Open Mic

March 2014

With One Season Left, the 'Mad Men' Cast Share Their Favorite Moments From the Ground-Breaking Series About Madison Ave.

Hillary Atkin Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Think back to 2007, when AMC was a cable channel known for playing old movies. And then along came “Mad Men,” the 1960s era drama series that ushered in a whole new age of original programming for the basic cabler -- and became a show that was quickly embraced by critics and viewers and lauded with dozens of awards.

Memories of that time were front and center as the cast of "Mad Men" took the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood Friday night as part of the 31st PaleyFest. They were introduced by creator Matt Weiner for a panel moderated by TV Guide’s Michael Schneider, who brought out Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Jessica Paré, Kiernan Shipka and Robert Morse.

After a screening of the season six finale that ended with Don Draper getting booted from his ad agency and showing his children the whorehouse where he grew up, cast members revealed their feelings about the upcoming final season, which will air in two parts, with a seven-episode run premiering April 13 and the final seven to air starting in the spring of 2015.

"We're in some stage of grief. The end is coming and there’s no way to prepare for it, but we will have as much fun as we’ve had. Saying goodbye is part of life," said Hamm.

"It's terrible," added Paré, the newest cast member of the group, who plays Don Draper’s wife, Megan. "Horrible. I don't want it to ever be over. I think I cry every day about the show's end.”

"I probably started being emotional earlier than everyone," admitted Hendricks. "I'm already grieving. I'm just bracing myself -- we're all just savoring every second and appreciating every moment."

"I've been on the show longer than I haven't," said 14-year-old Shipka, who was just 7 years old when the show premiered, "which is weird to think about but it's true."

As for what will happen to the characters, even if they know, they’re not saying. Their fate lies in Weiner’s hands and he’s always been known to insist on secrecy.

Hamm, who is also a producer, said Weiner may have figured out the ending between seasons four and five, after it was very clear that “Mad Men” had made it through all the uncertainty to get renewed up until that point. He noted that after shooting the pilot, everyone had major doubts about whether the show would even get picked up.

Now, fans analyze every scene and even promos to try to figure out what’s coming up for Draper and the co-workers he left behind at Sterling Cooper & Partners on Madison Avenue.

"The way the show tells the story and doles out information is very oblique," Hamm admitted. "People tend to start trying to fill in the blanks in an attempt to get ahead of the story."

With Draper’s drinking apparently out of control and his marriage on the line, the one constant in his life has been his successful career as an ad man. "He could always go to work. Now work is not there,” said Hamm. “That's going to be a big hurdle for him to have to get over somehow. If there's one overriding principle about Don, he's a survivor and generally rises to the challenges."

The show has fomented other mysteries recently, such as the character of Bob Benson (James Wolk), who became a close friend of Joan’s -- to Roger’s displeasure -- and a noteworthy rival to Pete Campbell, sparking an Internet obsession and some wild theories.

"Who is this guy (besides) two coffees and a lot of words?" Hamm said of Benson’s early appearances. "It's a tremendous compliment that people want to know." He then shouted out a YouTube video using “Mad Men” characters set to the opening theme of the 1980s ABC sitcom “Benson” starring Robert Guillaume. “It’s 45 seconds of your life but you’ll watch it ten times. It is amazing.”

Moss came in for some ribbing from the panel -- and much applause from the audience -- when Schneider displayed the March 10 cover of New York Magazine with the headline “Elisabeth Moss Has Been the Star of Mad Men All Along.”

Moss reflected on one of her noteworthy lines, “It must be nice to have choices,” said in response to her married lover and boss, Ted Chaough, telling her character he’s not going to leave his wife and that the family will be decamping to California, because he loves her so much he can’t be around her.

"I think her story is one of finding out who she is. Her battle all along is trying to figure out, should she be Don? Should she be Joan? She's finally asking the right question: Who am I?," she said of Peggy Olson. “She’s optimistic and believes in love. Ted didn’t intend to mislead her.”

