Mad Men scored big in last night’s ratings race, gaining its biggest season-finale number and finishing its fifth season as the most-watched ever. But it also scored big at the TV Academy on Sunday night, when 150 members and their guests had to be turned away for an event that featured the screening of the final episode and a Q&A with creator Matt Weiner and cast members. At least those 150 who didn’t get in didn’t go away empty-handed: Organizers gave them a jar of “Mad Men Olives” (the kind that go so well with those three-martini lunches) that was the parting gift for members of the audience. One woman, apparently confusing the Academy with Whole Foods Market, said she didn’t like olives and was wondering if she could exchange them for pickles.
Weiner, who flew in for the day from the North Carolina location of his feature directorial debut You Are Here and flew back right after the reception, had not wanted to screen the Season 5 finale in advance of its airing Sunday night but agreed it could be shown at this AMC-produced special event for Emmy voters (but not officially sanctioned by the Academy) two hours before airing on the East Coast. It was followed by the Q&A that also featured cast members Christina Hendricks, January Jones, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Jessica Pare, and Kiernan Shipka. Series star Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and Jared Harris were advertised but all were said to be stuck overseas filming and didn’t make it.
Even though it would appear Mad Men needs no help in the Emmy department having won the Best Drama Series prize for all four of its previous seasons, AMC is taking no chances in trying to bring home what would be a record fifth straight Emmy in the category. Today, just as Emmy balloting is officially open at 6 PM PT (ballots are due back by June 28), the network is sending DVD screeners of the final six episodes to the entire membership. This is in addition to the first seven episodes that were already sent to Academy voters a couple of weeks ago. It’s a virtually unprecedented move, although many other shows, particularly those on NBC, are making full seasons available online.
There is certainly a reason for this. Mad Men faces its stiffest competition ever with likely contenders including HBO’s hot Game Of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire (both nominated last year) and AMC’s own critically acclaimed Breaking Bad back in the race with its fourth and strongest season after taking last year off from the contest. Then there is reigning miniseries/movie Emmy winner Downton Abbey moving up to the Drama Series category and Showtime’s genuine threat Homeland, which could take it all in its first season just as Mad Men once did. No wonder AMC wanted to pull out all the stops for its signature series. In addtion to being a sort of wrap party for the season as other cast and crew were in the audience, it was a smart move as the event indicated show seems to have not lost any of its mojo — at least among these Academy members.
But let’s face it. It was off the air for 18 months as contract negotiations stalled its renewal. There was reason to believe viewers, and maybe voters, would lose interest and move on. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, and the well-timed event coming as it does just a day before balloting begins certainly won’t hurt the cause. Afterwards in the lobby, Weiner and I discussed the fact that this is the first time the series has come at the end of the TV season rather than its traditional summer berth. In fact, the final two episodes (last night’s was also directed by Weiner) fall under the Academy’s recent rule of allowing “hanging episodes” to qualify (these are shows airing after the eligibility cutoff date of May 31 but considered part of a season). It would seem to increase the show’s chances of winning since it is so fresh in mind, but Weiner reminded me the series always seemed to benefit from having the hoopla of its annual season premieres right as final voting was taking place for the previous season’s work. Either way it is a good position to be in and may actually help put the focus on the actors in the show, none of whom have ever won despite multiple nominations. “The acting categories are so tough,” Weiner told me. “I really hope this year some of them can win. There are so many outstanding performances.” He pointed out Hamm, Hendricks, Harris, Slattery, Moss, Pare and others with particularly strong episodes. I would add Julia Ormond, who plays Megan’s French mother Marie Calvet as a potential Guest Actress in a Drama contender. She was clearly a favorite in the finale, at least with this crowd.
Not much news came out of the Q&A session moderated by ABC News contributor Chris Connelly. Mostly it was about recapping aspects of various characters and episodes. It also served as a lovefest between the actors and their creator. “You get the script and it’s perfect. It’s a high level of quality that you are inserted into,” said Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling and also has directed several episodes. Said Weiner, “I love these people, all the people who populate this Mad Men universe.” There was talk about the feeling each year that one of these characters is going to die and Weiner did agree there was a strong “death imagery” to the show, saying, “After all the show is started every week (in the opening credits) with a guy jumping out the window”.
One audience questioner asked why it was necessary to show the body of Lane Pryce (the character played by Harris who committed suicide) hanging in his office, and mentioned it had drawn protests on Facebook and other social-media sites as being too disturbing to see. Weiner seemed surprised. “I can’t believe there is a controversy. Don Draper’s guilt is served by having to take down the body. I am of the sincere belief that if we hadn’t seen that body, no one would believe Lane was dead,” he said, adding that as a dramatist viewers being “disturbed” is a good thing for him.
There was also talk about how Hendricks’ character Joan Holloway was essentially pimped out by the male executives in order to land a Jaguar account. Hendricks basically shrugged it off, but Weiner said, “People who think it’s out of character have not been watching the show. If it was a guy no one would think about it.” Added Slattery, “If you have been watching she’s not Mother Theresa but she’s not a whore either. It’s obviously a mercenary situation”.
It all begs the question as to where this is heading. Weiner is saying at this point there will be just two more seasons. Season 5 ended in 1967, but Weiner told me he has absolutely no idea where things are headed in Season 6. When he returns in July from shooting his movie, the writers will embark on a three-month session to sort it all out.