'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner Says 'So Long' to 1968
The showrunner tells THR about his complicated relationship with the past and the decisions behind incorporating real-life events: "Last season was the first year where I thought, 'History is happening every day, and the general public is completely involved.' "
By most standards, 1968 was the most tumultuous year in American history. It wasn't a very smooth one for Don Draper, either.
Mad Men used history as a backdrop to a greater extent during its seventh season than any one before it, and creator Matthew Weiner says the collision of his AMC drama's progression through time with his protagonist's unraveling and actual current events is something that had been a long time coming for the series.
"Last season was the first year where I thought, 'History is happening every day, and the general public is completely involved,'" Weiner tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Whatever people associate with the turmoil of the time, it is 1968. It is a chaotic year filled with worldwide revolution and it created anxiety in everyday people. I felt like the U.S. was in that situation last year, and decided to run headlong into it on the show."
Major cultural touchstones -- the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Democratic National Convention in Chicago -- came with almost every episode of the sixth season. In 2013, the premiere aired just a week before the Boston Marathon bombings and four months after the shooting at Newtown, Conn.
"The public had to endure Martin Luther King, the outrage and the talk of gun control, and then Bobby Kennedy got shot," says Weiner. "That all happened again last year. And I wanted to show that nothing had changed. The hope that these people had represented was being destroyed. Czechoslovakia, Paris, Mexico City, Chicago, the students at the universities … all of it was shut down by the end of that year. That's why I felt it was so important."
The calendar year was winding down when Mad Men last aired: Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day, to be exact. As is customary for the show, specifics on when the narrative resumes for the seventh and final season cannot be mentioned before the April 13 premiere, but 1969 is essentially over -- and with it, the decade that inspired the show. Surveying the '60s as a whole -- Mad Men originally opened in March 1960 -- Weiner says he doesn't really dwell on the events he chose not to incorporate.
"I go in and out in terms of my relationship with real history," he says. "We missed the  blackout of New York, because of the time frame of the series, and I really thought that would have been interesting. There are some tiny things like that that pass me by, but I don't want the show to be a history lesson. What I find most exciting is the forgotten event or to try and reproduce the experience of something like Marilyn Monroe's death. That was definitely a milestone, but I used it because it was meaningful about Freddy Rumsen getting fired and about Don being separated and because Marilyn was who she was. Stuff like that is more interesting to me than, 'God, I wish we'd done more about Sputnik.' "
That's not to say 1969 won't provide a colorful palette as well. It's Richard Nixon's first year in office, the year of the Stonewall riot, Apollo 11's moon landing, Woodstock and, of course, the FCC banning all cigarette advertising on television and radio. (No worries, SC&P is already out of the Lucky Strike business.)
Weiner, at least the way he tells it, is not looking at those moments as he plots out the precious few (only 14) episodes left of Mad Men. The series just recently started work on the back seven, with filming wrapping for good in June ahead of the final run in 2015. Instead, expect more from the fringes of history during the final stretch.
"During the second season, [writer] Lisa Albert came in and said, 'Did you know that the first commercial jet plane crash [American Airlines Flight 1] happened in New York City on the same day as John Glenn's parade?' Because air travel was so exclusive back then, the plane was filled with New York dignitaries and wealthy people of importance," says Weiner. In Mad Men, that flight was carrying Pete Campbell's [Vincent Kartheiser] father. "Then it became an occasion for me to talk about when a tragedy happens, how quickly people start making jokes about it and bring out the gallows humor. I also found out that if you represent an airline, and there's a plane crash, you have to pull all of your ads. No one wants to look at that in the wake of a plane crash."