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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, the stylish, womanizing, hard-living folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are back. The highly anticipated return of "Mad Men" premieres this Sunday night on AMC after a hiatus of 17 months. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the creator of the series about advertising in the '60s has a pretty good idea how to sell his show in 2012.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: First, why has "Mad Men" been off the air so long?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (as character) Where the hell have you been?

JON HAMM: (as Don Draper) What's the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (as character) Don...

HAMM: (as Don Draper) Can you give me a minute?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (as character) I don't mind waiting.

BLAIR: AMC says they wanted to do a little program shuffle. So they ran "Breaking Bad" last summer, and saved "Mad Men" for this spring. Mekeisha Madden, TV writer for the Detroit News, says "Mad Men" is the reason AMC even has other shows.

MEKEISHA MADDEN: "Breaking Bad" and "Walking Dead" and "The Killing" - all of these shows, in large part, are successful because they started off with one really successful show in "Mad Men."

BLAIR: For a while, it was unclear whether "Mad Men" would come back at all. When it came time for creator Matthew Weiner to renew his contract, he says there were some sticking points, including product placement.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (as character) Heineken is one of our clients.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (as character) Ah...

BLAIR: Since "Mad Men" is a show about advertising, Matthew Weiner says...

MATTHEW WEINER: I have to use real products in the show, so a lot of the opportunities for product placement have actually been generated by me.

BLAIR: Weiner says it was easy to write the Dutch beer Heineken into an entire episode.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

HAMM: (as Don Draper) For women entertaining in the home, Holland is Paris. They can buy this sophisticated beer and probably walk it into the kitchen instead of hiding it in the garage.

BLAIR: Weiner says Heineken paid for that placement. But he says some brands do not give them money.

WEINER: Don bought a Cadillac, and Cadillac was not involved in that. They would not have allowed Betty Draper to vomit in their car.

BLAIR: It's been almost a year and a half since "Mad Men" was on the air.

WEINER: The first thing I thought of is like, oh my God, people aren't going to see the show for that long.

BLAIR: So how will he and AMC get them back? To refresh people's minds, AMC is airing repeats of previous seasons. And of course, they're advertising - like running billboards of the evocative falling man image, and airing commercials during some of AMC's most popular shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: "Walking Dead" fans, "Mad Men" is for you.

BLAIR: Making Sunday's premiere two hours instead of one is also a way Matthew Weiner hopes to bring fans back.

WEINER: I'm not going to amp the story up to an unrealistic level. I'm not going to like, you know, start off with a fire in the agency and say who survived. But I did want to give at least something extra. So that's - first of all, was the decision to make a two-hour premiere.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (as character) If you could have any client in the world, who would you want?

HAMM: (as Don Draper) American Airlines.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (as character) Why?

HAMM: (as Don Draper) Because they stood us up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (as character) Right.

BLAIR: Who is going to sleep with whom? Will Don Draper reveal his past? Will Peggy Olson out-do the men? Matthew Weiner has been notoriously tight-lipped.

JERRY DELLA FEMINA: He won't talk.

BLAIR: Jerry Della Femina was a titan on Madison Avenue for decades. One of his books about the business partly inspired "Mad Men." Della Femina says Weiner's secrecy is great PR.

FEMINA: You don't even have an idea where he's going with the show. So they've already got you wondering.

BLAIR: Della Femina says he wants the series to continue showing how the tumult of the 1960s affected the advertising industry. He also wants to see Don Draper loosen up.

FEMINA: I mean, Don Draper has got to stop feeling bad for sleeping with women. He's just got to snap out of it, you know? He's doing it. He's good at it. Stop feeling guilty, for crying out loud.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WEINER: Wow. I love Jerry. He just says a lot of things out loud that really, completely clarify the entire period.

BLAIR: A period of such decadence, Della Femina says he's surprised he's still alive. "Mad Men" indeed.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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