The Light from the TV Shows: No, seriously, “Mad Men” really IS coming back! For real, this time!

If you caught last week’s debut of Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings, then you already know that we’re so excited about the return of “Mad Men” that we put it as our #2 show despite the fact that it hasn’t aired a new episode since 2010. So what? We’re excited, you’re excited, everyone’s been chomping at the bit for the fifth season to kick off that we can barely stand it. Surely that warrants a little fudging of the numbers, no…?

Mad Men actresses

Since AMC let slip a few trailers this week to promote the new season of “Mad Men,” I figured this would be a good time to revisit the cocktail party thrown by the network during the January TCA Press Tour, where I was able to get a few minutes with a few of the cast members, but here’s the score, so you don’t get too excited: I got a couple of minutes one on one with John Slattery (Roger Sterling) and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane), got a single question with Jon Hamm, and was able to ask precisely nothing of Christina Hendricks. I did, however, stand next to her for an extended period of time, and just for the record, she’s just as gorgeous as in person as she is on TV and in photos…which, come to think of it, might have had something to do with why I never managed to ask a question. (Mostly, though, it was because I’m not into trying to out-talk other people, which was the modus operandi of just about everyone else surrounding her at the time.)

Oh, and speaking of not getting too excited…? Total-lack-of-spoiler alert: there ain’t a single lick of new footage in any of the below trailers. Thanks for nothing, Matthew Weiner. But, hey, at least they serve to remind you of how much you missed these characters.

Man oh man, March 25 seems like a lifetime away…

Don’s back!

One of the big pieces of news to emerge about the return of “Mad Men” was that one of the episodes in the new season – not the season premiere, although it was the first episode the cast filmed upon coming back to work – was directed by Jon Hamm. While standing in a scrum during the cocktail party, I was privy to some of Hamm’s reflections on the experience.

“It was great, honestly. Part of it is that we’re all very close, and we’re all very good friends, and we’ve all worked together now for almost six years. So for me, it was very easy to just say, ‘Okay, that was great, let’s do it again, let’s try it a different way.’ Simple direction, not too complicated, and I didn’t try to overreach. I didn’t try to do too much. It wasn’t about camera moves. I didn’t try to be David Fincher. Part of it was, like, ‘Let’s see if I can do this and not run the train off the tracks.'”

Eventually, I managed to get in my one lonely question, which was to find out if, as director, he was in charge of the table read for the episode.

Hamm looked at me with equal parts good humor and incredulity. “Have you talked to Matt Weiner?” he asked, grinning. “Matt Weiner runs the table read.”

Roger’s back!

When I asked John Slattery how much of his excitement about the return of “Mad Men” was based directly on no longer having to be asked what he’d heard about when “Mad Men” was coming back, he laughed but couldn’t quantify a percentage.

“I’m just excited,” he said. “I just finished shooting last night, in fact.”

What, you mean all of Season Five?

“Yep,” he said, grinning. “And it went by in a blur, I’ll tell you that.”

When he first stepped back into the shoes of Roger Sterling, Slattery admitted that he had to find his groove. “I’m always off the first day back,” he admitted. “I mean, we were obviously gone for awhile this time, but I always feel, like, ‘How does all this work again?’ Plus, Jon Hamm was directing, so that was new. But he was great. Really, it was just good to be back. Plus, the scripts are better than they’ve ever been. I think so, anyway. And, yeah, I know that sounds like what you’re supposed to say, but we’ve all been commenting on it.”

Slattery described the “Mad Men” cast reads as amazing, but he said that even he and his cast members often find their hands tied by the secrecy surrounding the show’s scripts. “We – the cast – read these things like fans,” he said. “We can’t wait to get them, and once we do get them, we all sit around and read ‘em. If we have to, we’ll steal ‘em from whoever we can steal ’em from – make-up, the hair department, some production head, whatever – just so we can sneak a read before we do our table read.”

No surprise here: Slattery can’t say a blessed thing about what we can expect in Season Five. Instead, I closed by asking him if, after learning that Roger was going to be writing a book, he was surprised as it became increasingly apparent that it was going to be a real snooze.