As for Joan, she too is "gauging where her strengths are," said Hendricks, balancing her career and family and the role that her son’s father Roger Sterling (John Slattery) will play. Because of her "deep feelings and a lot of history" with Roger, Joan is "keeping an open mind to the possibilities" of a "more modern situation."

We last saw Megan grappling with Don’s about-face regarding moving to Los Angeles. “Feminism is bulling up and she feels that she can have everything,” Paré said. “Don wants it too but it’s not as easy for him to flip the switch.”

When it was time for the PaleyFest audience to ask questions, one audience member commented on the role that silence played, which resulted in a tense stare-down between Hamm and Schneider, with monitors showing close-ups of their faces as the laughter escalated. For the record, Schneider claimed victory when Hamm finally cracked a smile.

Another audience member asked about the possible return of Sal Romano, the former art director who last appeared in season three. Hamm responded with a laugh, "Well, he's not dead, as far as I know. I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but it isn't up to me. But these characters live in New York and can run into each other."

Kartheiser was asked about the physical changes in Campbell, particularly his receding hairline. “My hair and makeup went from 15 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes,” he said. “Balding plays into his psyche and the aging process. I once had a dream that Pete Campbell was looking at me through a window, and it was scary.”

Each of the actors was questioned about their favorite “Mad Men” moments.

“It was the first day of shooting, after the rehearsing and meeting all the people and seeing the set. I was terrified and exhilarated,” said Hamm.

“In season one, Pete had been cocky and chased Don down a hallway. That aspect of his character stuck out and was the first of many layers I’ve tried to portray,” Kartheiser said.

“After we shot the pilot and we were all looking out at the New York skyline on the rooftop of Silvercup Studios I thought, ‘Wow, that was wonderful.’ It was a simple, honest moment that I look back on with fondness. It was very special,” said Moss.

“This script with my storyline revealing things about Joan was so much fun. I started to get to know her and I remember that feeling,” Hendricks said.

“My favorite was when Pete ran in and said, ‘Don is a fraud.’ I looked right in his face and said, ‘Who cares?,’” Morse recalled.

“The finale of season four when they said they needed to measure my ring finger. I was like, yes, yes, yes,” said Paré, with great gusto.

“It was when my grandfather said that she [Sally] could do anything, and then when he passes away, that was a standout,” Shipka remarked.

Asked whether the cast talked to people who worked on Madison Avenue during the 1960s, Hamm replied, “Half of them say none of that happened. The other half say yep, all that happened. Maybe the other half didn’t get invited to the parties.”

And so the “Mad Men” party rolls on, much to the delight of everyone involved.

Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans Anticipated Up to 15 Million People Would Enter Their Billion Dollar March Madness Basketball Challenge. Was the Real Number of Entries Millions Fewer?

Chuck Ross Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:04 AM

A widely distributed sports report by the Associated Press last Friday, March 21, 2014, began “The billion dollar dream is over.

“A second day of upsets ended any chance of someone having a perfect NCAA tournament bracket in Warren Buffett’s $1 billion challenge.”

The story also had this paragraph: “Quicken Loans, which is sponsoring … the contest, said on its Twitter feed that it wouldn’t reveal the number of entrants to the challenge. The pool was supposed to be capped at 15 million entries. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if they had let more people join.”

Given that last line, it seems to me that the implication in the story is that most likely the contest, which asked entrants to pick the winners of all 63 games in the current, ongoing men’s college basketball tournament -- popularly known as March Madness -- pulled in close to the capped number of entries, which was 15 million.

Adding to that perception is that fact that ESPN, which also runs a bracket for March Madness -- for which the winner can win a $10,000 gift card -- is transparent about the number of entries it receives. This year that number was about 11 million.

If ESPN, offering only a “paltry” ten grand, got 11 million entries, certainly the Buffett Bracket, with its promise of $1 billion for a perfect entry, must have reached its goal of 15 million entries, one would think.

