Here’s another look at an article we ran back in June about recent multiple Golden Globe winner Mad Men. Also, check out our video of Man Men star and Globe winner Jon Hamm sipping whiskey onstage with CableFAX’s Seth Arenstein and Michael Grebb at the CableFAX 100 luncheon, held in Dec. 2007. —editors
It’s hard to forget the early critical buzz around Hustle, the BBC series acquired by AMC about sophisticated British-based con artists. While most critics loved it, many complained it was off-brand. Their beef: It’s not American, it’s not a movie and it’s not a classic, covering each letter of AMC’s acronym.
A way to answer two of the critics’ three concerns is Mad Men, AMC’s original series that debuts July 19 at 10 p.m. The drama revolves around Manhattan advertising execs (called "Mad Men," an allusion to advertising’s historic home: New York’s Madison Avenue) circa 1960. More important, it feels and looks like a very good movie.
None of this is coincidence. Mad Men is symbolic of a strategy to integrate what new AMC chief Charlie Collier calls "cinematic television" into the classic film channel. "We made a conscious choice here to invest in a quality show, even though the market trend is to move away from quality and go to reality and game shows," he says. Says EVP of programming and production Rob Sorcher, "We felt our viewers would embrace an intelligent show. Quality means something to them."
Of course, integrating superior quality series into a movie channel is similar to the strategy another three-lettered network, primarily known as a movie channel, undertook years ago. It worked for HBO.
In fact, Mad Men’s look, the subtleties of its characters, the plot’s pace and soundtrack make it feel and sound like HBO’s The Sopranos. It should. Mad Men is written and exec-produced by The Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner, and the pilot was directed by Weiner’s Sopranos colleague Allan Taylor, with production design by Bob Shaw, another Sopranos hand. And the series is shot on film, augmenting the movie feel, "which meshes with the movies we run on the network," Sorcher says.
But Mad Men won’t stand alone on AMC. Collier, who joined the network after its resounding ratings success with original film Broken Trail, studied the playbook. The network led into that Western with classic Westerns. Broken Trail, which grabbed a record 7.63 household rating, enticed viewers to stay with AMC and watch its classic films. "That was an excellent case study" of using the assets of our library and showcasing originals with that, Collier says. "This will be a pattern going forward." The network will lead into Mad Men with Goodfellas, and in the weeks prior will show The Godfather trilogy, The Untouchables and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a film not seen on cable in years.
Broken Trail’s success was not the genesis of Mad Men, Sorcher says. It was in the pipeline when Broken Trail debuted, he said, but Broken Trail’s success "reaffirmed our strategy that quality programs would succeed," another official says. That strategy, to produce top-quality original films and series, is what Collier and Sorcher feel will be AMC’s trademark in the years ahead. "We’re not going to be in the volume business, so we know the few [originals] we bring out have to be high quality, to share characteristics" with the films of AMC. "Broken Trail was produced because it felt like a movie on television, not a television movie."
Confident that Mad Men is a quality series, AMC will showcase the series on Thursday nights. "It’s not lost on anybody that Thursday nights is the night in television to put your best fare on," Collier says.
And while the series about advertising will debut with limited commercial interruption, AMC feels viewers will pay more attention to those ads because the series is about advertising. Collier, a former ad man (and Mad Man, himself), says AMC is working on special ad pods for Mad Men. The series’ primary sponsor, fitting its cigarette-puffing, hard-drinking, hepcat early ’60s vibe: Jack Daniel’s.