'Mad Men' Returns On Sunday, To The Delight Of Its Excitable Fans

Mar 22, 2012
Originally published on March 23, 2012 11:24 am

On Friday's Morning Edition, Elizabeth Blair investigates one of television's pressing questions: Why has Mad Men been off the air so long? It's returning this Sunday night with a two-hour season premiere, but it's still puzzled some viewers that it has been off for such a long time.

The network has explained it as a scheduling decision, particularly designed to let them give Mad Men's slot to Breaking Bad for the summer. But as Mekeisha Madden, TV writer for the Detroit News, tells Blair, you could argue that all of AMC's other shows, including Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, owe their existence to AMC's success with Mad Men. So what's with the delay of the network's original prestige project?

Show creator Matthew Weiner talks in the piece about the role of contract negotiations over things like product placement, which has involved brands like Heineken and Cadillac.

But whatever the reason, it's been almost a year and a half since Mad Men was on the air. The network is advertising, it's been running reruns, and it's trying to cross-pollinate with its other shows. The two-hour premiere is also part of the strategy.

So, of course, is the notorious secrecy that surrounds the show. Weiner is a well-known stickler about spoilers of any kind, to the point where he asks critics who receive advance screeners not to reveal anything, down to what year it is in the return episode. Jerry Della Femina, an ad man whose writing partly inspired the show, tells Blair all that secrecy is a big part of the show's cachet.

Oh, and he'd like to see Don Draper (Jon Hamm) stop feeling guilty about sleeping with so many women.

Della Femina is right, of course, that Weiner has gotten a lot of mileage out of making things in the show seem to be more about shocking plot twists than it really is. (Critic Alan Sepinwall recently wrote that the show, contrary to all that secrecy, is always really about the what, but the how.) And if we were talking about a show that people watch casually, there would probably be a bigger risk in leaving it off the air that long. But Mad Men is so beloved by the people who watch it, and it left so many plot points hanging at the end of the previous season, that it's hard to imagine anyone is going to forget about it.

Maybe you forget Survivor if you don't see it for long enough. Maybe you forget Smash. But are you likely to forget a show as profoundly stylized and persistently buzzed about as Mad Men? No.

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Well, the stylish, womanizing, hard-living folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are back. The highly anticipated return of "Mad Men" premieres this Sunday night on AMC after a hiatus of 17 months. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the creator of the series about advertising in the '60s has a pretty good idea how to sell his show in 2012.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: First, why has "Mad Men" been off the air so long?


BLAIR: AMC says they wanted to do a little program shuffle. So they ran "Breaking Bad" last summer, and saved "Mad Men" for this spring. Mekeisha Madden, TV writer for the Detroit News, says "Mad Men" is the reason AMC even has other shows.

MEKEISHA MADDEN: "Breaking Bad" and "Walking Dead" and "The Killing" - all of these shows, in large part, are successful because they started off with one really successful show in "Mad Men."

BLAIR: For a while, it was unclear whether "Mad Men" would come back at all. When it came time for creator Matthew Weiner to renew his contract, he says there were some sticking points, including product placement.


BLAIR: Since "Mad Men" is a show about advertising, Matthew Weiner says...

MATTHEW WEINER: I have to use real products in the show, so a lot of the opportunities for product placement have actually been generated by me.

BLAIR: Weiner says it was easy to write the Dutch beer Heineken into an entire episode.


BLAIR: Weiner says Heineken paid for that placement. But he says some brands do not give them money.

WEINER: Don bought a Cadillac, and Cadillac was not involved in that. They would not have allowed Betty Draper to vomit in their car.

BLAIR: It's been almost a year and a half since "Mad Men" was on the air.

WEINER: The first thing I thought of is like, oh my God, people aren't going to see the show for that long.

BLAIR: So how will he and AMC get them back? To refresh people's minds, AMC is airing repeats of previous seasons. And of course, they're advertising - like running billboards of the evocative falling man image, and airing commercials during some of AMC's most popular shows.


BLAIR: Making Sunday's premiere two hours instead of one is also a way Matthew Weiner hopes to bring fans back.

WEINER: I'm not going to amp the story up to an unrealistic level. I'm not going to like, you know, start off with a fire in the agency and say who survived. But I did want to give at least something extra. So that's - first of all, was the decision to make a two-hour premiere.


BLAIR: Who is going to sleep with whom? Will Don Draper reveal his past? Will Peggy Olson out-do the men? Matthew Weiner has been notoriously tight-lipped.

JERRY DELLA FEMINA: He won't talk.

BLAIR: Jerry Della Femina was a titan on Madison Avenue for decades. One of his books about the business partly inspired "Mad Men." Della Femina says Weiner's secrecy is great PR.

FEMINA: You don't even have an idea where he's going with the show. So they've already got you wondering.

BLAIR: Della Femina says he wants the series to continue showing how the tumult of the 1960s affected the advertising industry. He also wants to see Don Draper loosen up.

FEMINA: I mean, Don Draper has got to stop feeling bad for sleeping with women. He's just got to snap out of it, you know? He's doing it. He's good at it. Stop feeling guilty, for crying out loud.


WEINER: Wow. I love Jerry. He just says a lot of things out loud that really, completely clarify the entire period.

BLAIR: A period of such decadence, Della Femina says he's surprised he's still alive. "Mad Men" indeed.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.