Showrunners 2012: 'Mad Men's' Matthew Weiner

8:00 AM PST 10/03/2012 by Michael O'Connell

"My first paid writing job was on a CD-ROM about Richard Nixon," says the creator. "It was a companion encyclopedia to Oliver Stone's movie."

From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV's most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter's annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them -- and their shows -- alive.

Matthew Weiner, Mad Men (AMC)

The TV show that inspired me to write:
I can say that as a child I was really not allowed to watch television during the school week, but I was exposed to some incredible television events, like Roots, and All in the Family, because it was on Saturday. The first piece of television I was aware that someone was actually writing it was Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. It has a high tear quotient, like Brian's Song. I was already out of college when Twin Peaks came on, and that was where I became of what was possible on television.

THR's Top 50 Showrunners 2012 -- the Complete List

My big break:
Party Girl, the show. The creator was the writer-director of the movie, and she brought me on as a joke writer. That was my first paid television job. My first paid writing job was on a CD-ROM about Richard Nixon. It was a companion encyclopedia to Oliver Stone's movie.

My TV mentor:
David Chase was someone who certainly showed me how to be a showrunner, but I have had a few TV mentors. Alan Burns, the creator of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, encouraged you me to go into television after he saw my high school graduation speech. He prodded me along through film school and after, he'd send me scripts, let me come and visit him and kept track of me.

The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
Responding to emails. I was very late to get a smartphone because I have a short temper, and I thought it would be destructive for me to be able to answer things in my pocket. I would always rather talk on the phone and have things settled.

My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
If you notice 15 minutes into the Mad Men pilot, Don has one of the worst creative problems he's ever had -- and like no hero before him, he goes and takes a nap. I don't know if it's my body shutting down or my brain needing to go elsewhere, but it is a solution to the fatigue of the job and has always done me better than a long walk. Deadlines have also helped my writers' block. You really can't afford to have it, and you just work through it by writing badly and thinking you can fix it later.

If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would it be:
Billy Wilder. I love the way he writes and works with his various writing partners. I would take any half of any of those writing teams, and The Apartment has been very influential in Mad Men. His approach is always so surprising. He jumps from different time frames, and what's missing is what's most exciting in the scene.

The three things I need in order to write:
Writers assistant, coffee, couch.

If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would be:
Already did it, so you don’t know.

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