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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Emmy-winning drama "Mad Men" drew a record 2.7 million viewers for its low-key Season 5 finale, bringing to an end its most watched and most controversial season yet.
Cable channel AMC said on Monday that the TV show set in a 1960s New York advertising agency enjoyed its biggest weekly audiences during a season to date, drawing an average 2.6 million U.S. viewers, up 15 percent over last season.
"We make 'Mad Men' for the fans. My goal is to tell a compelling story and entertain people and it thrills me that people keep watching," creator Matthew Weiner said in a statement.
"Mad Men", starring Jon Hamm as enigmatic advertising executive Don Draper, has won four consecutive Emmy awards for best TV drama series despite a relatively small audience.
Season five, with a fist fight, hallucinations, a suicide, and an LSD trip, was both darker and more dramatic than the slow-burn storytelling that marked the show's previous years. And after Sunday's finale, it drew mostly positive reviews.
Mike Hale at the New York Times said this season's final episode - which closed with Draper propositioned in a bar and contemplating a reply - left fans with "smaller and more intimate questions to ponder" than the gruesome suicide of English character Lane Pryce the week before.
Time magazine's James Poniewozik said the show had "purposely upped its scale" this season. "The show seems to have been driven by an imperative to produce more big moments, more arresting images and set pieces, more ... scenes that fans will talk about all week," he wrote.
The Los Angeles Times was less favorable, saying "Mad Men" ended "with a whimper" after what writer Meredith Blake said was a "rudderless" season of forgotten storylines and missed opportunities to engage in the social changes of the 1960s.
Despite some of the critical reservations, "Mad Men" is expected to do well again when nominations for this year's primetime Emmys are announced next month, putting the show on course for a potential fifth trophy for best drama series.
Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Leslie Gevirtz