Weiner, speaking in a keynote session at the Cable Show 2014, acknowledged that he is experiencing feelings of loss as he’s set to shoot the final episode of “Mad Men” in the next few weeks. “The thing I’m focusing on is savoring what’s left and the idea of completing something,” he said.
Weiner has spent one-third of his life working on “Mad Men” since writing the pilot 14 years ago. “I’ve met some of the most amazing people,” he said. “It’s changed every aspect of my life. I had no idea I could write so much. I got to grow up as Don (Draper, the show’s antihero) has grown up.”
“The Sopranos,” the groundbreaking HBO show that Weiner wrote for, was the antithesis of a broadcast TV show, he said. HBO proved that breaking the mold could work — and work very well. “Sopranos” has become “a multibillion-dollar industry. … It’s a 40-year business,” he said.
His work on “Sopranos” was why AMC was interested in “Mad Men,” Weiner said: “The word ‘Sopranos’ was bigger on our first poster than almost anything, even ‘Mad Men.'”
AMC has been a good home for shows that are weird, break genres and don’t have any stars, which has been seen as a recipe for disaster in broadcast TV, Weiner said. “This is a risk-taking environment,” he said. His approach is to tell the network, “I will work for less, I will work harder, if you trust my creative vision on this.”
Josh Sapan, president and CEO of AMC Networks, picked up the theme of the golden age of TV. “There’s much talk about the golden age of television — if Dickens were alive today, he’d probably be a showrunner.”
Technology has played a big role in building audiences for shows that break traditional TV rules, Sapan said. “If you can’t watch it on DVR or any manner of on-demand — if you can only watch on linear on Sunday night — it might pass you by,” he said. Time-shifted access to TV has helped viewers focus on characters that are “ambiguous as opposed to predictable.”
Weiner noted that some cable programming has delved into nudity and violence, but he finds himself unable to use those in his own work. “I watch a lot of TV. I know the value of titillation and violence — but I couldn’t do it,” he said, wondering if the shock value of certain shows may be wearing off.
As for what’s next, Weiner avoided discussing anything he may be thinking of for TV. He mentioned the August bow for his movie, “You Are Here,” a comedy starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Jenna Fischer and Amy Poehler, and he has written a play. Weiner said he is “probably going to take a nice sigh and see what’s on my mind, take a sabbatical or something.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing my family again,” he quipped.