Advertising is everything..
Perhaps your remember a little show called The Sopranos. Maybe you don’t, it was very underground. If you do happen to remember that indie darling, it might be time to start tuning into AMC’s Mad Men. Created by Matthew Weiner, a writer and producer of the smash-hit mob drama, Mad Men trades in the guns and lasagna for sharp suits and a never-ending fount of whiskey.
Named for Madison Avenue, Mad Men is all about how people sell themselves. At the advertising offices of Sterling and Cooper, Weiner’s characters struggle to sell their services to their clients and themselves to each other. Advertising, of course, is key. Leading man Jon Hamm plays Don Draper, a man who has sold himself so well that he has literally and figuratively, ceased to exist.
In fact, Don Draper died years ago in the Korean War and our protagonist has taken his name and identity and crafted himself a life of upper-class perfection. A truly brilliant advertiser, he has risen the ranks to become the most respected man in the company, and in fact, the entire advertising industry.
Everything old is new again…
Mad Men takes place in the early sixties, and follows a very carefully plotted timeline. The writers have been very careful to integrate a??ropriate references to real world events and products which happened during that time period. The first season is interwoven with much of the young Senator John Kennedy’s presidential race against Richard Nixon for the presidency, as the behind-the-times Sterling Cooper helps to create advertisements for Nixon.
What I find refreshing about Mad Men’s choice of time period is that it avoids the traps many fiction writers set for themselves. Set in neither the placid, post-war 50s nor the turbulent 70s, Mad Men has no easy outs when it tells a story about oppression and not obvious parallel to make when the world seems like it is burning. The 1960s were about transition, and the test of the main characters will be whether they can sell themselves in the new America that is still peacefully gestating, soon to be born into a wild, screaming infant.
Winning Hearts and Minds (and statues)
The big winner at this years Emmy Awards, Mad Men is the first basic-cable network program to win the award for best drama.in 2008. Alongside FX’s Damages, Mad Men is breaking new ground. With more and more channels available, it was only a matter of time before the programming on the cable networks would equal the output of broadcasters such as NBC and Fox.
Previously, pay stations such as HBO and Showtime were the only other players in the big leagues, their method of revenue providing for big budgets for their prestige shows. As television viewership begins to level out, cable stations are reaching an equilibrium with broadcast television. This is good for cable, and bad for broadcast- as viewership for dramas such as Mad Men and The Shield draw people to cable, they leave the broadcast stations with less bodies in the seats.
Watch or Die
The Mad Men train is just starting to get out of the station, and viewers would be wise to catch it while they can. The first season is available on DVD, and will be a quick catch-up for the second season, already in progress. Watch it Sunday nights on AMC at 10:00 pm.
Don’t be afraid to leave the big networks behind, they’ll be there when you come back. Right now, though, you have a job appointment on Madison Avenue.