Matthew Weiner, resting comfortably in a brown leather armchair, shifts his weight toward a silver tray holding crystal tumblers and a bottle of Johnnie Walker. He turns the bottle to hide the label. "You don't want any brands in the shot, do you?" he asks the photographer.
Ad Age's cover shoot -- in the penthouse of Manhattan's Gramercy Park Hotel -- and this interview mark the end of a TV series in which Mr. Weiner chronicled a period of great change, the '60s and '70s, through the lens of Madison Avenue. It makes sense that this master of detail is hyperaware of brands after spending the past seven years bringing "Mad Men" to life and years before that researching the real adland.
HBO surprised Mr. Weiner, a former "Sopranos" writer, by passing on the "Mad Men" pilot. Ultimately, it was AMC that was willing to take a chance on a show that didn't look like anything else on TV. That bet invigorated the network and gave viewers a taste of an era that was "more adult and dirty and darker than you remember," he says. "It's not 'Leave It To Beaver.'"
Mr. Weiner offered his thoughts on the industry during the period and what it was like producing the show seven years ago, at at time when "advertising was in complete crisis" thanks to the "advent of the Internet and DoubleClick and all sorts of things," he said at the start of the interview. "There was almost this feeling, as I would write to people in the advertising business, that this show was an elegy to the end of their science, the end of their profession."
Advertising Age: What made you want to create a show about advertising?
Mr. Weiner: I liked the cleverness of it, and I'm interested in salesmanship, but what it really was, I liked the period, and this seemed to be the ultimate expression of the period. And it was very much like the job that I had in TV. It was very much a mixture of creative impulse, disrespect for authority, and getting paid probably too much to do the art that's a little bit far from the art you really want to do. So this whole compromise of business versus art, that was interesting to me.
Advertising Age: Were you ever pressured to make the show more accessible to the masses?
Mr. Weiner: It's an extremely diverse audience. So I felt like getting the message out there was the point, and that the show should be for everybody. And yeah, there was some feeling, it's too slow, it's too this, or whatever. It feels normal to me. I'm not going out of my way to make it weird or original or unusual. So if you're trying to imitate reality, that's what reality feels like to me.
Advertising Age: And you were trying to imitate reality?
Mr. Weiner: Yeah. I wanted the people to behave properly, and most importantly, I wanted them to have problems that I identified with. And it takes a lot of money, and we managed to do it for very little. I can't afford to turn a city street into a 1968 city street, but I can turn a room into a 1968 room, and it needs detail. I want to see receipts; I want to see the drawers filled with things. I don't want to see a Fuji Apple, which didn't exist.
Advertising Age: How has the creative process, in creating the show, changed since '07, and maybe since back when you were working on "The Sopranos," back when you started?
Mr. Weiner: The creative process doesn't change, and despite the public's desire for it to be otherwise, is an extremely collaborative form, where a bunch of really smart people sit in the room. It's very high pressure, because you're being expected to produce ideas, you're being expected to share your life, you're being expected to solve story problems. The only thing that happened to me is I became a little bit less impatient, realizing that the outline did not have to be perfected before I wrote the first draft.