Interview: Semi Chellas, Co-Executive Producer And Writer On 'Mad Men' "They're very much in their own lives," says Semi Chellas, who is also the show's co-executive producer. The AMC period drama ends its seventh and final season on Sunday.
NPR logo

'Mad Men' Writer: Show's Female Characters Aren't Thinking About Feminism

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Mad Men' Writer: Show's Female Characters Aren't Thinking About Feminism

'Mad Men' Writer: Show's Female Characters Aren't Thinking About Feminism

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Tonight, we find out Don Draper's fate, or maybe we don't. Who knows what the creators of "Mad Men" have in mind for the season finale? To help us prepare for the end of the "Mad Men" era, we took a look back at the show with Semi Chellas. She's co-executive producer. And I asked her about a recent episode she cowrote. Here's the back story to that episode. Joan used to be an office manager. Now she's a bigwig in the advertising firm. She's getting sexually harassed by a colleague. When she tells her boss, he tells her to suck it up. And then Joan threatens to sue. Here's a clip.


H. RICHARD GREENE: (As Jim Hobart) You want to threaten us? You'll be all alone.

CHRISTINA HENDRICKS: (As Joan Harris) No. I think the second I file a complaint, I'll have the ACLU in my office and Betty Friedan in the lobby with half the women who marched down Fifth Avenue. I guess you didn't see the headlines about what happened at Ladies' Home Journal or Newsweek.

SEMI CHELLAS: I think she's using feminism. I think she's using the what's-in-the-news around her and the water she's swimming in to get her money. And she walks out with 50 cents on the dollar. So I find it heartbreaking, as well as, you know, as fun is that ra-ra moment is, I'm left sad.

MARTIN: But did it have to be thus? I mean, did you ever play around with a scenario where she did walk out of there with all of her cash, where she did get to triumph?

CHELLAS: You know, it was something that I think the show took very seriously was not to be a platform, not to be didactic, but to always live in those characters. And the truth is Joan was never going to walk out of there with all her money.

MARTIN: You know, another thing that always struck with me was the relationship that Joan and Peggy have. They both started at the bottom of the ladder. And they have climbed as far as that ladder will let them in some ways.

CHELLAS: They don't have a lot in common besides being women and being ambitious and working in the same place. They are from very different backgrounds. I don't think that they compete, but I think that, you know, part of what we see is that a woman's movement is not necessarily born out of shared femininity or shared femaleness.

MARTIN: Just because they're women in this environment doesn't mean they have to be best friends or allies even.

CHELLAS: Exactly. And I think these characters are not thinking about feminism. They're not thinking about a movement or changing the world. They are very much in their own lives. And - but, you know, out of the aggregate of women doing that and making those changes and wanting a little more, something greater than all of them, I think, was born into the culture.

MARTIN: So speaking of the culture, I mean, this show has latched itself on to our popular culture in amazing ways from style and clothes that of come out of that and you see on the covers of magazines - how have you seen that happen? Is that just fun? It means, oh, cool, you know, we've created something that's transcended just this hour on television. Or is that nostalgia for the period? Are we somehow fetishizing it to a degree that is, perhaps, missing the point of the show?

CHELLAS: No. I mean, I don't think people are missing the point of the show. I think that it's wonderful the chord that it's struck. I think, you know, there has been a delight in seeing people, you know, drinking at work and getting up at midnight to cook a steak for their husband - you know? - and smoking cigarettes and the style and, you know, God knows, the underwear. I think that people really have responded very much to the aesthetics of the show. There is something so deeply connected to reality about the whole way the show is made, the whole way the show is written, and I think it struck a chord.

MARTIN: So I've read that Matthew Weiner, the creator, had a vision of where he wanted the show to end. I mean, is that a burden for you? You've known the ending for - what we talking about - many months?

CHELLAS: I experienced a deep sense of loss in my first week because I was like, oh, now I'm going to know what happens on "Mad Men."

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHELLAS: You know, it's - I know there's sort of a, like, hilarity about the spoiler-free culture of "Mad Men," but it is part of the pleasure of the show. You never know what's coming. And I think every season has been profoundly different in what it grapples with in its themes and even tone sometimes. And it's one of the pleasures of this show. So yes, it was, like, a great loss and a great gain to know what would be coming.

MARTIN: Semi Chellas is co-executive producer of "Mad Men." The series finale airs tonight. Semi, thanks so much for talking with us.

CHELLAS: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.