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Diary of a ‘Mad’ Evening

March 28, 2008 2:29 PM

AMC’s “Mad Men” may be the first early-’60s-period-piece to hit television since “Happy Days,” but the word “nostalgia” has a distinctly different connotation here.

With the show’s Sodom-and-Gomorrah-on-Madison-Avenue ethos, the pleasures in Ike’s last days run less toward malteds than Martinis, and less toward bubble gum than bloody steaks and unfiltered Lucky Strikes.

The men of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency make the Fonz seem neutered by comparison. 1960, if the show is to be believed, was a time when men were men, and the secretaries were nervous.


Appearing in modern dress for the PaleyFest panel were series creator Matthew Weiner and stars Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Rich Sommer, Robert Morse, and Aaron Staton.

After breathlessly reading off a lengthy list of “Mad Men’s” critical accolades, moderator Matt Roush giddily grilled Mr. Weiner and the assembled cast of the very character-driven show, who all seemed genuinely happy to see one another again.

The babyfaced Mr. Kartheister, who plays scheming young ad man Pete Campbell, chatted sotto voce with veteran actor (and the show’s head suit) Mr. Morse, who whispered something that sent him and co-stars within earshot into fits of the giggles.

With the exception of the old hands on stage, the mostly unknown cast seemed starry-eyed at the sterling reception “Mad Men” has received.

Mr. Sommer, who plays office nebbish Harry Crane, faltered charmingly on the pronunciation of “Chateau Marmont” when he described a stunned cast celebration at the hotel, where they watched the announcement of the show’s surprise Golden Globe wins (for Best Drama and Best Actor for Mr. Hamm).

When asked about the glowing reception of “Mad Men,” Mr. Weiner alluded to a lack of quality in the massive amount of cross-media entertainment now available to viewers, positing that “It proves that there’s still something to be said for being a fan of television.”

Mr. Hamm added that, as opposed to “guilty pleasure” like trashy reality television or lowbrow Web video, and the show brings the “actual pleasure” that only a well-crafted program can provide.

Mr. Weiner deflected the question about his characters’ likeability as people, quipping, “It did help that a particular M.A.S.H. unit was filled with losers.”

When Mr. Roush pressed him for details on the upcoming second season, Mr. Weiner declined, saying that the premiere close was enough around the corner that he didn’t need to spoil the plot to stoke the anticipation.

The show left off around Thanksgiving, with the characters watching the returns of the presidential race.

“Can you even tell us historical markers?” asked Mr. Roush.

“It will be set in the ’60s,” joked Mr. Weiner, but then went on to confirm that Mr. Slattery’s character, despite having had two heart attacks in separate episodes, will be a permanent fixture on the show, noting, “My own grandfather had six heart attacks.”

Mr. Slattery pumped his fists in triumph. “You all heard that,” he told the audience.

Julieanne Smolinski

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Comments (1)

Cableguy:

Actually, NBC (I think) had a show called "American Dreams" on a couple of years ago that took place in the early 60's.
I was born in 1961, so my memory of the early 60's is not very extensive. Did everybody really smoke and drink all the time? I've only seen a couple of episodes, and really enjoyed the program.

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