With AMC’s Mad Men now airing it’s final seven episodes Sunday nights, I recently landed an exclusive interview with creator Matthew Weiner. During the interview he talked about letting go of the show, what the past few months have been like, how they were’t sure they’d get picked up after the first season, how January Jones dressed up as Betty Draper on Halloween at her own house to give out candy, if there are a lot of deleted scenes on the cutting room floor, the status of the ultimate Mad Men Blu-ray box set, future plans, and a lot more.
Finally, as someone that watches a lot of television, I’m extremely sad to say goodbye to the world that Matthew Weiner shaped. Creating great TV is hard. The team that brought Mad Men to life made it look easy. You will be missed.
I watched the season premiere yesterday; it made me very sad that it was the last season premiere I will ever see. It was great as always.
MATTHEW WEINER: Thank you.
I know you can’t really talk about specifics of the last season, and I don’t want to ruin the story…
WEINER: I will tell you that there is a little bit … I’m gonna answer your question in a second. I feel a little bit more open; I’m not gonna tell you what’s gonna happen. But this is one season, and I’m not being defensive about it, but we’ve thought of it that way writing-wise. It was shot all at the same time, and a lot of the themes have already been introduced. To me, it’s like coming to talk to me midseason. Does that make sense?
WEINER: So I feel a little bit open about like, you wanna know — I’m not gonna tell you what happens and I don’t want to talk about that episode, but it’s been the same thing.
Life and death is definitely a big factor of the final season.
WEINER: Absolutely [Laughs]. No one has said that yet, but I would agree whole-heartedly. I think it always is, but on this show, where things happen without murder and guns and stuff, you can feel it.
Well, I definitely feel it’s about your mortality, and at least what I’ve been watching…
WEINER: Or the show’s mortality [Laughs].
That’s another theme. But I’m very curious about, what has it been like for you letting go? Because you shot it last summer, I’m assuming the episodes have been done for a while.
So, what has it been like letting go of it and now coming to promote it today?
WEINER: That’s a very interesting question. I’m gonna start with a little bit before that though, and say that I’ve been lucky that I have discovered that writing for me, however painful or how much trouble it is to write, always provides some sort of catharsis. It alleviates my anxiety and the process of finishing the show and writing these last fourteen episodes, I have been able — and I think a lot of the writers on the show, and actors, I don’t know as much – we have been able to channel a lot of the feelings of loss into this experience, if that makes sense. I’m not saying the show is about loss, but you can feel it. That’s why I’m saying these last seven episodes, every one of them feels like a series finale. We were using the sensation of ending, right?
WEINER: Now, I’ve never ended a TV show before. I have ended seasons of the show, thinking that it was the series finale. So part of that is not new, and if you look at the places where I can be very specific about not knowing if I was coming back, like the finale of the first season in particular, the second season in particular, the fourth season …
[Laughs] Every season.
WEINER: Well, I know. I had a contract for two years after [seasons] three and four. After the first season we didn’t know if we were gonna get picked up, after the second season there was a contract negotiation where — whatever I’m not gonna get into that. But believe it or not, I thought it was the worst business experience of my life and it was topped again two years later, by a lot. So every time you see one of those things, other than these last three seasons, I’ve known it was the end and it became a rhythm to use everything we had. Now, when it was really the end, with no shade of hope – self-imposed, I’m not complaining — what a luxury to be able to end the show when you wanted to and how you wanted to, and not find out that the trades didn’t come out that day and say you’ve been cancelled. It was something I’ve never experienced before, and I still haven’t. The long drawn-out process of like – I’ve directed the last two episodes and I knew it was gonna have all this post afterwards, so I kind of was able to keep it together for the cast who were having their last days, and the crew. Then I had post-production with me, twenty or thirty people at times, through October. Then all of the sudden in the middle of December I’m moving out of my office with my assistant and a friend of mine from college, and then I’m driving home by myself. That was hard, that was really hard. But in the back of our minds the whole time is, ‘Well, we’re gonna have a reunion next year. I know they split the seasons, but that means we’re not off the air yet. We still get to show these episodes’ and so now I’m kind of like deliriously happy to be unveiling the shows, because I’m super proud of them and it’s really happening. I have no idea what it’s gonna feel like when that last episode airs. People ask me about the content of the ending and they don’t wanna know and everything like that, but was it this, was it that, what did I think of it? It’s still the ending, no matter what it is, that I have not prepared for and I’m terrible at guessing what it’s gonna be like. I know it’s gonna be sad. I don’t think I’m gonna be angry because this has been so drawn out and I think I’m a little bit ahead of everybody because I know it’s really over.
