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Matt Weiner of Mad Men: The TV Squad Interview

by Allison Waldman, posted Aug 8th 2008 4:23PM
Matt Weiner Mad MenWhen Matt Weiner was a successful sitcom writer -- CBS's Becker -- he had this idea for another kind of show. He couldn't figure out how to pitch it, so he wrote a sample script. The Sopranos' creator David Chase read it and hired him. After copping a couple of Emmys for his work on that HBO drama, Weiner finally got his spec script sold. Now, Mad Men has earned 16 Emmy nominations and Matt Weiner is working on the second season of the show.

Recently, for TV Week, I interviewed Matt about the Emmy nominations. Here are some other thoughts he shared with me about Mad Men:

TVS: What's the show all about to you?

Matt Weiner: A lot of the episodes are about "who am I." A lot of the shows are about what's embarrassing. A lot of it's about denial, about how we juggle our work and our private lives. A lot of the issues that came up in the early 1960s are really hitting us right now.

TVS: Do you think the politics mirror what's happening now?

MW: Oh yes, this red state / blue state thing is very old. We think of the 1960's as a great time of optimism but that Kennedy/Nixon election was very much like the Gore/Bush election in 2000, with just a different victor.

TVS: Are people dazzled by the artifice of the show that they don't care about the darker elements?

MW: The show is wrapped in a beautiful package, but I'm not trying to glamorize smoking and drinking, it's just coming off that way. It's a reflection of reality, but there's also a nostalgia for people of a certain age...it takes them back.

TVS: Why did you set the show at a company like Sterling Cooper?

MW: I picked advertising because as history moves on you get this ethnic, subversive input into advertising, too. The idealized form of the American family, the American woman... I mean, I believe as destructive as it's been to the image of women, advertising is one of the first places that acknowledged that there were working women.

TVS: I see a lot of the Billy Wilder movie The Apartment in Mad Men. Is that intentional?

MW: Very much. The Apartment was made in 1960 and it is a comedy and it's definitely exaggerated, but it is about a realistic time. People are dressed the same, they talk the same. There are a lot of movies from that period, some of them good and some of them bad. The Bachelor Party by Paddy Chayevsky and Marty.

TVS: What about TV influences?

MW: The Twilight Zone. Anthologies. The Dick Van Dyke Show. The most interesting thing to me is looking at what the culture was really like versus what the art is really like. When Dobie Gillis had Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik buddy, there's no doubt that the concept of the beatnik and the Bohemian and even if it's done for humor, was a big part of the culture.

TVS: The story has jumped ahead in season two to 1962. Are you going to continue moving ahead like that?

MW: I would love to. A two year pace gives you a chance to really cover things. As much as I talk about people not changing, things are so different from 1960 to 1972. And yet for a lot of people, it didn't change at all. I don't know if Don is going to be the guy with muttonchops in an ashram or Don's going to be the guy who looks exactly like he does now with a touch of gray and voted for Goldwater and is looking at the world and saying, 'Where did everything go?'

TVS: Did you know that the creator of Burn Notice, Matt Nix, is a big fan of yours?

MW: I love that guy. He's a great storyteller, and Burn Notice is a lot of fun. Part of the pleasure of being in this field is that this is a real high point for TV, especially drama. The public is demanding more of them, and the business model of cable has allowed people to take chances. There are a lot of interesting shows.

TVS: Do you worry about the ratings?

MW: Yes, but there's an attitude in TV right now that you can make your money by doing something different and going after an audience that's looking for quality, for something different, something that's not a traditional television attitude.

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Nice interview, Allison; thanks! Nice to see some cross-channel love for Burn Notice, too.

Mad Men rang false to me when it began and, while it still has its flaws, it's really grown on me. It's interesting to hear Weiner's influences, too. I like that element of not knowing what kind of guy Don will grow into, as well. There's a lot of places the show can go, and I hope the 2-year jumps continue.

August 08 2008 at 5:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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