Ed Martin Live at the Television Critics Association Tour in Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, CA - AMC tomorrow night will debut its first scripted drama series, Mad Men, and all I can say is, there hasn't been so much buzz about a new cable series during a TCA tour since the premiere of HBO's The Sopranos way back in January, 1999.
Mad Men is the latest addition to a rapidly growing list of high quality scripted dramas on cable that are redefining the expectations of viewers and critics alike. As described by AMC executive vice president and general manager Charlie Collier, it's about "1960's New York and the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue at the height of advertising's power, prestige and glamour." It's set largely in the fictional Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency.
The Sopranos was the talk of the 1999 winter TCA gathering because it premiered at the start of that tour. Boosted at least in part by critics buzzing like mad among themselves in close quarters for days on end, the show became an instant media super-nova. Mad Men seems poised to enjoy similar support and success. It is one of the three programs that everyone at the Beverly Hilton has been talking about with unbridled enthusiasm since early last week, when hundreds of television critics and reporters from all over the United States and Canada began assembling here for their annual summer session. (The other big-buzz programs are Ken Burns' epic documentary miniseries The War on PBS and Disney Channel's feverishly anticipated High School Musical 2, the first because of its quality, the second because it is part of a phenomenon bigger than all of us.)
Significantly, praise for Mad Men here at TCA seems to be far eclipsing that for any of the new series set to debut on the broadcast networks this fall. The timing of its premiere couldn't be better. AMC last Sunday presented a press conference with the cast and series creator and executive producer Matthew Wiener, a former Sopranos writer, followed by a lavish evening event at the legendary Friars' Club in Beverly Hills.
"If I could have 10 percent of the interest in this show that The Sopranos had, I would be happy," Weiner told the press. If that's true, when he reads tomorrow's reviews he'll be delirious. The subject matter in Mad Men "has been something that I've been interested in since high school," Weiner said. "I love this period. I was interested in advertising. In a way it was some of the greatest entertainment in my life.
"What really happened is I reached a certain point in my life where I started thinking about myself as a man and where I was and what I was feeling," Weiner continued. "I looked at [men in the early '60s], men who were overpaid and drank too much and smoked too much and were glib and cynical and bit the hand that fed them all the time and showed up late and had no respect for authority and I thought, 'These are my heroes!'
"The culture that I have been raised in is this sort of golden glory about the '60s," Weiner said. "That's certainly the way that things have been memorialized with the election of JFK; that it was a time of great innocence, etc. [But if] you look at a New Yorker [magazine] from April 1960, Psycho and The Apartment are being reviewed in there." It was not, he asserted, "a particularly innocent society." That will be reflected in the show.
"There's a lot of seduction in the show, all this ass-grabbing and stuff like that, there's talk about that, but [Sterling Cooper] is not a frat house," Weiner explained. "There are actually rules and a lot of language that's respected and achievement that's respected."
Asked why HBO didn't snap up Mad Men, Weiner recalled, "They had the script from the day I started on The Sopranos and they were not interested. They did not respond to it. To tell you the truth, I didn't know what was going to happen with it. When [AMC] comes to you and says, 'We love your work. We want to give you complete creative freedom. We want to do quality. We want to be involved with this show. We want to do it right. We want to spend the money. We want to cast it with people that are not household names so that the world will believe that they are these characters. We want to pay for music. We want to pay for costumes,' you don't really go home and say, 'God, I wish HBO would call.'"
Don't miss Mad Men tomorrow tonight. It is truly the beginning of something special that everyone on Madison Avenue and elsewhere will be talking about.