Sure. What’s funny is, I loved The West Wing. What I really enjoyed about The West Wing is the cast gets together and does these fun videos where they’re pitching something. Is that even something that in the back of your brain if someone came to you pitched you an idea for some of the characters to do a three-minute clip…
WEINER: I hope so, I hope they want to. People are not thinking that way right now. We get to have this reunion for the premiere tonight and we’re going to be seeing each other a lot while it’s on the air, and hopefully seeing each other for the next year or so. I think that it’s going to take a lot of effort, as it does in life, to hold each other together, but right now I think people are thinking way more – as they probably did at the last day of The West Wing – about the future, than they are about where they were. And what I hope? Yeah, I hope that Jon [Hamm] and January [Jones] play husband and wife on some sitcom ten years from now. I mean, we used to do that all the time, try and find anything that’s a resonance to that. Seeing Mulder and Scully are being reunited, all of that makes me excited. I think Mad Men is over, but anything – especially in a world where there’s so much satire – that makes me happy. January Jones dressed up as Betty Draper on Halloween at her own house to give out candy, that’s the kind of stuff that I’m hoping happens.
That is amazing, I had no idea that happened.
WEINER: It was so funny and she knew it, and there are always photographers at her house, she knew that somebody might see it but what she really wanted to do was give the candy and scare the kids a little [Laughs].
That’s actually awesome.
WEINER: She’s a very funny person.
I definitely want to know what you’re thinking about for the future, because I have been such a fan of your writing for so many years…
WEINER: Oh, thanks!
…that I’m very curious if doing another television show – because you obviously write a lot — and I’m just curious if…
WEINER: Yes, anybody who’s running a TV show even if they’re not writing a lot needs time in between. I don’t know how people like Shonda [Rhimes] do it. Vince [Gilligan] basically explained to me that part of his reasoning behind being part of the spinoff was that he had stopped working before and regretted it, it was hard to get going again and so he just wanted to keep working. For me, I’ve never been in this situation before I was at it, in a weird way. We did ninety-two hours of it, it’s more than a lot of shows – It’s not more than Grey’s Anatomy but … [Laughs] it’s definitely more than Breaking Bad; and I kind of felt like I said a lot of what I had to say and I wanted to stop and refill the tank. But I have ideas, I’m working on a lot of things, actually. I would say TV immediately, if you plan for success as you should when you go in and pitch something, I don’t know if I’m ready to jump into a five year commitment on something right now. I also feel like it’s an extremely crowded landscape in television and having an idea for a TV show, despite the fact that a lot of people are getting into TV to just be on television. But having an idea that supports a series is a very specific thing, and Vince knows that, but I don’t know if everybody getting into TV knows that. I think some of these things are kind of like undisciplined movies, and not even movies of the week, but just like the form – I shouldn’t even say. None of this comes with judgement, this is just an observation at what happened to genre in this world. So, you can have an idea and people tried forever, as they were rejecting Mad Men as a series, to convince me to turn it into a feature. It doesn’t mean it would’ve happened over night, but I knew it wasn’t a feature. I knew that revealing that the main character was married in the middle of the feature would be worthless, and be amazing on the end of a TV show. I knew that was a special idea that had commercial value in a special environment.
What I’m curious about is, they’re bringing back X-Files for six episodes, and I think that…
WEINER: Scarcity is cool [Laughs].
That’s exactly what I want to get to, which is that…
WEINER: I watched every Rockford movie. If they found a Colombo from … anytime to visit those things. Am I gonna do it with Mad Men? No.
One of the reasons I think Sherlock on the BBC has been so fucking great, is that they do three episodes. They do three movies, done. That’s their season…
WEINER: It does get harder to do, the more that you do. But that’s the thing about a TV idea, it’s that you have to have – let’s go back and let me pat this thing on the back one more time, and I hope that people know that when I talk about The Sopranos I’m not talking about myself. I watched The Sopranos for four seasons as a writer on a sitcom just like in awe, and as an audience member, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about The Sopranos. My participation, in a weird way, doesn’t count. Not in a weird way, it’s doesn’t. The idea that he was telling a complete story over thirteen episodes and that every one of those episodes was a movie and that it did not repeat itself, unless it was part of the story, like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m the same as my dad was’ that, sustaining that for 85 episodes, that is a unique achievement and not taking it as this rise and fall story. It’s hard, it’s hard to keep people in on it every week and you need a certain kind of audience. So David [Chase] discovered that audience, as far as I’m concerned. Having a show, at the end of every season if things went well people would be like, ‘How are you going to top that?’ and I would say, ‘I don’t think that way. Because if I did, my plots would become extreme and just get out of control and I would be’ – That’s why I put the time gaps in between, just to reset the story in a way. That number one, the audience has to wonder what happened while they were gone, so you immediately have some interest at the beginning of the season. But I’m telling a totally different story, I’m moving laterally, at least in my own mind, so I don’t have to worry about spinning out of control as you try and keep it more and more exciting for people and it can end up preposterous.
