Skein to have all-access look at Southwest's staff, crew

NEW YORK — A&E is using the term “docu-soap” to describe “Airline,” a reality series the network has begun co-producing with Granada for a primetime debut early next year.

Southwest Airlines, the fourth largest in the U.S., has given “unrestricted and unfettered access” to the producers, who will act “as a fly on the wall to watch little dramas unfold,” said Bob DeBitetto, senior VP of programming for A&E.

Flight clues

An American version of the Granada-produced British series that has run on ITV for the last six years, “Airline” will work with Southwest’s staff and crew, DeBitetto said, “who could become regular, recurring characters throughout the series.” For its initial order, A&E has commissioned 10 half-hour episodes.

In a prepared statement, DeBitetto said, “The pilots, flight attendants, airport employees and others interact every day with hurried executives, crying children, weary travelers and heightened security.”

Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said: “We’re taking a risk in giving the producers full access, but the show could add some real dimension to our brand. It’s a calculated risk because we want to prove that Southwest can be edgy.”

Southwest spent up to three months mulling the decision, Rutherford said, finally signing with A&E after watching the British series, which used Easyjet as its focal point, and being reassured by Easyjet officials that the publicity was helpful, not harmful.

A&E will show Southwest execs a rough cut of each episode, allowing them to ask for changes if something gets shown that’s “not part of airline policy, and needs to be recontexted,” she said.

Already on tarmac

Taping of the first few episodes has already started at LAX, and the filmmakers move on to Chicago’s Midway Airport Aug. 4.

Two co-exec producers of “Airline,” Joe Houlihan and Charles Tremayne, worked on the original British series. Exec producer for A&E is Nancy Dubuc.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more