Matthew Weiner on ‘Mad Men’ Season 5

The creator of AMC's critically acclaimed series drops a few hints about what's ahead for Don Draper and company.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

When Matthew Weiner met with the Television Critics Association over cocktails, I got several of my own questions in with him. But I wouldn’t want to deny the readers any of the news he gave in response to other questions. So here are all the juicy quotes Weiner was willing to share about the fifth season of "Mad Men," including our own.


Matthew Weiner on the themes of "Mad Men" Season Five.

I think thematically a lot of what’s going on is it’s a little bit about every man for himself and the kind of maturity that comes with realizing that life isn’t fair. And it’s a little bit about what I think is a cultural sensation right now which is when is everything going to get back to normal.

We’re in the midst of such tremendous change. I mean, we sold the show to Netflix. And I can tell you right now, when we started the show, people would’ve been like, "Right, you’re going to stream something longer than eight seconds into somebody’s house?" And here it is, this is the exploitation, this is the syndication. So watching the TV business change, watching the world change, watching America go through this economic crisis that none of us thought we’d have to live through.

I talked to somebody in their 80s and they’re looking at me like, "You idiot, I told you it was going to happen again." The stock market, my dad wouldn’t let me near that. We’re sort of saying well, it will go back to normal. I think this is normal and that’s kind of a realization that I think is all over the show.

Season Five is just like now, only 45 years ago.

Being in the midst of change which we know is a big part of life and where we are right now, and certainly where they are in the show and they always have been, this could’ve been any season but I love the idea of feeling like right when I think I’m on top of something, right when I think I have things where I know what they are, right when I think that I have some wisdom from life experience, you just sort of feel things slip away.

There’s this sensation which I think people have right now, I know I do, of so much change going on. So much. That’s sort of where I write from is what I’m feeling and I just have this feeling right now of enough already. Enough already. Let’s just get our feet on the ground and go back to the way it was, I don’t even know when. I don't know if anyone else identifies with that but that’s a big part of this season is that trying to hold on.

The two hour premiere is a movie, not just a two parter aired back to back.

It is a two hour episode. It is not two [episodes put together.] No, it is really not. The outline, as I started writing, it started spreading and spreading and spreading and spreading and I was like this is too much story. I can either cut this thing down, which is what I do, or I think I have a "Mad Men" movie here and I have a great team with me helping me develop the stories and we just went for it.

The network was excited and I was like we’ve been gone for so long, let’s just give them a big "Mad Men" movie to start the season.

I ask if there was ever a point in the contentious negotiations that there might really not have been a Season Five.

Yes, yes there was. That’s another thing. I’m not going to lie. With all of the tumult in the off season, there was a point where I really knew that the show might not happen and was convinced that it wouldn’t. And the fact that we got to go back to work was just a shot of energy and just the sensation of gratitude to be back in that world and to have everybody come back to work and continue, that has not worn off.

Usually people get really tired and bored by season five and the drama of almost losing it really made it feel like we were starting over again.

I ask what he thought of other networks trying to do ‘60s shows like "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club."

I was saying it’s like I wish them all the best. I look at the writers and I know how hard it is to get a show on the air. I’m rooting for anybody who gets a show on the air. I’m a competitive person and I know how hard it is for me to do it and I know how hard it was for them to do it.

To me it was a vindication because most of the executives who were ordering these shows – the writers and creative people are inconsequential in this respect because everybody has a dream. Who knows, some of these people had the idea for a show before I ever got to make mine? It’s their lifelong dream to do the show, then "Mad Men" happens and they get to do it.

But the executives were all people that I had met who told me that this was a really dumb idea and that I didn’t understand how TV worked. So that was gratifying.

Season Five also draws from Matthew Weiner’s own age and self-reflection.

One of the great things about the show is committing to the year and committing to the ages and the points of life that everyone’s in so now that I am in my mid-40s and I look back at my mid-30s and think about how different my interests are.

Forgetting about what’s happening in the world, how much further I am from high school, how much further I am from childhood. Then you have children and you go back to childhood. All those things, I get to use those life events as story. We just try and keep it in that realm and then I don’t have to worry about being visited by a spaceship or something.

Matthew Weiner on recasting Bobby Draper, again.

That was unfortunate. That was part of the delay and also part of the fact that this little boy has a great career. I will say this right now and I hope his camp has said this, we were not unhappy with him at all. I love that actor but he was given a big opportunity and his agent and manager never even talked to us beforehand.

The little boy we have right now is a wonderful actor. By the way, we talked about this. Little girls and little boys at that age, just finding the people we found has been really hard and this little boy’s a wonderful actor. It’s very hard to find a child actor who can bring that depth to it and he’s been great. And you know how I feel about Kiernan [Shipka]. You see her on the show.

Matthew Weiner on all the speculation about "Mad Men."

All of this is flattering to me. All the interest in the show is flattering. We’re in the entertainment business. You hear comedians talk about how when you are in show business, you go out there and you’re fighting for the audience. You’re fighting for the interest of the audience. All you want to do is get on stage and have people have the expectation that it’s going to be good.

That’s all you’re fighting for, just to give you that break, that it might be good. I feel like, without being too cocky, that we’re in a place where the audience is expecting it to be good in a positive way and the entertainer in me is like I just want them to get their money’s worth. I want the wait to be worth it and I never thought we’d been going past the pilot.

We know each other since the pilot. The idea that we’re finishing season five in 48 hours blows my mind and that people know what it is. For me, I just want to keep it entertaining. I would like to keep it fresh. We’re all pinching ourselves. I have these incredible actors. I’ve watched this little girl grow up. I’ve watched a lot of my cast grow up. I was bald when I met them so nothing happened to me but that’s really where it is.

Matthew Weiner’s personal denial that the end is near.

My life philosophy and personality has been driven by the fact that I am incapable of really understanding the future on some level. And that I am in this moment with the show, seriously, I take risks and things like that because I really don’t think that far ahead.

So I’m the person who probably the day before the last episode will just be incapacitated in my bedroom and say, "I don't know what’s wrong? I don't know what it is. I went to work yesterday and everybody…"

Even right now, I always come in and direct on the finale and every day it’s like, "That’s a season wrap on John Slattery. Yayyy! That’s a season wrap on…" And I’m sitting there saying, "How come I have to come in and say goodbye to everybody? Where’s everybody going?" So I don’t even think about it. I’m kind of like a little kid who wakes up and says, "Where did everybody go?"

I ask if he’s saying what year Season Five picks up.

No, we are not.