Plus, even if one didn’t pick a perfect bracket, the Buffett-Quicken Loans team says it will give $100,000 to each of 20 people who entered brackets with the top 20 scores. And since, like the ESPN contest, the Buffett-Quicken Loans contest costs nothing to enter, surely reaching 15 million entries sounded reasonable.

In fact, such was the anticipation of the success of this promotional contest, that after the challenge was first announced in January, the number of entries the Buffett-Quicken Loans team would accept was upped from 10 million to 15 million. They also changed the rules to allow one entry per person, as opposed to one entry per household.

Shockingly, my guess is that there were only about 2.5 million entries for the Buffett Bracket. By the way, in the ESPN contest, one person can submit up to 10 entries. So while ESPN had about 11 million entries, we don’t know exactly how many individual people that represents. In the Buffett Bracket, it was only one entry per person. So 2.5 million entries would also mean 2.5 million people entered. Not a small number, but nothing close to 15 million.

I only say “guess” because when I asked Quicken Loans to confirm my number, a press spokesperson emailed me last night, Sunday, March 23, 2014, writing: “We are not disclosing the number of entrants in the Billion Dollar Bracket challenge.” I will now explain how I arrived at my number, and please let me know if you find my evidence compelling.

When I signed up for the Buffett Bracket on Yahoo Sports, which is hosting the contest, I finally came to a screen that said before I could fill out my bracket choices I had to respond to an email that had supposedly been sent to my email address. When I checked my email, it was not there. Fortunately, there was a “resend” button on the Yahoo screen. And I clicked on it. And I waited. Nothing in my email. I had to do this several times, over a number of hours (and, as I recall, actually over a few days) before I finally received the email. I clicked on the appropriate “Verify Email” button in that email they had sent me, and it was smooth sailing from then on.

Next, my wife decided she wanted to enter the contest as well. She had the same trouble I had getting the initial email that would, in turn, let her verify her email address and start filling out her bracket. Like me, she was finally successful. Unfortunately, her verification didn’t come through until March 19, and by the time she actually went to fill out her bracket, it was after the deadline -- which was March 20 at 1 a.m. ET.

Despite the fact my wife had missed the deadline to fill out her bracket, she had made the deadline to be in the contest. So in every slot on her bracket, in red, the word “none” was automatically filled in by the Buffett Bracket program, indicating no team had been selected. And as the games started being played and finished in the tourney, at the top of her entry it would say 0/1, 0/2, 0/3, etc., with the second number being the number of games having been played.

Now, at this moment, as we await the tournament to continue next week, my bracket, “Charles’s Crazy Bracket” (name chosen by the Buffett Bracket program, not me), shows on the top, where it says “Correct Picks,” 34/48, which means out of the 48 games played so far, I’ve picked 34 correctly. Next to that it says “Pools” and “Quicken Loans Billion.” Click on that and it says my ranking in the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge Pool is 730,031.

It also says that my ranking in the My Tourney Pick’em Bracket is 1,444,746. The Tourney Pick’em Bracket is what Yahoo Sports has long called its free contest for users who want to fill out brackets for the men’s college basketball tournament. If you entered the Buffett Bracket you automatically got entered into the Tourney Pick’em Bracket as well. And, like ESPN’s contest, each person can enter ten brackets in the Tourney Pick’em contest.

Given the rankings, we now know that I’m either in 730,031st place by myself, or tied for that place, in the Buffett Bracket contest. And in the Yahoo Tourney contest I’m in 1,444,746th place by myself or tied for that place.

What we don’t know, however, is out of how many total places, or entries, those ranking are for. In other words, am I in 730,031st place out of one million total places or out of 10 million total places?

That’s where my wife’s bracket comes into play. Because she didn’t get to fill it out with various team names, each game shows up as a loss. So at the top of her bracket right now it says she is 0/48. (Okay, you’re smiling because you’re one step ahead of me here, but let me finish.)

Click on her rankings and here is what it says: In the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge Pool, she is in 2,477,374th place, or tied for that place. And in the Yahoo Tourney Pick’em she is listed in 4,844,054th place, or tied for that place.

