When we last saw Don Draper, Peggy Olsen, Joan Harris and the rest of the team at Sterling Cooper & Partners, America had just landed on the moon and the firm had sold a controlling interest in advertising giant McCann Erickson. That was on May 25 last year, with the end of the first part of the seventh and final season of Mad Men. This year, after 92 episodes over seven seasons since its 2007 debut, the award-winning AMC series created by Matthew Weiner will come to an end May 17 after the final seven episodes beginning Sunday.
Weiner has been in the thick of promoting the show for which he came up with the idea more than 20 years ago. Holding to his rule to never talk about the details of a Mad Men season — or in this case a midseason — before its begun, Weiner is nonetheless unreserved about how long he’s had the end of the multiple Emmy winner worked out, when Jon Hamm found out and how it’s nothing like Lost.
On those topics plus more, Weiner sat down with me recently to talk. There was some of what could be next, what he learned from The Sopranos creator David Chase, what really happened on that year off, and when the end of an era of TV that not only created the AMC Original Series brand but redefined TV for many will truly hit him.
DEADLINE: Just days away from the beginning of the end, how are you feeling looking back at seven seasons of Mad Men?
WEINER: The time to really ask me how it feels is probably after that last episode airs. That’s going to be the moment of the reality of it being over. But as for the last days of filming, I look back on that period with pride at the work that we did and memories of seeing Kiernan Shipka’s last day, and Jon Hamm and thinking about everybody’s last moments, and having those feelings. But as I was watching it happen, I also was aware that somebody had to keep it together, honestly. So it was a lot different for me compared to what it felt like when everybody was gone in mid-December. That’s when my assistant, Heather, who became a writer on the show, and myself, and a friend of mine from film school packed up my office.
Leaving that office after seven years where I wrote 95% of the show, with the exception of a few afternoons in other locations, and met all these amazing people, and hired so many people, and fired people, and met some of my idols — so much had happened in there. Driving home by myself at the end of that, that was where all the feelings were. Then getting over that to some degree and preparing for this launch has been completely exciting.
DEADLINE: And there’s all the expectations of how it is all going to end for Don Draper and everyone else.
WEINER: I am curious about the interest in when I thought of the ending. Because, for me, Mad Men is not Lost or even Breaking Bad. There will be a whole story told, but there is no mystery to be solved. All I can tell you is that we made it one episode at a time. And, of the seven years, there are at least three of those seasons where the season finale I thought was possibly the series finale. So I’ve ended it before.
DEADLINE: But you always had a sense of how you wanted it to end, right?
WEINER: There’s a big difference in terms of ideas between having an idea of what should happen as opposed to how it should happen. I knew what should happen from when I sold AMC the show. I never told them, but I thought if we get to go on for any length of time, this is what I want to happen. The idea of how exactly it should happen I had about three years ago, and I shared it with people gradually over time. Jon Hamm, for instance, has known for a long time.
DEADLINE: Having directed the final two episodes, did you feel that story got told the way you wanted?
WEINER: Part of the great thing about doing the last two was I’m like, this is going to be good or bad. I’m going to make it the way I want it to look, and if they think of something in front of me, I’m going to be able to evaluate choices, and chance, and all this other stuff.
DEADLINE: Is there a special song at the end?
WEINER: I can’t tell you that. There’s music in the whole show. There always is. It is a Mad Men episode, the finale. That’s all I can tell you, and it’s a little bit longer.
WEINER: It’s about 10 minutes longer than a regular episode. The last two have longer running times. Number 13 is about five minutes long and 14 is 10 minutes long.
DEADLINE: That makes me wonder, with AMC adopting their very successful Breaking Bad last season strategy to Mad Men’s final cycle and splitting it into two parts, did you have to take a different approach to crafting Season 7 overall?
WEINER: I had to have two premieres and two finales. I had to have a midpoint in that last part that was enough to bring people back. I mean, there’s always some twist in the middle of the 13-episode arc, but I definitely felt like for that particular storyline, I didn’t want to do six episodes. I thought that was too little, even though British series do that.
DEADLINE: There have been some out there who did not like the idea of their final season of Mad Men coming in two chucks.
WEINER: There’s been quote unquote backlash from fans or whatever. AMC kept us off a year before, whatever the year my negotiation was. People think that that was just my negotiations. They kept us off the air for a year to put Breaking Bad on during the summer. That’s why we weren’t on the air, not because of me, there was no break in my production schedule.
DEADLINE: Speaking of schedule, going from being a writer and then producer as well on The Sopranos to running your own show all these years, what did you learn from that aspect of Mad Men’s run?
WEINER: The fact is everyone else goes home at some point and you never go home. I don’t mean you literally never go home, but I mean it’s always on your mind. When I worked on The Sopranos, I used to joke about David Chase coming in and saying, I had this idea when I was in the shower, and I was like, he always has all his ideas when he’s in the shower. Making Mad Men, I realized, oh yeah, because you’re not sleeping, and you’re thinking about it 24 hours a day.
DEADLINE: And, yet, in the middle of all that, you managed to direct your second feature, Are You Here starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler. What has that like with the experience of Mad Men?
WEINER: The biggest difference about making the movie is that I had written it a long time ago, long before I was directing it. But if there’s ever the loneliest job in the world, it is directing a feature. You’re up against it with time, and money, and movie stars, and there is a constant drive to move on. So there’s a lot of people whose perceptions are a little bit off. In the end, everyone says you got it, you got it, you got it, and only you know that you didn’t.
DEADLINE: With that said, would you do another movie?
WEINER: Oh my God, in a second. Yeah. I will do another movie. Yeah. I had a great experience, and it was very meaningful to me.
DEADLINE: That of course naturally leads to what are you going to do next now Mad Men is over?
WEINER: I’m working on a bunch of stuff. I’m not ready to make an announcement or anything. I’ll just say that right now that I’m working on being in my bathrobe. I don’t have to explain to you, this is a very unusual situation to not be working and have the show on the air. All of these events…
DEADLINE: The special Mad Men bench in New York, the gala premiere at the Dorothy Chandler here in L.A. — with all the events you are doing, in a way, you’re working on being the creator of Mad Men, for at least until the finale.
WEINER: Yes, but I frequently had that job while I’m making the show, and you just can’t enjoy it. Going to that premiere at the Chandler, I felt the sense of having completed it. I’m like, I am here having a great time at our last premiere, which was so great of AMC to have for us.
DEADLINE: So, maybe something completely different next? A Matt Weiner sitcom?
WEINER: I’m not ruling that out — after all, I worked in sitcom for years before. I am going to say this, and this is not a cagey answer, I am working on a number of things. On the one hand, when people say you can do anything you want, what they mean is they will give you money to do what you just did.
I am not going to do what I just did. Not because I don’t appreciate it or value it, but because I did 92 hours of it for seven years. I wrote the pilot 14 years ago. I had the idea in 1992. I have other ideas, and I feel like, hopefully my desire to express this weird TV show was the thing that gave people whatever pleasure they got and employed all those people in everything. I’m going to follow that part of myself which is not related to the marketplace, not related to genre, not related to format even. There’s so much new stuff out there, so why not?