Get ready and don’t blink — the “Mad Men” mini season that begins on Sunday is tightly packed with momentous developments for the core Sterling Cooper gang.
“The episodes are dense,” creator/exec producer Matthew Weiner says of season 7-A. Because the show’s finale is divided over two years, and the first batch of seven episodes have to stand alone until the final seven air next year, each seg is action-packed, he says.
“After realizing that I needed two premieres and two finales, it changed the pacing of every other episode. These episodes are more focused on the main characters than ever before — and I’ve got a lot of main characters. There’s no room for digression this time. The first seven feel like (the story arc of) a whole season,” Weiner says.
The historical backdrop of the era (presumably early-ish in 1969) is an important factor as always but Weiner hints that historical events won’t be as prominent as they were in season 6 for Don Draper. “Last season more than any other season was about the history of the time. It was 1968 as a model for Don,” Weiner says. “I felt very much that Don’s anxiety was the country’s anxiety. I felt it in real life here. I felt last year (2013) was very hard on people.”
The brainstorming process for season seven that Weiner and the writing staff went through at the start of the season was in keeping with the “Mad Men” tradition, except that they realized it was now-or-never for some ideas.
“At the beginning I always look through all of the pieces of paper in my pocket where I’ve written down things. It’s always ‘Roger says this’ and ‘Don thinks that.’ These people are on my mind a lot. I don’t know what I’m going to do with those thoughts now. I guess I’m going to have to think of other people” to write for, he says.
Although he has a reputation for running the show with an iron fist, Weiner insists that it’s not a power trip — it’s about the work.
“I never want control just to be in control of things. I just don’t want the show to be bad,” he says. “As strident and as vocal as I am, I am one of the most easily persuadable people in the world. You can talk me into almost anything if you’re convincing.”
Really? Yes, really, Weiner says, citing a few examples of big moves for the show that were championed by other writers, sometimes over his initial objection: “Firing Don (last season), Betty sleeping with that guy (in the bar), Peggy leaving the agency,” he said.“Writers come up to me and say ‘This has to happen’ and it hadn’t even occurred to me.”
For the final season, with the pressure on to deliver a conclusion worthy of the story told to date, the debates about what to do and how to do it were particularly lively, Weiner says. “In the writers room, no one wears kid gloves. No one is kissing my ass,” he says. “People have no hesitation about telling me they don’t like something, or why don’t we do this, or it was better the way it was before.”
One “Mad Men” fan who has no doubt that the final season will deliver is Terence Winter, a friend and former colleague of Weiner’s on “The Sopranos.”
Early on in “Mad Men’s” run, Weiner would call Winter to bounce ideas and plot scenarios off of him. As a friend, Winter was happy to be a sounding board. But he was secretly glad when those calls stopped so he could enjoy the show without any sense of what was coming next.
“As a viewer, you couldn’t be in better hands than with Matt Weiner in terms of being entertained with thought-provoking material,” Winter says. “I told him ‘If you need to talk about it more let’s do it.’ But once he found his footing completely he stopped telling me things and I thought ‘Great, now I get to be a fan like everybody else.’ Now he wouldn’t tell me even if I wanted him to.”