Approaching it’s third season, “Mad Men” can be counted as one of the most captivating shows on television. There’s hardly a newsstand in town without a January Jones magazine cover, a Jon Hamm profile or an interview with the show’s creator Matt Weiner. Plus, the show is nominated for the best dramatic series Emmy, which it won last year, and Weiner is up for four dramatic writing Emmys. Of course, we saw it all coming and scored an early sit down with Weiner back in summer of ‘07. That was before Joan Holloway raised the profile of secretaries everywhere, drinking on the job was—uh—performance enhancing and cigarette smoking began to look cool again. We owe the creation of these revolutionary trends to “Mad Men,” a show about the world of advertising in 1960s Manhattan. In Weiner’s decadent, male-dominated world, racism, sexism, antisemitism and homophobia rule the day, but those paradigms are subverted with rich, fully developed characters who happen to be female, Jewish or gay.
You may be wondering how such provocative material found its way into the Hollywood forefront. Most of it has to do with Weiner, who cerebrated over the concept for three years before finally making it big.
Here’s his story as told to The Wrap:
I had been researching this advertising idea for two years. Every night I would pay someone—I would dictate to them, and they would do research. And I would stay after work and work on this advertising thing. And in between the big second and third seasons of “Becker,” when I realized that I had a hiatus, three months where I knew that I still had a job, I just pulled the trigger.
I hired a writer’s assistant because I was so exhausted, and also I felt it was like having a personal trainer. I realized that I would work because I was paying that person $11 an hour to be there. And I knocked the show out pretty quickly. And that was the script that later became “Mad Men.”
It had been brewing for, I’m not kidding, for three years, I’d been taking notes and been thinking about it and doing research. I just did it and I gave it to my agents, and they didn’t pay any attention to it.
And finally two years later, I left “Becker.” I was working on “Andy Richter,” and I just said to my agents, “Send this script to David Chase, send it to Alan Ball.” They were both at UTA, which is where I was. And they told me Alan Ball wasn’t gonna read it; he only looked at playwrights, which I’ve since talked to him about and he was amused by. And David Chase’s show, they told me, they’re feature people, they’re “Law and Order,” they’re procedural, they’re one-hour people.
I had since gotten a manager, who really did help me a lot. And my manager told them, “If you don’t get this to David Chase, Matt’s gonna leave the agency.” So they got it to him, and a week later I was in New York on “The Sopranos.”
The most important thing people have to know is that I wrote a lot for free; I never sold a pitch.