Okay, as promised: "Mad Men" this past Sunday. Not that anyone asked. First of all, I read that viewership amounted to 2.9 million (estimated), which is interesting—and proof that this really is a niche show, that not everyone "gets" or likes or is excited about it. And just for comparison, our broadcast this time of year averages just north of 7 million viewers an evening, while during the dead of winter, we were north of 11 million viewers earlier this year. We have a sizeable group of "Mad Men" fans in our office and in our circle of friends, and I'm guessing our geographic location (I can just about see the real Madison Avenue from my office window) contributes to that.
The show takes great pains to be historically accurate. And so, people like yours truly watch with a keen eye, almost itching to find inconsistencies. Once I learned it was important to the show and its creator, it became important to me to hold them to it. Finding fault with the props, clothing, mannerisms, behavior and language on "Mad Men" has become a small industry on the web. As the great Ben Zimmer of the New York Times put it, "To a large extent, ["Mad Men"] brought this festival of nitpickery on themselves through their own perfectionism."
So, about last Sunday's season premiere...my observations were as follows: The new kid in the office (graphic artist?) had a perfectly contemporary haircut (2010, that is) and his sweater vests appeared more circa '67-70 than '64, the year of this season's setting. In one scene, I saw a baseball game on TV, in black and white, using slow-motion replay. Not in 1964, as far as I recall. In another scene, Don Draper is watching a football game late at night. Questionable. On Thanksgiving day, Betty Draper has elaborate "period" hair—while later that night at home, its combed out in a perfectly current (today) style. After a kiss in the back of a cab, a young woman's lipstick magically re-appears in the next shot after presumably being smudged off by the suave Mr. Draper. I believe I recall civil rights worker Andrew Goodman called "Goodwin" (was it just me?) and in another scene, Henry's blazer collar is stuck in the up position and then magically flattened down in the next shot. Again, mostly small potatoes, known as "continuity errors" in the trade. There are a slew of websites devoted to the art form of picking them out. My personal favorites include Nicole Kidman calling Tom Cruise by his real name in Days of Thunder, when he was playing a character named "Cole". Then there's the scene from "It's Complicated," where Alec Baldwin is tying a necktie in front of a mirror. It's all over the place...and Brad Pitt's bow tie and tux in "Inglorious Basterds." These are great finds.
In small ways, language has proven tricky on "Mad Men." I should quickly add: it would be extraordinary if writers in 2010 didn't let at least some contemporary customs, expressions or idioms slip into their work. I have an unusual window into the language of 1964, specifically, in that (shut-in alert) I've listened to a slew of the unedited recorded phone conversations of Lyndon Johnson during that same year. Listening to all of those unguarded (they didn't know they were being recorded) conversations makes for a superb, perfectly preserved time capsule of the language of the era. So hearing Peggy say, "It was going great, until it wasn't..." simply doesn't ring true. Again, the New York Times and others on the web have taken aim at some of her lines, especially.
Now, the important part. These are nits—minor moments in a terribly inventive show with a loyal following. Given its relatively small audience, the show has had a huge cultural impact, and has sparked a much larger re-examination—even nostalgia—for the fashions and habits and behavior of that era. Don Draper is now part of American iconography, and that is thanks to the vision and drive and creativity of show creator Matt Weiner and his talented staff, cast and crew. They have a hit on their hands—the rest of us just watch and enjoy it, and occasionally write about it.
I'll now put my nose back where it belongs, and we hope you can join us for tonight's broadcast.