PBS heads out to sea with ‘Carrier’
By Kate O’Hare,

One day, Maro Chermayeff was an ordinary mom and Emmy Award- nominated producer, director, author and former television executive, known for working on such PBS shows as “Frontier House” and “American Masters: Juilliard.”

Then she launched off the USS Nimitz in a Navy jet.

“I did not throw up, I have to say” she says. “It was extremely exciting. As a female who was never really a boys toys person, it was amazing how I drank the Kool-Aid.”

As to whether she now has the need for speed, Chermayeff says. “Yeah, I do. But I also have the need to raise my 5-year-old, so I have a total limit now.”

On Sunday, April 27 (check local listings), viewers can get a taste of what Chermayeff and her filmmaking team experienced with the premiere of “Carrier,” a 10-part PBS series that documents a six-month deployment of the Nimitz to the Persian Gulf, from May to November 2005.

From the loftiest admiral to the elite fighter plats to the ordinary enlisted men and women, “Carrier takes an in-depth look at life aboard a nuclear aircraft carrier.

“We have been on dry land for quite some time,” Chermayoff says, “but the ship never seems to leave you. Do I feel like I’m in the Navy now? I certainly feel like I under stand the Navy in a way I never could have or would have it 1 had not had this opportunity.”

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inspiring bloggers, commentators and pundits on both side of the aisle to share their opinions of the military, “Carrier” offers the crew members of the Nimitz a chance to speak for themselves.

“It’s a great depiction of life on a carrier,” says fighter pilot David Fravor, who just retired after two years in the Marines and 22 in the Navy. “Of all the people that you see, there’s someone for everyone to identify with.

“It shows that we’re not just a bunch of people that are out just for that kind of war mentality, but that we’re normal people. We’re sons, daughters, fathers, wives, etc. That just happens to be our job. But for the most part, we’re the people next door.”

The USS Nimitz, named for Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, is 24 stories high and three football fields long. It carries 85 military aircraft and more than 5,000 Navy personnel, with an average age of 19.

“There have been so many high end feature films,” Chermayelf says, “from ‘Pearl Harbor to Top Gun’ that have this glamour of the fighter-pilot life. If you’re in high school, the lighter pilots are the jocks, and they are. There’s not a lot about “Top Gun” that, I have to say, is wrong or exaggerated. It’s exactly like that.

“There’s guys with crazy, funky call signs that all come from mistakes they’ve made over the years, and incredible camaraderie. It’s a big frat house, and the ship is the same.

Fighter pilot David Fravor is featured in “Carrier,” premiering Sunday on PBS. “It’s like a small town, with people having different jobs, different points of view, different ways of life. They are all coming together in this ballet, but there are a million ballets on the ship.

“And that was really, unbelievably interesting, engaging. That ship is vibrating and humming and moving through the water 24/7. It’s fascinating and very energizing. Sometimes you have to remind yourself, wait a minute, this is very dangerous. There are a lot of mixed emotions. Tensions run high on the ship.”

Episodes focus on issues both large and small, from war and diplomacy to sex and relationships, from dealing with the stress of duty and extreme weather conditions to questioning personal, political and military goals.

“You’ll see in the video,” Fravor says, “there are actually people who question what we’re doing. I guess that’s the luxury of being in the United States military, that you can, to a point, question what we’re doing. No one sequesters your thoughts.

“To think we’re all a bunch of right-wing Republicans running around out there isn’t correct. There are lots of kids from Democratic families, and they’re very outspoken. Everyone’s entitled to that. That’s why we do what we do.”