AMC’s Mad Men is one of the finest television shows airing these days and is one I must watch on a regular basis. With its eclectic cast of characters, 1960’s setting, and a look at how advertising works (or worked), it’s a highly addictive and smart show. It’s also one of the most watched shows on AMC and is a cultural phenomenon around the world.
Criticize This! spoke with André and Maria Jacquemetton, executive producers and writers of the show, when they were in Toronto speaking at the CFC’s Test Pattern series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox back in May. With the season five finale airing tonight at 10 p.m. ET, we thought it was a good time to share their insight into what goes into bringing an episode of the show to air. Read our Q&A below.
What goes into an episode of Mad Men for you guys?
Maria: André and I actually run the writer’s room. Our process starts about 12 weeks in advance of production. Matthew Weiner [show creator and producer] will basically give us a lowdown of how he wants to see it and what he’s thinking of for the season. Then the writers will brainstorm and come up with ideas for the episodes and then splinter into breaking each episode down individually. So it’s hard to say how much time goes into one episode.
André: It’s a lot of time. Cause we’re executive producers we’re in charge of everything that goes on. It’s all consuming. We’re the first ones in the last ones out.
Maria: Yeah, we can’t really say it takes a month because there are weeks and weeks that go into the story writing process and then three weeks of prep and shooting and then it could be months of editing for each episode.
How do you keep it all on track if it takes that long for each episode?
Maria: We have a system, but really we keep it all in our heads. It’s just a skillset that you develop when you’re working on a writing staff. You have to be able to do that.
Do you ever struggle with where to take the characters?
André: All the time. The difficulty of a show that has been so critically successful is that we constantly second guess ourselves. We’re constantly questioning whether we’re good enough.
Maria: Writing a story for a television episode or a screenplay is very much like giving birth. It’s definitely a lot of excitement, a lot of pain, and in the end a lot of joy.
Do you ever feel let down by any of the characters?
André: No, never.
Maria: The worse they behave the happier it makes us.
What’s the hardest part of working on a show that is this successful?
André: The hardest thing is letting go. Sometimes you wish you had more time with the story or more time in the editing room. As I said, there is a lot of second guessing and even when we watch the shows now we constantly think about things we should have done differently. They’re your children. So much love and pain has gone into realizing each episode that it’s hard letting go.
Did either of you ever expect the show to be as big as it is now?
Maria: We knew that when we read the pilot script and watched the pilot episode that it was something special. And we hoped that it would catch on and gain an audience so that we could continue to work on something so gratifying. But we never thought it would become the phenomenon it has become. We’re very grateful.
André: When we began our mandate was to tell the stories we wanted to tell in a fashion we wanted to tell them and we fully expected not to come back after that first season. The ratings were so low, yet people like yourself embraced it and loved the show so much that there became a point that AMC had to pick-up the show because it was so beloved. And so much talent was calling up AMC and patting them on the back for doing such a bold show and telling them they wanted to work with them that AMC knew if they got rid of the show they’d have egg on their face. But really, we thank the audience for making the show so successful.
Are you still learning things about the 60’s?
André: Absolutely. It’s our job to read every newspaper, every book, and see every film, and listen to interviews from that time. It’s a treasure trove. And we get to speak to amazing people who were around at that time. It’s an amazing experience and we’re very humble to be able to tell these stories.
Do you have time to work on anything else these days or this is it for you?
André: As writers you want to be able to write in your own voice, especially when you have downtime. It’s really your responsibility to exercise that voice. We do have other projects we’ve setup and are in various stages of development on and when we’re on hiatus that’s the the time we’ll get to it.
What can we expect from the season finale?
Maria: You know we can’t answer that! Shame on you [laughs]. You won’t be disappointed, that’s all we can say.
The season five finale of Mad Men airs tonight, June 10, on AMC at 10 p.m. Check out amctv.com for more info.