Brave Thinkers 2011 November 2011

Matthew Weiner

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Creator, executive producer, and writer of Mad Men
Los Angeles, California

A detail-crazed show runner puts one of America’s hottest entertainment franchises on the line for the sake of his creative vision.

Matthew Weiner’s attention to detail is legendary. He makes Don Draper—the protagonist of his TV series Mad Men—drive a Buick instead of a Cadillac, because Weiner thinks the ad man lacks the self-esteem to buy a luxury car. He got embroiled in an extended debate with the show’s set decorator over the sort of headboard the Drapers ought to have in their bedroom.

So when the AMC network made three demands during Weiner’s contract negotiations earlier this year—that he cut the cast size, allow more product placement, and shorten each episode’s running time to make room for more commercials—he rejected all of them. “All I want to do is continue to make my show,” he told The New York Times, “and make it in the way I want to, with the people I want to make it with.”

After months of public wrangling, during which the future of the show was in doubt, Weiner won. He kept the cast and retained control of product integration. He agreed to cut two minutes from most episodes that air on TV, but full-length episodes will be available later online and on DVD.

Brave Thinkers 2011Of course, such commitment to artistic vision comes with hazards. Weiner’s refusal to meet AMC’s demands irritated some critics and perplexed others. (One blogger asked: Wouldn’t it “be fairly organic to integrate product placement into a series about advertising?”)

He also risked turning off his audience. On account of the drawn-out haggling, the show missed its usual summertime season premiere and won’t reappear until March—a full 17 months since its previous episode. Of course, there’s a chance—and probably a good one—that the off-screen drama might make the on-screen drama even more popular. At least that’s how Weiner would have it. Recall the beginning of the fourth season: We see Don yelling at two clients who won’t go along with his vision for an ad campaign, then tossing them out of the office. His tantrum doesn’t drive away business but instead emboldens him with the press and his own staff. The episode ends with Don boasting about his accomplishments as a reporter takes notes, enthralled.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Eleanor Barkhorn is an Atlantic associate editor
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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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