AMC threw a Hollywood premiere Wednesday night to kick off what was termed “the beginning of the end.” AMC president Charlie Collier, Mad Men creator Matt Weiner and cast and crew were at the Arclight Theatre for the “Time Zones” episode that begins the first half of Season 7 premiering April 13th. The season marks the final go-round of the landmark four-time Emmy-winning Best Drama Series. The protracted goodbye will be split between seven episodes this spring and the final final episodes in spring 2015.
It was all very bittersweet last night as production actually was just beginning on those even as the premiere was kicking off. In fact, executive producer Scott Hornbacher, who directed the “Time Zones” episode, was late to this party as he is also directing the first of those backend episodes. He told me later at the Chateau Marmont afterparty that it’s going to be tough to end it, pointing to several people in the room he described as “family,” people he saw every day. That was the general consensus I got from so many cast members and AMC execs who have been with this since Day 1. One exec told me he was 24 when he first saw the pilot script. He’s 35 now. Life goes on. And so does Mad Men – at least to the conclusion for this iconic group of characters. CAA’s Bryan Lourd was seated next to me (he reps Weiner) and told me he wouldn’t have missed this event — even though CAA is having its retreat this weekend at La Costa near San Diego and he had to postpone a run-thru there to 11 PM so he could make it down the 405 freeway after the screening.
Collier began his remarks quoting from a rave Rolling Stone review of the season opener and pointing out that the show also is on the cover of Time this week (stars Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks are pictured with the headline: “THE LAST DAYS OF MAD MEN”) and is the subject of a Diane Sawyer profile that will be running on several ABC platforms. He warned everyone not to give away too many plot points of the episode, which opens in 1969 as Don Draper travels to Southern California to rejoin wife Megan. “As you know you are seeing this two weeks prior to what will be airing on AMC so we ask that all of you treat tonight’s premiere as Don Draper treats his private life — which is to say that even if your daughter walks into your room tonight and wants an explanation you just say ‘It’s not what you think’,” he laughed. Suffice to say this opener lives up to expectations from Mad Men fans. “Tonight is a celebration of what is the most Emmy-winning, critically acclaimed basic cable series in the history of our medium. Rare air,” he said as he introduced several of the people involved with the show, production partner Lionsgate, and finally Weiner, who wrote the season premiere and told the crowd of the anxiety he was feeling. “I am anxious. And I have a gift for transferring that to other people so I am not going to talk a lot,” he said to big laughs. He then thanked his own family (who were there) as well as the “family” he works with.
At the Chateau Marmont afterparty, Weiner told me he has yet to write that final episode, but it is obviously looming. He did reveal he knows what will happen and pinpointed the exact moment the idea for the finale hit him — just as he was possibly questioning his own future with the show. “I got a lightning bolt ironically right before that horrible negotiation started (for his contract renewal after Season 4). And then I thought I may never do this,” he said. Of course it all worked out and, appropriately, only Weiner knows how it is going to end. But everyone with the show will all have to keep the secret for a year after the last one is in the can because of AMC’s decision to split the final season in half. Collier told me the strategy worked extremely well for Breaking Bad and that it will make the ending of Mad Men “even more of an event.”
Although the show won four Best Drama Series Emmys in a row and pretty much dominated the writing category, it lost the big prize to Homeland and AMC stablemate Breaking Bad, respectively, the past two years. But as it revs up for its final turn it will be eligible this year and next and all the attention it is getting as Emmy season also revs up could put it back in the forefront of voters’ minds — even though this year it has to face off again with, among others, Breaking Bad and its final episodes which are eligible. It also has to deal with the unexpected move by HBO to position its eight-episode run of True Detective as a regular drama series, rather than as a miniseries as expected where it might be a slam dunk to win. This also puts stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the uber-competitive drama series actor category where Mad Men’s terrific Jon Hamm has been nominated every year and never won (incredibly no actor from Mad Men has taken an Emmy). Eyebrows were definitely raised by this move (which still has to be approved by the Academy) as McConaughey and Harrelson were only on Detective for this one season and won’t be returning even if the show itself will be back. Weiner was surprisingly sanguine about the new competition. “It’s a strange thing to me but I like it because what it says is that Drama Series is the top prize. I think if I were working on another show at HBO I would be real irritated though. I don’t know how the Academy is going to respond to it because in the end the Academy is very conservative voting-wise. But everyone is doing 8-week shows, ours is 7 weeks, Downton Abbey is 7 weeks . I think it’s totally fine. Competition is good for TV. I haven’t seen the show yet. I was surprised they did it but I bet that everyone who is in that Drama category said ‘oh s***’. That makes me think HBO did the right thing. I don’t know what they are up to over there but I never question their will to win,” he said.
Speaking of winning it seems to me a ridiculous oversight that no actor on Mad Men has ever won an Emmy for the show, and that includes Hamm’s remarkable work as Draper. ” Who knows what the deal is?” a frustrated Weiner said of the acting snub. ” I always look at myself and say ‘is it something about the way I like naturalistic acting?’ It’s not in style. It’s so much harder to do what these (actors) are doing… I don’t know if it is a measure of anything when Bob Newhart only just won his first Emmy last year. The cast is very happy to be nominated . They are happy to be household names and we all get to go to work every day.”
And this cast has really broken out now in movies. Hamm is terrific in Disney’s Million Dollar Arm which opens May 16th and played to great results for theatre owners at last week’s CinemaCon. I told Hamm last night I think it could gross $100 million just based on the word of mouth it will get. “I just hope we can get some butts in seats,” he laughed. Hendricks told me she just finished looping her new film, How To Catch A Monster , the writing and directorial debut of Ryan Gosling. She said Warner Bros is talking about a more generic title but she hopes they stick with this one. She said Gosling is a great director and the film looks great. She praised MM co-star John Slattery’s feature directorial debut, God’s Pocket in which she also co-stars. It opens May 9th after debuting at Sundance earlier this year. It is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films. Slattery told me the film’s release is an exciting moment for him (he’s also terrific in this episode). And as for Weiner’s own long-gestating feature directorial debut You Are Here? Weiner says he is finalizing a distribution deal for the movie which stars Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler and it will open in late summer, a year after first premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.
A busy , but bittersweet time for everyone on Mad Men as they look to the future but prepare for the inevitable end of a unique experience in all of their lives.