“Roger’s image of himself is certainly different from anyone else’s,” said Slattery, laughing. “But, you know, I think that’s what the whole show is about: all of these people have this image of themselves that they try to carry off, and in the end, it differs considerably from how everyone else sees them.”

Joan’s back!

Like I said, I didn’t get (or couldn’t manage) to ask Christina Hendricks a question that night. But, look, this shot was taken that night. Would you have been able to string two words together?

Oh, right: Harry Crane is back, too…but did we mention Joan?

Rich Sommer is glad to be back at work, too. At the party, though, he was mostly just happy that AMC had finally deigned to release a few details about the return of the show.

“It’s just nice to have the news out,” he said. “They sent us a little thing a few days ago, saying, ‘This is what we’re going to be telling everyone, so you can talk about these things at the party.’ I was, like, ‘Oh, thank God…’ So now you know it’s going to be two hours on the first night back, you know Jon directed the first episode we filmed when we came back…”

But which of the plot points was Sommer most glad to be able to…

Sommer can’t resist a laugh. “Which of the plot points…?”

Sorry. Which of the talking points – God forbid Matthew Weiner should offer even the slightest bit of specifics as far as what we might see – was Sommer most glad to be able to finally discuss openly?

“Well, it has to be the return date,” said Sommer. “That’s nice because it’s the easiest to answer. I mean, I’ve had to lie straight to the face of people that I love when they asked, ‘So Jon directed the premiere?’ ‘Uh…yep.’ I have said, ‘Well, yeah, he directed the first episode,’ because it was the first episode that we shot this season. So I could say that without totally lying. I hate lying to people.”

So Sommer can’t say anything specific about the new season. Can he at least offer something general?

“For my money – and I know I’ve said this before, but I mean it – it’s the best season,” said Sommer. “I mean, I really, genuinely believe it. I wouldn’t say it otherwise. I don’t know how the hell Matt Weiner does it, but he has an amazing writing staff, and they just won’t let the other shoe drop. They just won’t. It’s great.”

Like Slattery, Sommer enjoys the experience of doing table reads with the rest of the “Mad Men” cast. Apparently, it’s just a big ol’ lovefest on that set.

“There’s giddiness at every table read,” said Sommer. “We are so fortunate to like each other. And I know a lot of shows say they do, but I go to shows and they don’t always. Some do. Some get along great. I know on ‘Modern Family’ they all love each other. But we really genuinely…there’s not a bad apple in the bunch, so it’s always very exciting to go to those table reads. And you know everyone’s gonna be there, because we don’t all work together all the time, so it’s the one time that we’re all together.”

As noted, Jom Hamm helmed the first episode filmed upon the cast’s return to work (though not, we cannot stress enough, the first episode of the season), and he likened the experience to when Slattery sat behind the camera a little while back.

“For me, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome with a director is how they communicate with actors, because they’re looking for something, and they have to find a way to kind of get it out of you, to pull it out of you,” said Sommer. “And sometimes the direction for that will be a little…surface, if that makes sense. They’re going, ‘I want you to say it like this.’ But Hamm and Slattery are both actors, so they’re talking about the emotion and the feeling of a scene, which I love. If they tell me a scene feels too closed, if it needs to be more open…I love that. I can do that. When it’s a line reading, though, it’s a little harder. When someone says, ‘I want you to say it this way,’ I don’t really know how to inform that. But as actors, they know how to talk to actors.”

“Also,” Sommer added with a grin, “they’ve both been in the business for, like, a hundred years.”

Knowing that he had to run off to chat with other journalists, there was only one more pressing – and, theoretically, easily answered – question left to ask of Sommer: has he booked another appearance on “The Soup” yet?

“Not yet,” he said. “We talk about it all the time, though. I’m good friends with Joel (McHale) and K.P. (Anderson), the producer, and they always say that whenever I want to come back, there’s a place. So with ‘Mad Men’ coming back, I can almost assure you that I’ll be on there.”

Awesome. Which reminds me: LeVar Burton’s always turning up with you guys on “The Soup.” When are you going to get him on your show?

“We’ve got to do it!” said Sommer, with legitimate enthusiasm. “I mean, that guy’s great. For the moment, though, don’t worry: he’s definitely an honorary Mad Man.”


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