Some evil force must have planned the Easter night TV line-up in an effort to blow out our DVR's. In an overcrowded crunch at 10 p.m., three series or mini-series will debut ("American Odyssey," "Wolf Hall" and "The Lizzie Borden Chronicles") and another will start its season ("Salem"). Yet all four are overshadowed: "Mad Men" -- winner of four Emmys for best drama series -- is starting the second half of its final season. Here's the "Mad Men" story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
At first, this
seemed like the longest of long shots.
“Mad Men” was on
a network (AMC) many people didn't know, with a subject (1960s ad
men) they didn't think about. It had, creator Matthew Weiner said,
“not a lot of murder, not a lot of chases.”
But in its own,
subtle way, it scored big. Each of its first four seasons won an Emmy
for best drama series. There have been 15 Emmys in all, plus more
than 100 nominations and an avalanche of praise.
As it returns for
its final seven episodes, actor John Slattery figures the show had
perfect timing. “'The Sopranos' was very influential in allowing an
anti-hero” to be at the core, he said.
Weiner had helped
write and produce three “Sopranos” season, then started “Mad
Men” at an ideal moment. “It was a very rich time in the
television landscape,” said Jon Hamm, who stars. “There were
stories that were driven much more by character than by genre.”
Weiner would create
a classic enigma, a man who seemed to have it all. His name (Don
Draper) and past were lies; so was his warm-looking home life.
As the final
episodes begin, Don is nearing his second divorce and envisioning a
past lover. He's someone who speaks brilliantly about advertising –
then often recedes into silence. He's “alternately an extremely
eloquent character and a man of few words,” Weiner said.
Casting sessions had
better-known actors, plus Hamm. He'd spent three years as waiter --
“I would have taken the job of a dancing slice of pizza,” he said
-- and then a decade as a TV journeyman.
His audition sold
it, Weiner said. “He wasn't playing the person; he made it into
quick-witted, but also fits into Don's sense of restraint and
distance. He grew up in St. Louis, with divorced parents who died
when he was 10 (his mother) and 20; he semi-mockingly describes his
“Midwesternness” and his compulsive politeness.
surface, with something else inside. “He's not just an empty suit,”
Hamm said. “He has difficulties and challenges – a lot of those
are his own fault.”
Like Don, Hamm has
had an alcohol problem; he recently completed rehab, TMZ has
reported. Unlike him, he's had a stable romance – 18 years with
Jennifer Westfeldt, a brainy actress-writer-producer – and a genial
approach. Instead of star vehicles, he's taken offbeat roles, usually
comedies, “I've had a chance to work with some of the funniest
people on the planet,” he said.
have transformed sharply in circumstance, yet remained consistent.
Peggy Olson has gone from ignored assistant to respected ad director,
yet “she actually hasn't changed in a lot of ways,” said
Elizabeth Moss, who plays her. “Which, I think, goes for a lot of
In the first
returning episode, Peggy and Joan (Christina Hendricks) again face
blatant sexism. For all of its evolution, the '60s era kept plenty of
biases; the episode also finds WASP-y admen taking digs at the Irish,
something Slattery – Irish, Catholic, Bostonian – isn't surprised
by: “It wasn't that long before that when signs said, 'No Irish
need apply,'” he said.
The show also takes
lighter looks at the era, including a mid-century modernism design.
Weiner, born in 1965, finds that appealing. “I grew up in the '80s,
with '50s furniture.”
For others, this is
new. “I never really thought about that decade,” said Hendricks,
born in 1975. “Everything on set was so perfect. We'd see Wite Out
and go, 'When did Wite Out get invented?'”
It was invented and
marketed in 1966, patented in '74. But its predecessor was invented
in 1951 by an artist who was a bad typist, but needed the money to
raise her son. It was marketed (eventually as Liquid Paper) in '56
and sold to Gillette for $47.5 million in '80.
The invention would
change office life in the 1950s ... the son (Michael Nesmith) would
be big in the '60s, in The Monkees ... the fortune would help him be
a movie producer and video pioneer in the '80s. Which is the sort of
the accidental history lesson that accompanies “Mad Men.”
-- “Mad Men,” 10
p.m. Sundays, AMC, rerunning at 11:04 p.m. and 12:08 a.m.
-- Returns April 5,
to start the final seven episodes
-- On April 5, the
sixth season will start rerunning at 12:30 a.m. (latenight Saturay);
the seven episodes from the first half of this seventh season start
at 2:30 p.m.