“Mad Men” always had the feel of a show that couldn’t go on forever. It’s too smart, too ambitious, too consistent to live forever in a television world so full of subpar material. Basically, it’s too good to last.
So, it was disturbing, but not surprising to hear “Mad Men” cast and creators reveal the show is ready to retire from the advertising business after its seventh season.
For now – to celebrate the show’s fifth season – media joined fans of the show at the 2012 PaleyFest in Los Angeles to see what’s ahead for the most stylish and one of most (mad) manly shows on TV. Series stars Jon Hamm and January Jones joined John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Kiernan Shipka and creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner for a red carpet episode screening and Q&A.
It was heartbreak for many of the male fans in attendance as the voluptuous and witty Christina Hendricks was otherwise engaged and couldn’t attend. Of course, it’s also possible she was laying low following her recent Twitter picture scandal in which said voluptuousness was on display for all the world to see.
Obviously, though still a couple years away, the specter of a series conclusion dominated much of the media’s bombardment of questions.
“As I’ve said, I don’t want to overstay our welcome,” Weiner said. “When I was a writer on “Sopranos,” I thought it was difficult sometimes to come up with stories that hadn’t already been covered on previous seasons or by other productions in the genre – other mob movies or TV shows. The fifth season is finished now, and I’m planning on seven. It’s just really hard to do this show.”
Pushing the idea of a final season aside, the hundreds of fans in attendance at the Saban Theater wanted the scoop on the new season. Last season ended with Don Draper – legally free of ice queen wife Betty and seemingly emerging from the shadow of alcoholism – suddenly getting engaged to Megan. Hamm said the major season-spinning plot twist felt like a shock right up until cast and crew made it official on film.
“(Weiner) and I talked about that ending for weeks before we actually shot it,” Hamm said. “But, even after all of that time, when it came time to shoot the scene, I was left wondering if it was all a fake. Was it just going to be a dream sequence or something?”
“I was just glad to see the season end up on sort of a hopeful, upbeat note,” Hamm added, “because my character had been on such a downward spiral throughout the season.
Weiner made it clear that, on the “Mad Men” set, the talented collective cast stays in character and interacts as a family as the top secret scripts unfold.
Weiner explained, “When I directed the scene where Don told his coworkers about the engagement, we filmed the group’s reaction shots first – a reverse angle. The other actors were mostly frozen – not a lot of reaction.”
“Then, we turned the camera around to see what they were so stunned by, and it was (Hamm) smiling as broadly as he ever has playing the role. That unnerved everyone. There hasn’t been a lot of smiling in (Draper’s life) recently before that moment.”
Hamm added, “I find myself really hoping that this works out for my character – after watching him struggle through the divorce and trying to give up his drinking.”
“We had that episode earlier in the last season in which (Draper) documented his struggles to stop drinking in his own journal. I think that story offered a new glimpse into how (Draper) was examining himself and evolving.”
While Hamm’s character moved on to a new potential relationship, ex-wife Betty Draper Francis (Jones) continued struggling with life as an often stern and unforgiving mother.
“I’m looking forward to see how people react to Betty now,” Jones said. “For a while, people have run away from me on the street all the time because they see how Betty treats her children. I think they’re worried about me becoming a mother myself now because they think I’m really going to be like that.”
“In this new season, I think Betty is still evolving, and I see her improving as a person.”
As the fifth season gets ready to roll on AMC, Hamm is following up on the longtime tradition of a series’ big star taking his shot at work on the other side of the camera by taking on some directing duties. It’s up to everyone else now to catch up to the idea.
“(The rest of the cast) said they’ll never work with me again. Actually, everyone was very supportive, and I got a lot of great advice from the other cast members.”