they arrive until they graduate, and at the same time connect with what’s going on around the world with the rest of the Air Force,” Neufeld told Daily Variety. “We want to do an exciting, quality project.”

Jones added that while the skein will be based at the Academy, “Ultimately it’s about the much broader world.”

Long-sought project

Producer said he had been interested in the Air Force since “Top Gun” was released. He ultimately joined forces with Greenblatt, Janollari and Neufeld; latter producer’s military connections gained via past films have already paid off.

“Having Mace on the project is like having Moses in front of you to part the waters of the Red Sea,” Jones said.

Indeed, the Air Force has already helped Neufeld and Jones with research, giving them a guided tour of the academy a few weeks ago. If the project gets picked up to pilot or series, the military will decide whether to cooperate further after seeing future scripts.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer for us,” said USAF Master Sgt. Tom Giannazzo. “We’d love to showcase the academy (in a series where) we can show off our people and our missions in a positive light.”

Realistic look

Greenblatt and the other producers involved, however, said the skein would avoid being a jingoistic take on the military.

“This isn’t a valentine to the Air Force,” Greenblatt said. “There are going to be ups and downs (in the portrayal of the military.) We just want it to be honest and accurate.”

Indeed, one of the show’s central characters will be a “liberal-leaning MIT kind of guy” who’s a professor at the academy, Jones said. He’ll clash with a female F-16 fighter pilot who’s at the skein’s center.

Neufeld’s numerous feature credits include “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “The General’s Daughter.” Producer is also working on a Secret Service project for NBC via his Mace Neufeld Prods. (Daily Variety, Aug. 22).

Jones and Neufeld first worked together when Jones pitched a feature script now in development with Neufeld.

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