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The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

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The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

Television

The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113180227/113208563" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Matthew Weiner and the cast of 'Mad Men' accept the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series i

Creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner and the cast of AMC's Mad Men accept the 2009 Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Matthew Winter/Getty hide caption

toggle caption Matthew Winter/Getty
Matthew Weiner and the cast of 'Mad Men' accept the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series

Creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner and the cast of AMC's Mad Men accept the 2009 Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.

Matthew Winter/Getty

Last year, AMC's Mad Men made TV history by becoming the first basic cable show to win an Emmy for outstanding drama series. This year, the critically adored show proved that its win was anything but a fluke, when it picked up the same award for the second year in a row.

Mad Men is set in the early 1960s at the fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper, where liquor is readily available and cigarette smoke clings to the air. The show revolves around the agency's ad campaigns and the complex personal lives of the people who build them. The show's reverence for the era reveals itself in authentic set designs, immaculately tailored costumes and scripted storylines that address the shifting economic and social trends of the age.

"I think that it's a golden era, the '50s, for the United States," Matthew Weiner, the show's executive producer and writer, tells Terry Gross, "and not just economically, but they'd just discovered this thing about product obsolescence, and so they realized that besides making products crappier to get people to buy a new [one] — you could get people to buy a new washing machine every three years instead of every seven years by just making it look better, or by giving it a new color."

Weiner explains that his inspiration for the series came from, amongst other things, a desire to explore the lives of people who were raised during the Great Depression and how that experience affected them.

"I was interested in identity and men," says Weiner. "There's no model for us. And I just kept digging back further and further and finding that there's never been a model. And I was really most interested in that character of Don. That's the gem of the idea."

Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, the agency's head creative agent, says that he was attracted to the role immediately, despite the fact that it would be airing on a network that was mostly known for classic movies.

Jon Hamm and John Slattery in 'Mad Men' i

Don (Jon Hamm) and Roger (John Slattery) are executive advertisers at Sterling Cooper, where work often gets in the way of play. AMC hide caption

toggle caption AMC
Jon Hamm and John Slattery in 'Mad Men'

Don (Jon Hamm) and Roger (John Slattery) are executive advertisers at Sterling Cooper, where work often gets in the way of play.

AMC

"I read it and I said, 'I have to be in this project at some point. I have to do something on this. This is so good,'" he says.

For Weiner, the feeling was mutual: "Literally, his first audition, he left and I said, 'That's the guy.' He has this incredible intelligence, and you could see it right away. He understood everything that was going on there without any direction, and he had this presence that was ... an old-fashioned leading man quality. You don't even see these people anymore."

John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, a partner at the agency, says that he draws inspiration from his own upbringing in the 1960s.

"I was actually born in 1962, so I don't firsthand remember the period," he says, "but my father was actually in the shoe business, and I remember that he would stay out and come home later, and the kids would all have eaten, sort of like the Draper situation. You know, he'd come home from the office after the children had had their dinner and were on their way to bed."

Slattery says that the skirts and suits provided by the show's costume designer help establish the mood.

"You're cinched into these, in my case, three-piece suits and smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails, and it has a way of propping you up," he says. "It's an exoskeleton, these clothes, and after awhile that sort of carriage that provides you takes on a life of its own, so that in another scene, when you're not as formally dressed, you're still standing as straight as you would normally."

Weiner takes pride in the show's authenticity and is grateful for the connection he has made with his viewers. "I feel what I always wanted to feel for my work," he says, "which is that I'm communicating with other people, and in an intimate way."

This interview was originally broadcast on Sep. 22, 2008

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