Now here’s the “Eureka!” moment: Because she has no wins, she has to be either in last place alone or tied for last place. Either that or Yahoo is lying to us about the rankings.

Thus, figuring that my wife is tied for last place, I’m going to say that there are about 2.5 million entries to the Buffett Bracket, aka the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.

And I’m also going to say that then there are about 5 million entries in the Yahoo Tourney Pick’em contest.

The Quicken Loans folks won’t say how many are in its contest. As for the Yahoo contest, I found an article on the Yahoo website that said last year there were about 3 million entries in its Tourney Pick’em contest. That there were then about 5 million entries to that contest this year seems right, when one adds in the Buffett Bracket entries and figures that there is some duplication with people who would have entered the Yahoo contest even if there hadn’t been the Buffett contest.

In an article published ten days ago on ESPN.com by the award-winning sports writer Rick Reilly, Reilly spoke to both Buffett and Dan Gilbert, who owns both Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team.

Wrote Reilly: “Gilbert stands to gain as many as 15 million new sales leads with the registration process alone on this thing. ‘You can't buy that kind of PR,’ Gilbert says. ‘We love this.'"

I wonder if he’s loving it less if the real number is closer to 2.5 million.

In the piece Reilly also talks about Buffett’s insuring the billion dollars that Quicken would have to pay out for a perfect bracket:

“Buffett's National Indemnity Company is taking the risk on the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. If you win, you can take $25 million a year for 40 years or a $500 million check right away. But Buffett is betting you won't. He wrote the policy himself.

" 'I just sat right in that chair,' he says, pointing to his packed little office, 'and I did the calculations. Took me about 10 or 15 minutes. I hope I did it right.'"

Later in the piece Reilly adds, "Buffett won't reveal what he charged Quicken for the premium, but I took a shot. I knew the lowest odds quoted for a perfect bracket were from Duke professor Ezra Miller, who estimates a skilled handicapper has about a billion-to-1 chance. Buffett, naturally, would quote the lowest possible odds so as to keep everything in his favor. So, if Buffett were insuring against one person doing it, at a billion-to-1 odds, he would charge about $1. But, because 15 million people are expected to try, it should be about $15 million, tops.

“[Buffett] and his twinkle and his lopsided haircut paused. And then he said, 'You're good, but I'm not saying.'"

If only about 2.5 million people entered the Buffett Bracket challenge, does that mean Buffett’s National Indemnity made $2.5 million instead of an anticipated $15 million?

The idea for this Buffett Bracket came from Buffett, who then found Quicken Loans to work with as a partner. The contest is a lot of fun, and it certainly caught the imagination of many. Maybe next year, with more publicity and a smoother-working system on Yahoo -- or another tech partner -- the registration can go a lot easier and a lot more people will sign up to participate. Because the more people that participate the greater the chance that someone will actually pick a perfect bracket -- small as that possibility is.

And Mr. Buffett, please, next year a little more transparency. Make public the number of people who are playing. That’s part of the fun.

[Please let me know what you think about my piece. Because of security issues, we recently had to shut down the ability for readers to leave comments about our stories. We are working to fix that. Meanwhile, please feel free to send me your comments via email at chkross@crain.com. Just write “bracket” in the subject line. I will post any comments here, as long as they are appropriate -- no swearing, etc. -- regardless of whether they reflect favorably or not about what I’ve written.]

Judd Apatow -- One of Hollywood's Most Successful Creators of Comedy -- Says His Primary Motivation Is a TV Series He Did that Was Canceled After One Season

Hillary Atkin Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:51 PM

Nearly every television producer working today has a sad story about the one that got away – the passion project that made it to air but after usually a very short period of time was axed, justifiably or not, by the network. This scenario is one that can rankle creators years, or even decades, later.

For Judd Apatow, that show was “Freaks and Geeks,” which ran on NBC in the 1999-2000 season and was canceled after 18 episodes, but has since gained cult status -- and remains very near and dear to his heart.

