Series takes stab at real military

Many are called. Few are chosen. That biblical adage applies to the jet fighter pilot candidates at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla. Thousands of applicants apply, but only a few good men get to learn to fly the F-15 Eagle. Their story unfolds on the new military reality series "AFP: American Fighter Pilot" (7 p.m., CBS). Directors Tony Scott ("Top Gun") and Ridley Scott ("Gladiator," "Black Hawk Down") serve as executive producers.

Fighter pilots and screen drama have always made a popular combination. From the time "Wings" won the very first Best Picture Academy Award in 1928 to Tom Cruise's star turn in the 1985 hit "Top Gun," audiences have thrilled to the aerial bravado and high-testosterone personalities of flying aces.

The series follows three candidates, Todd Giggy, Marcus Gregory and Mike Love as they study and train at Tyndall. The series plays up their different personalities. With his bleached-platinum hair and rambunctious attitude, Todd has been cast as the rebel. Marcus worries that his devout Christianity will upset his rivals. An experienced B-1 bomber pilot and father of two, Mike discovers that he has much to learn and un-learn before he can master the F-15 Eagle. Make no mistake, the F-15 is clearly the star of the series.

Unfortunately, "AFP" is a lot closer to "Real World" than "Top Gun." Unlike a two-hour movie that can condense the tedium of pilot training into a zippy 45-second montage accompanied by a Kenny Loggins song, the education of Giggy, Gregory and Love grinds on and on. To make matters worse, the makers of the series present even the most banal moments with a rapid fire editing style. This might work well during dogfights, but it seems silly during quieter moments. Dialogue is frequently repeated for effect and even appears once again in flashing boxes of text. The results are annoying and frequently ridiculous. For all of its dramatic potential, macho swagger and post-9/11 patriotism, "AFP" is seriously undercut by its hyperactive, video game-like style.

� Media mergers allow a few corporations to control an increasingly large slice of the television pie. Is that frightening? Or merely obnoxious? Judge for yourself when Viacom "freezes" programming on 13 of its networks to promote today's launch of the Viacom-Paramount-Nickelodeon adventure movie "Clockstoppers."

At 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. the following networks will participate in the same moment of hype: BET, CMT, MTV, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon's Games & Sports, Noggin, TNN, TV Land, VH1, VH1 Classic, VH1 Soul and VH1 Country. Viacom also owns CBS and UPN, but they will not participate in the big "freeze."

Tonight's other highlights

� Syd has a disturbing symbolic dream featuring a home-shopping network host (Morgan Fairchild) on "Providence" (7 p.m., NBC).

� Scheduled on "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC): Is a husband responsible for his wife's death in an auto accident? Postponed from an earlier date.

� Molly meets her wacky new neighbors (Howard Hesseman and Susan Ruttan) on "Maybe It's Me" (8:30 p.m., WB).

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