It can be a Telemundo sort of thing.
I don’t wanna insult that stuff because I actually like those too, and people who can do preposterous plots and keep them going are amazing to me. I’m entertained by that. I used to watch Nip/Tuck, and I mentioned it a second time today, it is a ground-breaking show on basic cable, it was one of the first things that attracted big stars, and had a designed look that was – I know – a response to not having enough money, and was chic. So whenever you see some necessity being the mother of invention like that, I always admired it, but the stories – Ryan [Murphy] had found a way and those writers on that thing, they would just get more, and more, and more; and I was thoroughly impressed.
Ryan, he’s an ok writer, too.
WEINER: Yes, yes he is, but that’s what I’m saying. I don’t do that particular thing, but I’m thoroughly impressed by it.
Are there a lot of deleted scenes from Mad Men that have never seen the light of day?
WEINER: No. That is a product of our combination of wisdom, from my executive producing partner Scott Hornbacher, and financial reality. He would always tell me what he thought was necessary, and never made the show cheaper, sometimes he would find a more expensive version to these things. But sometimes he would always say like, ‘We can cut this scene, we can cut this scene, we can cut this scene’ and we really shot very close to exactly what you saw. There are lots of lines that have been cut out, and all the shows came in fat, because the hardest part of my job was taking that show to 47 minutes and 37 seconds every week, that’s the hardest part; because they would come in at 52, 53 and I always wanted them to be a little bit fat. But it was rarely, probably in 92 episodes I bet there’s ten scenes that have been cut out.
WEINER: But there’s lot of time. When people watch the show and watch how slow-moving it is, they must wonder like, ‘He cuts stuff out of this?’ [Laughs].
With the first few seasons though, did they come in fat and then you cut them down to the fourty-something?
WEINER: The pilot is 48 minutes, 48-something, and I was sort of the way the form it was and I always cut it down to within that time; and then at certain point commercial dollars started adding up and they tried to reduce it to 45 minutes and that was a big bump of contention, I was like, ‘I do not know how to tell this show in 45 minutes’ That extra two and a half minutes. They tried speeding it up one time, that was a disaster. I can be done very, very, very, subtly; but it was not done subtly by AMC at that time. So I just was like, ‘If I delivered at 47 minutes and 30 seconds, they can speed it up by 30 seconds over 47 minutes and still have enough commercial time’ and I fought very hard for that. Very, very, very hard for that.
I’m very curious about, as a fan, your show is one of the few that I would like to own in a very nice box set on my shelf.
WEINER: There will be one!
So I’m very curious, what are you doing for the ultimate Blu-ray box set that eventually will hit? I’m sure this Christmas. And is it this Christmas?
WEINER: I don’t know when it’s coming out. I have seen a prototype. It will be this year. I don’t know what extra will be on there yet, there’s been some conversation, there’s definitely some pieces we’ve made. Maybe we can talk when that happens, because people usually don’t talk to us about that.
Oh, I definitely am curious about that.
WEINER: There won’t be deleted scenes, and there won’t be auditions.
Oh, see that doesn’t faze me.
WEINER: Or the trip to space.
Well, I’m more curious about, are you adding extra commentaries that maybe you wouldn’t have done before?
WEINER: I don’t know. I talked to them. I did not do commentary on season six, and part of it was about the fact that I was doing it every year and the studio just assumed that I was gonna do it and that my ego was driving it and that it was a huge added bonus. These DVDs, as far as I know, they act like it’s a disaster for them and I know that it’s not, business-wise. So at certain point I was like, ‘If there’s no value in this, I don’t wanna do it. It’s a huge, huge job for me. I can draw all the actors into it, we all do it for free. No one participates in the profits from these things. Why are we doing it?’ And then after I didn’t do it, I had a friend of mine who’s a fan saying like, ‘You should just do it for free, because your wanted on there. We liked it, we miss it.’ So I may go back and do this. I definitely did them the first seven of this final season, and I will definitely do it on the last seven.