As the acclaimed writer/producer/director was honored last week with the PaleyFest Icon Award at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills for his artistic contributions to television, he made a startling admission.

“Everything I’ve done in a way is revenge for the people who canceled ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ Apatow said near the end of a celebration honoring his creative contributions to television, which also include “The Ben Stiller Show,” “The Larry Sanders Show," “Undeclared” and, currently, “Girls.” “It’s like, ‘You were wrong about that person and that writer and that director.’ I guess I should get over that,” Apatow said.

Before “Girls,” Apatow had not worked actively in television for more than a decade -- apparently a little bitter about how “Undeclared,” what he called the college version of “Freaks,” was also canceled after less than a full season, just 17 episodes.

Oh, and he was just a little occupied with films including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “Superbad,” “Knocked Up,” “ Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek,“ “Pineapple Express,” “This Is 40” and “Bridesmaids.”

“TV is 1,000 times harder than film,” Apatow said at the ceremony for his Icon Award -- only the second one given. (Last year’s, the inaugural of the honor, went to Ryan Murphy.)

It was a unique presentation, a trip down memory lane, tour-guided by “Entertainment Weekly’s” Dan Snierson, with many of the key players in his career speaking out from the audience, telling anecdotes about their experiences with Apatow and on his shows.

Apatow's wife, actress Leslie Mann, and their daughter Iris Apatow were in the front row to cheer him on.

After an introduction from Paley Center for Media CEO Pat Mitchell, Roseanne Barr took the podium. “I discovered Judd,” she told the packed house, and praised his “humanistic” ability to weave a story so well, with an eye for sensitivity. “Plus, it’s pee-your-pants funny,” she said.

After working with Roseanne and her then-husband Tom Arnold, Apatow got a big break when Garry Shandling asked him to write jokes when Shandling was called to be host of the Grammy Awards in the early 1990s.

“I wrote 100 jokes for him but it was right around the time of the first Iraq war and he didn’t use any of them. But it spurred him to think of his own bits, so I basically wrote a hundred setups for him.”

Shandling, who was in the packed theater and reminisced and cracked jokes with Apatow, gave him a job on his vaunted HBO program, “The Larry Sanders Show.”

A 20-plus-year-old clip was played that was especially resonant. It showed Larry -- after consulting with his producers -- with Ellen DeGeneres riffing on whether she was going to come out as gay on his fictional talk show -- a bit that ended in them passionately kissing and leaving the question of her sexuality up to the viewer to decide, and Larry’s producers in confusion.

“I learned almost everything I know from Garry,” Apatow said, noting that his good experience then with HBO led to his returning to the pay cabler’s fold with Lena Dunham for “Girls.” He got in touch with Dunham after seeing her indie film “Tiny Furniture” with his wife and offered to work with her. Apatow said the deal to return to TV was sweetened when it turned out that Jennifer Konner, with whom he had worked on “Undeclared,” was the executive producer.

As for his early influences, Apatow shouted out Paul Reiser’s performance in the 1982 Barry Levinson film “Diner,” because some of his lines were ad-libbed. “Oh my God, you can get a job on a movie when [you have] funny things to say?” Apatow said he was also inspired by Dave Eggers' book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” because of its honesty and vulnerability.

Those are qualities that have marked Apatow’s work in both television and film. And although they are usually cloaked in humor and emanate from the man-children that many of his characters embody, he also has a traditional romantic side -- as epitomized in the finale of “Girls” last season, when a shirtless Adam rushes to the rescue of Hannah through the streets of New York, to the accompaniment of a soaring score.

It should also be noted that “Girls” is now one of Apatow’s longest-running shows, having been renewed for a fourth season.

Asked by Snierson which show he would like to write for if given the opportunity, Apatow consulted with his wife and answered “The Americans.” And then, perhaps not as surprisingly, “Switched at Birth” and “The Fosters.”

(The 31st PaleyFest runs through March 28 in Hollywood. All of the panels will be live streamed at http://media.paleycenter.org/pf-live.)