TV Critics Tour: Weiner Calls 'Mad Men' A Success Despite Small Audience


Beverly Hills, Calif.—Mad Men creator-executive producer Matthew Weiner told TV critics Wednesday that he’s thrilled with the show’s success so far on AMC, even though the critically acclaimed drama didn’t draw a large audience its first season.

During a panel at the Television Critics Association summer tour, Weiner (pictured), and most of the Mad Men cast were assembled to talk about the second season of the show, which debuts July 27.

Weiner, a veteran of The Sopranos, was asked whether he hopes Mad Men’s critical success, which includes winning a Peabody Award, will translate into more “eyeballs,”—a larger audience—in its second season. It drew an average of 1 million viewers an episode its first season.

He said he’d like to see the show’s viewership increase, but that it’s still a success so far.

“I’m an artist, so critical success like this has been more satisfying than a lot of things,” Weiner said. “But if you want to get into the commercial end of things, I look at what happened in the last year. I think about how people may feel at our competition about the show, and I don’t think anyone is looking at this and saying it’s not a commercial success.”

He later elaborated, pointing out that AMC has not only had success with Mad Men, which is about an ad agency in 1960 and the psyche of that period, but with its other original series such as Broken Trail and Breaking Bad.

“I do hope that as AMC becomes more popular, that the show will draw a larger audience. But to me it’s Malthusian—the increase in attention for this channel—from where we started to where we are right now,” Weiner said. “I consider that a very, very big success, in multiples.”

Weiner’s answer prompted a quip from Jon Hamm (right), who plays the lead character, Don Draper, in Mad Men.

“I agreed to give Matt $1,000 because he used the word ‘Malthusian,’” Hamm joked. “I bet he couldn’t work it in. You win again.”

When Weiner was asked if he feels a lot of pressure to live up to the acclaim of the first season in the second, he said he’s always under pressure to live up to his own standards and not disappoint the Mad Men cast.

“The truth is, it (the acclaim) still hasn’t sunk in,” Weiner said. “I’m one of those artists who can only hear bad things. I’m not encouraging anybody, by the way…I’m always under a lot of pressure. I’m very tightly wound.”

He added that he doesn’t want to give the cast a script and have the reaction be, “Thanks for the dud.”

At the session, the cast was also asked about what it’s like to be part of a show that’s become a TV phenomenon.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” Hamm said. “But the sort of swirl that happens around the show kind of exists outside of the show… It remains kind of fun to go to work. It’s been like that since the pilot.”

Hamm added that he always had high hopes for the show.

“I’ve been so proud of this thing from the beginning that to have it sort of validated and vindicated in sort of the world of television criticism, and the culture, is amazing,” he said. “(Mad Men actor) John Slattery said it once, ‘You’re not crazy. Like OK, other people like good stuff, too.’ And I’m not trying to shit on Dancing With the Stars.”

Hamm then joked, “I’ll be on Dancing with the Stars.”

The actor said he’s not often recognized, despite the notoriety of the hit show.

“Fortunately, in my real life dress I don’t look too much like Don,” Hamm said. “My hair’s not slicked back and I’m not buttoned into very tight-fitting suit. I’m able to sort of sneak in and blend into the background a little more, which is great.”

And Hamm said he happily accepts his new role as a sex symbol.

“It’s nice to be considered anything,” Hamm said. “If it’s positive, I’ll take it. Why not?”

At the panel, Weiner was asked why the second season doesn’t immediately reveal what happened to the baby that Mad Men character Peggy Olson had in the last episode of the first season.

“I say trust me,” Weiner said. “I will give you the information as you need it in the most entertaining way.”  

The second season also skips forward more than a year from the first-season finale, and Weiner was asked about that.

“I felt in terms of the energy and the story, why don’t we just go ahead and I can start the story fresh, and at the same time there would be all these events that happened in between that will create additional story-telling energy,” he said.

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