"Most of us are failing constantly. We're looking for forgiveness. We're looking to make a fresh start" ("Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner)
Matthew W says: "I wanted to be in an environment where we're not part of entertainment wish-fulfillment, because most of us are failing constantly. We're looking for forgiveness. We're looking to make a fresh start. And that tradition of humanity on the show is something I'm very proud of. I don't see a lot of it anywhere else."
As I noted last night, at the March 20 live event with Mad Men's creator-overseer at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Matthew Weiner talked about having been overwhelmed the day before, the first time he toured the museum's Mad Men exhibition (for which he had personally provided a great deal of material in addition to encouraging cooperation from the rest of the Mad Men team), seeing seven years of his life on display. By the second day, he reported, he'd begun to take it in more equably.
Without minimizing the importance of the obviously terrific team Matthew W assembled to produce these seven seasons of the show, there's also no question how much of it comes back to him. So as we approach tonight's launch of the final run of episodes, it's a treat to be able to share this Q-and-A from amctv.com's Mad Men blog, "on the end of an era and the legacy of one of television’s most beloved shows."
Q: It’s the end of an era! What does it feel like to be closing out Mad Men?The final seven episodes -- officially the "second half of Season 7," the first half of which aired last April-May -- begin tonight at 10pm (9pm CT) on AMC.
A: It sounds terrible but you know, right now I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m getting to experience the joy of finishing this — the completeness of it, the gratitude for getting to end it how and when we wanted to. I’m really excited. It’s a very positive thing. Ask me when it’s really over, like a year from now, and I’ll be like, “God, I miss Peggy. I wonder how she’s doing. I miss Betty. I wonder what she’s up to. Did she just drive by?” [Laughs]
Q: You’ve written seven seasons of the show. What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?
A: I got a lot of advice during Season 1 from people who are way more experienced and wiser than I am now… I remember someone saying, “Trust your gut. There’s no right way to do it. You’ll find your own way.” And about six months into the first season, I had a lingering, painful stomach ache every day for a week and I realized that it was from me psychologically focusing on my gut. [Laughs]
Q: You set out to portray the ’60s as one of history’s transformative periods…
A: I believe the show has pointed out that we have been going through a change. But we always are… That period between 1960 and 1965 where we really lived for the bulk of the show was largely forgotten. It was seen as the ‘50s, and people in their mind thought it went right from Fonzie to Woodstock, but it’s a much more gradual thing… The space program with all the beautiful ambition to put a man on the moon was really about a weapons program simultaneously. It was the friendly face of the weapons program. Stuff like that, I learned on the show!
Q: What historical moments did you most enjoy portraying?
A: The show is not driven by historic events. It’s driven by what is going on in people’s lives. Don’s getting divorced. Betty is sick of it. Don is alone. Peggy is sick of Don. Joan is going to realize that her expectations for a husband and a family were thwarted in some way and she has to reevaluate. The history stuff is not important.
Q: Speaking of the space program, if you could only send one episode of Mad Men on a mission to colonize another planet, which would it be?
A: I would send more important things than a TV show to populate a new planet. [Laughs]… And the format is really small, why can’t we send the whole series? I think it would be more valuable if we sent the whole thing.
Q: How difficult is it for you to pick favorite episodes or parts of the show?
A: I get asked all the time what’s my favorite this or that. I lived through all of it. It is tracing the history of both of the companies I worked in. It’s tracing the history of what happened in my life, the writer’s lives, in the actor’s lives. The show is told in the third person in this operatic context to some degree, but there’s so many things where I’m just, “That was a real guy, that was something that really happened to somebody.”
Q: What character do you most miss writing for?
A: I had a couple of ideas recently that were completely useless; one of them was for Roger and one of them was for Don. So I don’t know. I had a story thing and then was like, “Oh wait a minute, I’m never going to do that again.” [Laughs]
Q: Mad Men has impacted so much, from fashion to the quality of writing in television. Which aspect of the show’s legacy are you most proud of?
A: I believe that non-formulaic storytelling — storytelling on a human level with whatever genre that this turns out to be — that adventurousness in the writer’s room to take the risks on telling stories, that’s what I hope the legacy of the show is. That’s what I’m proudest of. And also I’m super proud of being part of a group mindset that’s accepting and nonjudgmental of human weakness… I wanted to be in an environment where we’re not part of entertainment wish-fulfillment because most of us are failing constantly. We’re looking for forgiveness. We’re looking to make a fresh start. And that tradition of humanity on the show is something I’m very proud of. I don’t see a lot of it anywhere else.
Q: Has the Mad Men genre gotten any easier to define?
A: It’s still hard. I have people come up who have no problems telling me they’ve either never heard of it or they don’t watch TV, and all I really want to say is, “It’s not what you think it is…” They’re not apologizing for not watching TV. They’re literally saying, “I’m not part of the lower part of humanity that is part of the mass culture.” And I want to say, “Uh, I don’t know if you know this, but if you’re going to the opera tonight, that was the TV of its day.” [Laughs]