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Los Angeles — The Emmy award-winning TV series Mad Men has “had a profound effect on what’s on television,” AMC CEO Josh Sapan said on a panel at the final general session of the 2014 NCTA convention: “[Mad Men creator] Matt [Weiner] has invited just better television, and that is treated as a different form of communication. It’s not what TV meant before.”
Sapan went on to explain what defines this golden age of television by recalling what his parents used to tell him. “Before, TV was bad,” said Sapan. “My parents said, ‘Don’t watch it. You’ll get dumb.’ I think Matt and Mad Men has had a real effect on that.”
Weiner said that it was the changes in TV distribution, which have led to a wider range of platforms, that has allowed these shows that break all the rules — often lacking likeable characters or not telling TV stories in the traditional ways. “I have a theory from the sidelines,” added Weiner. “The golden age of television is like the revolution in advertising. It’s a term that is coined by the television business. What really happened is that it was the lower cost for talent and special deals made by the WGA, DGA and SAG to encourage this part of the business. And I think it exploded into a cost structure that allowed people to find their way in.”
When he arrived at AMC seven years ago with the show, which he first started creating 14 years ago, Weiner said it was because they were interested in a different kind of TV. He compared it to his time on the The Sopranos.
“The Sopranos is an anti-network show,” said Weiner. “There’s no lying about human behavior. It’s subtle. It has action. It has unlikable characters. There’s not one thing that would get past a focus group, and it became a huge business.”
The showrunner called out Breaking Bad as another series in this trend, even though they are very different.
When he went to AMC, Weiner says the network was interested in what he wanted to do with the show: “I was like, ‘I’ll work for less. I will work harder if you trust my creative vision.’ This is what we always wanted. The ironic thing is this is a mass communication, but it became very specific.”
Sapan said because Man Men is a show that requires the audience to really pay attention, it would not have been possible except in the age of cable, and especially the DVR, which meant people would watch at their ease.
“I think when you write stuff — and Matt redeemed us — when you write something because you’re interested in it and not for the market, you probably write it differently” said Sapan. “In a business environment that sounds like a bad thing, but it’s really a good thing.”
“He gave the money,” added Weiner, “and I gave the content.”
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