This winter press tour is going to feature goodbye sessions for several beloved, long-running series, and few shows have been as loved by the TCA as “Mad Men,” which is bringing creator Matt Weiner and stars Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery to the stage to reminisce about their time together. (Earlier today, AMC announced that the final season will resume on April 5.) Though AMC has done a few “Mad Men”-related events since the series premiere, this will be the first formal TCA panel since then, and it should be an interesting time, especially with this mix of strong talent and personality.
As I did earlier today for “Better Call Saul,” I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing, as often as my fingers and the ballroom wi-fi will allow, so check back frequently. (All times are Pacific.)
9:42 a.m.: We open with some “Mad Men” greatest hits, including Don kissing Peggy’s hand, Don tying up Bobbie Barrett, Betty confronting Don about Dick Whitman, Joan joking about the lawnmower, Pete with his rifle. God, I’m gonna miss this show.
9:44 a.m.: Late addition to the panel: January Jones, in a very un-Betty black leather jacket and boots. Hamm and Kartheiser both have playoff beards.
9:46 a.m.: Moss has always been surprised by the changes in Peggy over the years. “Often, I’ll read something and think, ‘Oh, that’s been set up over the previous 12 episodes, and I just didn’t see it.'” She’s most surprised that Peggy hasn’t changed as much as you would think, given her circumstances. “I think Peggy has retained a lot of the qualities that she’s had since the beginning.” Hendricks is surprised they were able to maintain the story of Joan at work while bringing us into Joan’s home life and enriching her relationships with the people at the office as a result.
9:48 a.m.: Is Hamm pleased to have the show end so that people will stop asking him how it ends? “Really looking forward to being unemployed,” Hamm jokes (putting a “Hashtag sarcasm” at the end of a long rant). “There is no version of this ending that is not super painful for me. Mostly, it’s because of these people (the actors) and this person (Weiner). They’ve been the single constant in my creative life for the last decade. So that’s kind of tough. I will be happy when the shows air and I won’t have to fake like I don’t know how it ends, or make up some ridiculous story about robots or zombies or something. I will never be able to have this again, and that’s a drag.”
9:49 a.m.: A reporter asks about potential spin-offs. “‘Better Call Pete’!” Hamm shouts, while Kartheiser was too distracted to hear the joke.
9:50 a.m.: Weiner notes that there will be 92 hours of the show when all is said and done. “I’m particularly bad at anticipating what things are going to feel like,” he says. He’s relieved now that it’s all over. He moved out of his office a few weeks ago, and he’s started thinking so much about the beginning, their relationships together, making the pilot. “We all felt good about what we were doing, but the idea that it would be recognized, or go this long. It is its own complete thing.” He appreciates getting to end the story the way he wanted to end it, “And also, here are the original six castmembers of the show. What show gets to do that for seven years?”
9:53 a.m.: What reaction to something in the show surprised Weiner the most? “When you end an episode with Betty on a plane to get a divorce, with her new beau, and Don moving out and getting a new place, and the question I got the entire time was, ‘Are Don and Betty getting back together?'” He recalls some controversy about showing Lane’s body when he committed suicide, and said that was based on him learning from the audience that if you don’t show the body to the audience, “They won’t believe he’s dead. ‘Did D.B. Cooper have an English accent?'”
9:54 a.m.: That leads to a question about the D.B. Cooper and Sharon Tate conspiracy theories, and whether Weiner thinks people are watching the show wrong. “If you’re watching the show, you’re watching the show right,” he says. He doesn’t think he would ever do anything like those conspiracy theories, but was entertained by them.
9:56 a.m.: Weiner welcomed the challenge of splitting the final season into two, which helped keep him from feeling like he was repeating himself. The biggest difference in the final half-season is “the experience of ending the show is different.”
9:57 a.m.: The last seven episodes, “Each one of them feels like a finale of the show,” Weiner says. When the actors read each script, they would tell him, “Wow, what’s going to be next week?”
9:59 a.m.: A critic brings up the divisive finale of “How I Met Your Mother.” (Hamm: “Finally! A ‘How I Met Your Mother’ question!”) Does Weiner give any concern at all to how the viewers might want things wrapped up? “I’m flattered by the concept that you might think I’m not in the entertainment business,” he says, insisting he’s very interested in what the audience thinks. “I’m trying to delight them and confound them, and not frustrate and irritate them. I don’t want them to walk away angry.” But to surprise the audience, you can’t give them everything they want.
10:03 a.m.: Hamm found it strange to watch the retrospective montage AMC put together. “I certainly, in 2006, would not have expected to be sitting here having the experience over the last 8 or 9 years. There’s no version of it that I can imagine in my mind that would equal what actually happened. Not only creatively in what I got to do in playing this person, but tangentially, this amazing group of people that I got to know… It’s become, for better and worse, but mostly better, just a part of my life, and a significant part of my life. There’s not a lot of jobs you can point to, at least in our world that have that impact. So that was like a really weird trot down memory lane, that also really felt great. At the end of the day, this experience has been unequivocally wonderful. And I’ll miss it.”
