'Mad Men' Not Winning Any Fans in the Funny Pages

Janis Is Pitching, but Arlo Isn't Buying a Show About Advertising

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"Mad Men" gets all kinds of love from TV critics, but just received the cold shoulder from another part of the newspaper -- the funnies page.

Take a gander at today's "Arlo & Janis" strip, in which Janis tries to convince her husband to watch a program that is "very popular! Critics love it!" Are we talking about "Game of Thrones," perhaps? "Justfied"? No, just "Mad Men" -- and Arlo wants nothing to do with it. "It's a matter of principle," he explains. "I see enough advertising! I refuse to watch a show about people who make advertising!"

(The couple might be talking about "The Pitch," but the fact that Janis says her program is one the critics love would seem to disqualify that reality show.)

The comic offers one more indication that for all the platitudes and praise hurled at "Mad Men," the show simply doesn't play that well among the meat-and-potatoes set.

The cable serial chronicles the ups and downs of people who rely more heavily on their alcohol-sodden brains than they do their hands, knees and backs. As such, it may resonate more strongly with refined comic-strip characters like Mary Worth, who holds court at the fancy Charterstone condominium complex in tony Santa Royale, Calif., or Mr. Lodge, the grumpy but indolent millionaire who looks down his nose at nerdy Archie Andrews. If you're a member of the four-color hoity-toity, then "Mad Men" is your bag.

Among the people who have more to do with Main Street than Wall Street , however, "Mad Men" doesn't get such a warm welcome. Arlo and Janis aren't rich gasbags on the order of Scrooge McDuck or Richie Rich. They're hardworking, regular folk just trying to get through each day. When they sit down in front of the TV set, they want to be entertained, not reminded of a culture that sees slogan-writers like Don Draper as visionaries or drunken account managers like Roger Sterling as captains of business.

For Arlo, there's nothing relaxing about sitting down to watch "Mad Men." Instead, there's something infuriating about it (just imagine if the characters in "Snuffy Smith" were asked for their opinion -- assuming the hillfolk have a TV, much less get cable service).

Arlo's comments also serve to remind us of just how weary the average American ham-and-egger is of the continued drumbeat of promotion that assaults his or her senses every time he or she sits down to take a break. Thanks to modern gadgets and gizmos, there is more advertising in more places than ever before. Rare is the TV viewer who wants to sit down and examine the foibles and phobias of fictional characters who create the stuff.

Little wonder, then, that "Mad Men," for all the hoopla thrown its way by TV scribes, attracts a relatively paltry audience. The drama's fifth-season premiere drew just 3.5 million people, a small number compared to the legions who tune in to watch pro football, "NCIS" or "American Idol."

We suspect Arlo and Janis will end up watching a rerun of "The Rockford Files" on some small TV station that would have once been located on the UHF dial. And then they'll go to bed.

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