One of the greatest shows in the history of television is returning this Sunday for the beginning of its last season, and as a diehard fan I couldn’t be more excited. I’m a TV snob so there are many reasons I love Mad Men, least of which is the incredibly cool vibe and general badassery of the show’s New York ad executives.
The world’s most interesting man is not a bearded no-name who drinks imported Mexican beer. His name is Don Draper, and he drinks whiskey.
But Draper isn’t the only fascinating figure on the show. The lives of the people who write and direct it, as well as the characters on the screen, have drawn curiosity. Here’s some things you probably didn’t know about the world of Mad Men.
It took a long time to get made
Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, wrote the pilot for Mad Men in 2000. The script actually landed him a gig writing for The Sopranos, where he eventually became an executive producer. When The Sopranos ended, Weiner shopped the piece to HBO and Showtime, but they both passed. That decision is generally regarded as one of the greatest mistakes in TV history.
Weiner took the show to AMC, but it was a huge gamble. AMC had almost never aired original content, meaning they had almost no audience for it. There was also a year-long gap between the shooting of the pilot and the series being picked up for a full season, meaning that everyone involved, including Weiner and all the actors, had to wait an entire year to figure out whether or not they had a job after only shooting a few scenes. When the show finally premiered in 2007, it was an instant hit and set the stage for everything else that has come out of AMC since. Yes, you can thank Mad Men for delivering us Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, among other great shows.
Extreme attention to detail that seems crazy at first
Mad Men is one of those shows that does a million things at once. Every second of every shot is heavily layered with meaning. It’s the kind of story-telling that flies over the heads of most casual TV viewers. The best example is how the show deals with costuming. Everything that every character wears is painstakingly chosen to fulfill the major theme of the specific episode and the season. I’m not kidding. Certain bloggers have become noteworthy for the time they spend analyzing the clothes that the characters wear and connecting the colors to the story playing out on screen.
They’re not just blowing smoke. When I first started following along with the costumes, I thought I had become an insane conspiracy theorist. But Weiner and the shows costume designer have acknowledged that the fans are right to overanalyze the costumes. It’s all done on purpose.
The detail goes even further
This next stuff makes the costume theories look like child’s play. I’ll start off soft; astute Mad Men viewers know that Don met his first wife, Betty, at a photo shoot for the fur company he worked for at the time. This all happened before the show begins, however, so it’s all just mentioned in passing, but the fans get a decent nod to it during a flashback in season 4 that takes place in said fur shop. An ad hanging on the wall shows none other than Betty herself, meaning that the flashback takes place almost right when they met.
But like I said, that’s easy stuff. The end of season 3 shows Betty deciding to divorce Don, whose favorite nickname for her is “Birdie.” At the beginning of the season, Don spends quite a bit of time creating a commercial based off the movie Bye Bye Birdie. At the end of the season, he literally says goodbye to Birdie. On any other show I would think that’s a coincidence, but wait.
The same season also features the JFK assassination, and hints are dropped every episode hinting that the show would cover it. In one of the first episodes of the season, it’s mentioned that a character is getting married on November 23rd, the day after the assassination. In the middle of the season, the murder is heavily foreshadowed when a character has his foot run over by a lawnmower and blood is sprayed everywhere. And in the episode featuring the assassination, the audience is introduced to a character’s new husband, whom we have never seen before. He looks almost exactly like Lyndon B. Johnson, who had just become president.
It took $250,000 just to get a Beatles song on the show
Have you ever wondered why you almost never hear any of the Beatles’ music, ever? It’s because it’s incredibly hard to convince those who own the songs, and there are many different owners, to allow anyone to use them. It’s not just that they’re expensive. $250,000 is relatively cheap for a Beatles song, and all Mad Men got for it was ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’”(don’t even ask about “Hey Jude”). You have to show the owners that whatever you use the song for won’t damage the image of the song. So even if you have fat stacks to fork over for “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” you’re not going to get it if you’re Johnny Knoxville and you want it to be the theme of the fourth Jackass movie.
One of the featured clients on the show came about because of The Who
Speaking of noteworthy bands from the 60s, a major plot point of the fifth season, which takes place largely in 1967, is thanks to the The Who. They released an album that year with a photo of Roger Daltry bathing in a tub full of Heinz baked beans. The major client at the beginning of season 5? Heinz baked beans.
Interesting connections among the actors
John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, is married in real life to the woman who plays his first wife on the show. Her name is Talia Balsam, whose first husband was none other than George Clooney. Joel Murray, who plays Freddy Rumsen on the show, is the real life brother of Bill Murray (here’s a very chill photo of them playing golf). This last one is the strangest: Jon Hamm worked as an English teacher after graduating from Mizzou (shout out). One of his students? Ellie Kemper, who played Erin on The Office. Imagine for a second if your middle school English teacher, who you never thought you’d see again after they quit their day job in Missouri to become an actor in Hollywood, became Don Draper. Think about that.