Mad Men seems to be an easy sell. The AMC television drama just racked up an astounding 16 Emmy nominations after winning two Golden Globes. Matt Weiner is the man behind the successful program, which focuses on Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 1960s. Before creating Mad Men, Weiner wrote and produced episodes of the HBO series The Sopranos, which garnered him both a Writer’s Guild Award and an Emmy.
NEW YORK TIMES: Weiner (pronounced WHY-ner) is the creator and show-runner of “Mad Men,” which means the original idea was his: he wrote the pilot; he writes every episode of every show (along with four other people); he’s the executive producer who haggles for money (he says that his budget is $2.3 million per episode and that the average budget for a one-hour drama is $2.8 million); and he approves every actor, costume, hairstyle and prop. Though he has directed episodes, most of the time he holds a “tone meeting” with the director at which he essentially performs the entire show himself so it’s perfectly clear how he wants it done. He is both ultimate authority and divine messenger, some peculiar hybrid of God and Edith Head. “I do not feel any guilt about saying that the show comes from my mind and that I’m a control freak,” he told me. “I love to be surrounded by perfectionists, and part of the problem with perfectionism is that by nature, you’re always failing.”
So, after working for 18 years, most recently as a writer and executive producer for “The Sopranos” (the episode in which Tony murders his nephew Christopher was his), Weiner, who is 42, has become an overnight success in a very particular, Hollywood way. He is suddenly a “genius,” a meal ticket and the 800-pound gorilla in every room he’s in. It is already show-business legend that he wrote the pilot of “Mad Men” in 1999 while working on the Ted Danson sitcom “Becker.” In 2002, Weiner sent the pilot as a writing sample to David Chase, who created “The Sopranos,” which is how he was hired. That HBO, under its previous leadership, passed on “Mad Men” while Weiner worked on its biggest hit, leaving the field open for the upstart AMC to reap the glory, is one of those stories that give underdogs of all breeds in this town a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Weiner’s achievements with “Mad Men,” which is produced by Lionsgate, are plentiful, starting with the storytelling. Setting it in the early 1960s, on the cusp between the repression and conformity of the cold war and McCarthy-era 1950s and the yet-to-unfold social and cultural upheavals of the 60s, allows Weiner an arc of character growth that is staggering in its possibilities. It also gives him the opportunity to mine the Rat Pack romance of that period, when the wreaths of cigarette smoke, the fog of too many martinis — whether exhilarating or nauseating — and the silhouettes specific to bullet bras only heightened the headiness of the dream that all men might one day become James Bond or, at the very least, key holders to the local Playboy Club. MORE
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