September 10, 2008 / 6:36 PM / 10 years ago

"Mad Men" spins bright future from past

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The characters drink like fish, smoke like chimneys, treat women like doormats and are some of the most admired men on U.S. television.

John Slattery and Jon Hamm in a promotional image for AMC's first original weekly drama series "Mad Men". REUTERS/AMC/Handout

They are the “Mad Men” of the eponymous television drama set in a New York advertising agency on the cusp of the 1960s social revolution, and some TV pundits say it could sweep the industry’s Emmy awards next week after just one season on air.

“I am interested in the 1950s and the impact it had on our culture, how that transition happened and what it’s like for my characters to watch the world change around them,” Matt Weiner, the creator, writer and executive producer of “Mad Men,” told Reuters.

Notable for its meticulous detail and leisurely pace, the character-driven series is nominated for 16 Emmys on Sept 21, including the coveted best drama series and best actor award for star Jon Hamm, who plays brooding account executive Don Draper.

Not bad for a show that was first written eight years ago, almost never got made and originated on U.S. cable channel AMC, which has a small viewership compared the major broadcasters such as NBC, CBS and ABC.

But that audience is getting bigger, thanks to the nominations for TV’s highest prize, which have helped double viewing figures in the show’s second season to nearly 2 million at its July debut.

Moreover, “Mad Men” is now syndicated in more than 30 countries worldwide, including Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and much of Europe.


Weiner, 42, a former writer on the Emmy-winning mob drama “The Sopranos,” describes himself as a control freak with an obsessive attention to 1962 details, and his attention to the specifics is one of the key factors in the show’s success.

“The fruit is smaller, everyone wears a watch at all times, having a pen in your pocket — these are tiny details you don’t want to be wrong. We really avoided the characters using the word ‘guy,’ especially the women, and not swearing,” he said.

“Smoking at that time was constant, indoors in meetings, in doctors’ offices. But it’s been erased from people’s memories. Drinking was completely acceptable — they drove while they were drunk, they were around their kids when they were drunk,” he said.

Because of 21st century health concerns, the “Mad Men” actors actually smoke herbal cigarettes on set.

Despite the attention to re-creating the period before civil rights marches and women’s liberation, Weiner says what most fascinates him are the dynamics of human relationships and how people perceive themselves and others.

The Madison Avenue world of advertising proved a perfect backdrop to explore those themes and the culture of a society that was about to be turned upside down.

“Advertising is directly related to our perception of ourselves. It can be aspirational but it also can pick up on our fears and insecurities,” he said.

“The nexis of those ideas in a business setting is one of the most interesting things about the world we live in. It’s very much part of the American character. It is part of what is great about the United States.”

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman.

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