Friday, December 13, 2013

‘Mad Men’: The end of a love affair?


IT WAS widely reported on Thursday: “Mad Men,” the celebrated AMC series on life, ego and passion at a New York ad agency in the ‘60’s, had failed to secure a Golden Globes nomination for Best Drama for the second straight year.

The Matthew Weiner series, which debuted in 2007, is one of television’s best written and acted series in decades, and was once a lock in the Emmy Awards Best Drama category, winning four years in a row. This year the show’s creators and stars had to watch as other series – including CBS’s “The Good Wife,” PBS’s "Downton Abbey,” Netflix’s “House Of Cards,” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” won Globe nods.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman observes that “there's certainly something in the zeitgeist about knocking Mad Men down a few pegs after its sixth season.” In his Bastard Machine column, Goodman calls the decision to omit “Mad Men” from the Golden Globes derby “inconceivable and ridiculous,” but he says that after warning readers that “[t]he first rule of the Golden Globes is always ‘prepare yourself for the crazy’ ... because it's impossible to know what's going on inside the personal globes of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.”

What may be going on could be nothing more than HFPA members suffering from TV attention deficit disorder; with so many new and powerful dramas to choose from, the omission of “Mad Men” may be as much about being wooed by other, newer series this year as making a conscious decision to dis “Mad Men.”

But it’s possible that the HFPA may have thought that a recent AMC programming decision tried their patience once too often, and that — consistent with the feelings of many viewers — it was time to pre-emptively say out loud what some have thought in private: “Mad Men,” we’re just not that into you anymore.

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In September, AMC announced that “Mad Men” would end the series with a bifurcated seventh season: seven episodes in the spring of 2014 (dubbed “The Beginning”) and seven in 2015 (to be called “The End of An Era”), following the programming examples of other shows such as HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.”

“This approach has worked well for many programs across multiple networks, and, most recently for us with ‘Breaking Bad,’ which attracted nearly double the number of viewers to its second-half premiere than had watched any previous episode,” said AMC President Charlie Collier, in a statement. “We are determined to bring 'Mad Men' a similar showcase.”

Weiner said that the decision, while not his to make, means that the show “can resonate a little bit longer in the minds of our audience.”

Coinciding with the finale of Season 6, in June, Weiner did an interview with Jace Lacob of The Daily Beast: “If you’d told me that I would have 78 episodes of this show when I started, I would have run away. I would have never thought that it could happen, or been scared of even trying to make it happen. To me, this whole thing is just a dream. We’re really thrilled that, this deep into the show we can continue to surprise and interest people, and the level of interest this season has been so positive. I hope that they’ve enjoyed the journey.”

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BUT THAT’S the thing about journeys: Sooner or later, on a long one, you get tired of traveling. You don’t want to get somewhere, you want to be somewhere. That’s the thrust of the reactions from many “Mad Men” loyalists, a wave of consternation you could call the wisdom of crowds.

MrsCoach, commenting at Vulture: “The point is that they're filming it all as one season (now) but locking half of it up in a closet somewhere until 2015. It's not like they're extending the actors' contracts for another year. What I'm wondering is how they're going to get [series lead Jon] Hamm et al. to promote the second half — they'll all have moved on to bigger projects and none of them is going to want to talk about something they filmed two years in the past.”

Hollowaynotharris, Vulture: “It's agony to wait 9-10 months for 13 episodes. Now we have to wait 9-10 months for seven and then another 9-10 for the last seven? Will this show end with a bang a la Breaking Bad or with a devastating whimper due to overstaying its welcome? I hope it's not the latter.”

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The gist of these reactions, and others, speaks to what was once “Mad Men’s” greatest appeal and, the loss of which, now threatens to be its undoing: its place in the national life.

For the first four seasons of “Mad Men,” there was a powerful, indelible connection between the show and its audience. Watching it was a common American experience: After the show was broadcast on Sundays, the foibles and quirks of the characters in any given episode were the stuff of office talk the next day. The show that aired the night before was all anyone could talk about: Do you believe what Don did last night? What's Joan up to? What was Roger thinking? What’s Peggy’s next move? “Mad Men” was an absolutely indispensable component of the wider cultural conversation.

That role in the national chatter was naturally endangered anyway, as newer shows emerged from AMC and other networks. Now, with the decision to stretch the final season over two years, “Mad Men” may well be losing its place in the watercooler zeitgeist, if it hasn’t happened already. People aren’t talking about it like they used to. For better or worse, there’s simply too much else to pay attention to that’s reliably right in front of us every week.

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Mark P., commenting at The Huffington Post, understands this: “Before Breaking Bad, Mad Men was my favorite show on the tube. The problem with Mad Men is it has an EIGHT show season then it's on hiatus for MONTHS at a time ... you end up losing interest after a while as other new shows are introduced that are pretty good.”

It would be one thing if the last season had to be dragged out to accommodate reality — if the show had to do it because of actors’ conflicting schedules with other projects, or because of protracted contract negotiations (which is what took it off the air for 17 months, all of 2011 and part of 2012). That’s not the case now: the final season is already shot and in the can, the stars moving on to other projects, like ads for Mercedes-Benz and Johnnie Walker Scotch.

Islandia, Vulture: “What irks me about the idea of a Mad Men split season is that it seems like a blatant mimicry of the Breaking Bad split season. BB pulled the format off successfully, so AMC thinks that Mad Men — a show with a very different atmosphere and momentum — can do the same. Rather than treating Mad Men as the separate artistic entity that it is and letting the story unfold from the inside out, it's being awkwardly packaged and distributed per the AMC ‘brand’.”

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WITH ITS snub of “Mad Men” for the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association may have tapped not just into its’ members own feelings but also a sentiment shared by the public at large: It’s hard to matter if you’re not in the conversation. And you likely won’t be in the conversation if you go away for too long.

The show’s opening sequence, one of TV’s most memorable series identifiers, depicts a male figure (Don Draper?), falling out of control through a cityscape crowded with advertising images, an abyss of his own creation. For many “Mad Men” addicts, the prospect of that figure free-falling over the next 18 months or so is bad enough.

No fault of their own, but the builders of one of TV’s truly groundbreaking shows may have to contend with something once unthinkable: When that falling man hits the metaphorical sidewalk of the end of an era, and a series ... people might not care very much.

Image credits: “Mad Men” title card, production stills and motion graphic still (Falling Man): © 2013 Weiner Bros./Lionsgate, AMC. AMC logo: © 2013 AMC.

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