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Mad Men obsessives will have a field day at NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image, where a new exhibition devoted to AMC’s landmark television drama has arrived just in time to coincide with the series’ final episodes beginning on April 5. Detailing the show’s creative process with the same precise attention to detail evidenced onscreen, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men is a television fetishist’s dream. Initially scheduled to run through June 14, the exhibition is now open until Sept. 6.
It’s a relatively small exhibition in terms of gallery space, but it sure packs a lot in. Featuring everything from scribbled notes with ideas for characters, scenes and dialogue — some written on stationery from The Sopranos, for which Weiner wrote prior to Mad Men — to recreations of the show’s writers’ room and two of its sets, it fully immerses you in the series’ universe.
It was a show apparently long in the making, evidenced by excerpts from Weiner’s journal dating back to 1992-1993 and script pages from his unfinished 1992 screenplay The Horseshoe, which eventually became the source for Don Draper’s backstory. Also included are books that informed the series, ranging from The Stories of John Cheever to David Ogilvy‘s Ogilvy on Advertising and Helen Gurley Brown‘s Sex and the Single Girl. Other source material include video clips from such cinematic inspirations as Billy Wilder‘s The Apartment and Jean Negulesco‘s The Best of Everything.
Attendees with a lot of time on their hands will want to peruse the voluminous notes on which snatches of dialogue are written. “Thank you for letting us all see a smile usually reserved for clients,” one reads.
The writers’ room, recreating the actual one at Los Angeles Center Studios, includes a wall of index cards detailing the last episode of the first half of the final season. Needless to say, you won’t find any clues as to how the saga concludes in the remaining episodes.
Costumes and props relating to the major characters fill another space, with such iconic outfits as Don’s grey flannel suit complete with fedora; Betty’s pink bathrobe; Joan’s blood-stained, body-hugging green dress from the famous lawn-mower incident episode; young Sally’s first party dress; Peggy’s demure work outfits; Pete’s garish plaid pants; and, most famously, the sexy black chiffon number worn by Megan as she sang “Zou Bisou Bisou.” Among the voluminous props featured are Don’s shoe box containing clues to his secret identity, a copy of his “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” essay printed in The New York Times, and business cards for several of the characters.
The highlight of the exhibition are the recreations of two of the show’s principal sets from previous seasons, depicting Don and Betty’s Ossining, New York kitchen from seasons 1-4 and Don’s office from seasons 4-6. Although protected with plexiglas barriers, the exhibition design allows you to walk a few steps inside each environment and marvel at the incredible attention to detail — down to the cigarette butts littering the numerous ashtrays and the vintage cookbooks on display.
And it doesn’t end there. A listening station allows you to hear songs prominently featured in the series, followed by commentary from Weiner; you can scroll through an iPad displaying alternate designs for the famous credit sequence; and the various galleries include endless props from the show, including a ‘60s-era cigarette vending machine from which you’ll be tempted to buy a cheap pack.
It’s as if you’ve walked into a time capsule, not only of the years in which the show was in production but also the vintage period it depicts. Besides the inevitable feelings of nostalgia it produces, you’ll find yourself terrifically sad that the world of Mad Men will soon be no more.