By Patty Fantasia
Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

Six Seasons is Enough Mad Men’s Matt Weiner Announces at NAB

It’s almost a certainty that by now all Mad Men fans are aware of creator Matt Weiner’s big announcement at NAB on April 11th that the hit show won’t be going beyond a sixth season. During his conversation with moderator Cynthia Littleton, Deputy Editor from Variety, Weiner said, “I couldn’t do more than six seasons. That would kill me. You want to leave the audience wanting more.” He also said that he already has a storyline in mind for the show’s final year.

Mad Men is Weiner’s first time acting as a showrunner and he noted that he lost 20 lbs during the first season because it’s a “very demanding job.” However, it’s one that he welcomes and is passionate about. The idea for the series was actually based on a script that Weiner wrote five years earlier called The Horseshoe, a drama tracing the footsteps of a man’s quest to become president. “It was the backstory of the 1st season. Mrs. Draper was 2nd season.” he recounted.

Matt was 35 when he started working on the script and 42 when it was finally produced. Communism, socialism, poverty, mobility and aspirations were all themes he’s incorporated into the provocative drama, which is set in New York during the 1960’s. Although it took over two years of research beforehand, the pilot was written very quickly and it was the Mad Men spec that led to his writing assignment on The Sopranos. “It was fast, but it sat there five years before they rolled film,” he said and it took seven years until it was on the air. He explained that he doesn’t want to get into the machinery of plot like they do on shows like LOST and that he doesn’t think he could write a show like that without turning it into more of a pot boiler.

Prior to his success on television after graduating from college Weiner’s top achievement was being a winning contestant on the game show Jeopardy. He won enough to keep him going for awhile, but not enough to be comfortable and after finishing his run there, he admitted he never watched the show again. He also added that when the money ran out, his wife supported them for quite a while.

Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

Listening to Matt speak about the 60’s, it’s obvious how much he enjoys writing about this time period and the people in it. Happy Days and Mash were the biggest shows on television when he was growing up. “They are really brave. We are really soft,” he noted comparing growing up in the 80’s and living now to growing up in the 50’s and living in the 60’s. He seemed fascinated with the way societies change. He mentioned that although people who watch the show know what’s going to happen next in terms of world events, it was an interesting time when people were concerned with asking the question Who am I? “Life issues are bigger than historical issues,” he claimed. When writing about the Kennedy assassination, he thought about how he felt after 9/11. “You get into the meat and potatoes of what human nature is,” he explained. With much admiration he described how this was a time when there was a refreshing sense of who was in charge and changes in the world’s vision. He continued that in the 60’s America was an immigration based culture where people questioned what it meant to be an American and the ultimate aspiration was to be a white male, but that people’s consciousness was shifting.

“I’m a writer. I’m interested in both sides of everything. I’m sensitive to what’s going on,” Weiner told us. As for his popular character, Betty Draper, he commented, “She went through this process knowing as little as possible. What she expected didn’t work out.” Matt always planned to use an ad agency as the focus of the show, citing programs he was familiar with years ago that used the same office setting like 30 Something and Bewitched. He liked the arena where creative people get paid a lot of money and don’t show up on time. “Advertising reflects what the culture wants. It’s a mirror,” he believes. As creator, he fully appreciates the underdog quality of the show. ‘There’s a great energy there,” he mused before telling us that the writing part never changes and that “having done it before has no value at all.”

Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

Weiner has very clear ideas when it comes to his craft. Bringing up the internet he expressed his opinion that it was better a few years ago. He said, “I’m a professional writer and I’ve never written on anything. It’s an outlet that keeps everybody from getting anything done.” He firmly believes that being a writer is about telling the story and that “It’s an honor to have a challenge.” He feels that when you’re a writer you are in show business and that you can spend your whole life scrambling. Matt advised those interested in the profession to keep writing and finish their stories. He’s also discouraged writers from pitching ideas they don’t have a script for. “It’s an excuse to not write,” he believes. Sticking with it is the key. “As you’re failing and getting rejected, maybe you’re getting better at it,” he said.

Going back to developing the show’s pilot, Weiner remembered he was asked during that time period if he could cut out the smoking or limit the episodes to half and hour and then, when Desperate Housewives premiered, someone informed him, “They just did your show. You’re dead.” While he does agree that his pilot did fall into the old genre of suburbia as drama, he maintains that there’s quite a bit of difference once you scratch the surface.

Another topic the Baltimore native enjoyed discussing were the people connected to Mad Men. Matt credits his staff with finding great actors to play his characters. “They find amazing people for me,” he said. His staff looks for talented people who aren’t too famous. “I have very talented people. They are always going to be challenged. They always add something,” he concluded.

Looking beyond his Emmy winning series, Weiner is planning to do a feature film and would be interested in developing another television show. Perhaps another challenge which will keep up his image as one of the Mad Men he’s created.

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