10:05 a.m.: Hendricks never really thought about the ’60s before getting this job, but even the littlest details they learned when they started the job were mind-blowing. “You’d see White-Out and go, ‘When did White-Out get invented?'” (Hamm: “1974, by the way.”)
10:10 a.m.: How did the actors choose to read the final script, and what was that experience like? Jones got hers at home and read it alone. “It was very hard, it was very emotional… The whole last few weeks, I was a mess, pretty much. Everything made me cry. It was hard. It’s a beautiful story. It’s perfect in a way. I read it over and over. I didn’t want it to be the last time. Sometimes, I still read it every once in a while on a Thursday afternoon.” Slattery notes that the secrecy of the show is much talked about, and there had been gossip among the cast about how it might end. “To echo what January said,” he says, “with those whisps of rumors in your head, you read the last script, focused on whether I was right.” Jones notes that the script was delivered without the last 10 pages – as Weiner grins like the cat that ate the canary. He always enjoyed the table reads, because they were the first time everyone involved in the show knew what was happening in a given episode. He recalls the episode where Don confesses to Betty about Dick, and everyone forgot the schoolteacher was waiting in the car, “So when everybody turned the page, there was this collective, ‘Holy shit, she’s still outside!'”
10:11 a.m.: Now that Weiner is done making “Mad Men” as a TV show, how does he intend to manage the legacy of the show going forward? “We’ve tried to limit its exploitation to things that are related to the show, and tried not to tarnish it with, ironically, too much commercialization,” he says. But he admits he has no control over the future perception of the show. “Honestly, Jon Hamm is forever going to be the face of ‘Mad Men.'” Weiner doesn’t see “the show participating in a ‘Mad Men’ cruise, but if they want to do it, we’re open to it.”
10:13 a.m.: Who is going to attend the “Mad Men” cruise? All hands but Kartheiser’s go up.
10:15 a.m.: How did everyone feel about where their characters ended up. “I was surprised in the best way, but really happy with it,” says Moss. Jones was pleasantly surprised. Hendricks was pleased: “I thought there’s no way I could be happy because it’s ending… I was surprised I was pleased.” Weiner says he usually spoils everything for the actors by coming up to them and trying it out. “Sometimes, we do it, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes they ask me, ‘Why didn’t we do the thing you told me about?’ ‘Because you didn’t like it.'” But in this case, Hamm was the only actor who was told the ending in advance.
10:19 a.m.: What did Weiner find out about the national mood at the end of the ’60s and start of the ’70s that informed the final episodes? He says he’s more informed by the national mood today. “I start by the story in the people’s lives, and one of the lessons of the show is your life is so independent of history that it’s the rare occurrence of history that can interfere in your life for more than a few moments.” He found emails he got from the start of the series: “An invitation to something called Gmail, there was no iPhone, no streaming, Netflix was something you got in the mail… It was so different, so when I felt that sense of anxiety that goes along with that, I often feel that and project it onto what’s going on in the period.” 1968 in season 6 was the one time where “history was impacting on people’s lives every single day.” And to see the defeat of that revolutionary impetus, all the assassinations, “You sort of say, at a certain point, everyone’s like, ‘Enough already. It’s time to turn inward.'” That’s what he felt about the end of that decade, and what he feels like is happening now, where all activism feels futile, so people are working on themselves.
10:20 a.m.: What will everyone do for work now that the show’s over? Hamm goes on a long riff about the car detailing business he’s started: “We’ve all been, because of the show, sticklers to detail. That’s actually the name of the business.” He admits he has nothing to do right now.
10:22 a.m.: When Weiner looks back on the show, how does he see it as a legacy series, where it never really fell into a ball of flames? “That’s nice of you to say, that’s not for me to say,” he says, admitting there are moments everyone doesn’t like about their work. “Because I’m surrounded by great people, I feel very satisfied with a lot of what we did. I’m super-proud of the fact that we did not repeat ourselves… It’s so subjective. If you want to ask, ‘Do I feel good about what we did?’ Yeah, for 92 hours of it, I think it’s got a very high level of execution. I think the acting was consistent and surprising, the directing. I think the writing was always experimental at times. Considering on an academic level that the show doesn’t have a genre. But honestly, going back to the job question, whatever we did to allow us to let them keep us working all the time, that has been mysterious. That has been the greatest satisfaction.” Everyone working on the show was very smart, “And by the end of the show, I don’t think anybody was around who people didn’t like, except me. It was a work environment that was based on satisfying ourselves, and I’m not gonna lie, getting recognition did not hurt.” So can he put it down and let it go? “I don’t think I’ll ever let it go.” He recalls Hendricks and Moss’s first scene together, the first time he saw them walking next to each other, “And you’re having a psychotic experience, of something being realized. You guys know how long this thing existed, I carried it around for so long. And I’ve never gotten over that.” He thinks on all the people who have been with the show from the start. “It is a very special creatively satisfying experience. The part that you can’t leave alone is, ‘How greedy am I gonna be? Do I expect this to happen again?”
That’s all, folks.