The 2009 Creativity 50: Matthew Weiner

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When The Sopranos signed off in June 2007, fans were at a loss as to where they'd get their next fix of surprisingly deep but messed up characters in screwy relationships. But they only had to wait about a month for an equally engrossing salvo, albeit without the mobsters, murders and Bada Bing. In July of that same year, Matt Weiner, a writer/producer on The Sopranos' last three seasons, reappeared on AMC with the more buttoned up, but no less f-d up setting of 1960s advertising with his runaway hit Mad Men. The show has earned critical raves, along with three Golden Globes and six Emmys, including the only Outstanding Drama Emmy ever given to a basic cable show.

Mad Men was Weiner's long-in-the-making baby. The admitted fan of advertising was a writer on the show Becker in 2000 when he created the pilot, which was what landed him on The Sopranos in the first place. So it was strange—and retrospectively, unfortunate— that after The Sopranos ended, HBO passed on the show, only to see it turn up on AMC as the channel's first original series.

The show has much improved over time—in the early episodes main man Don Draper, played by actor Jon Hamm, felt every bit as stiff as his suit and tie, but Weiner and team have deftly shown over two seasons that there were many layers to peel—and clothes to shed—to reveal his unsettled psyche within. And the fictitious Mad Ave agency Sterling Cooper—which Weiner likens to a mini BBDO—has been our window not into advertising, actually. Rather, it's proved to be a fertile playground upon which Weiner has explored a society coming to terms with its own repression, and where traditional gender roles, issues of power and fidelity—and self— are challenged and renegotiated. Briefly, at the beginning of this year, Mad Men's fate was uncertain. Weiner and show producer Lionsgate had been tied up in negotiations over renewal of his contract, which expired after the second season, but by mid-January, all parties had settled on a two-year seven-figure deal that will ensure a third season launch this summer.

Weiner, on his aspirations for the show: "I hope that it will entertain people, above everything else, and they will get to go to another place and that the issues brought up are related to their lives. Of course, I want them to feel for the characters, which is part of entertainment. But I always say, it's not a history lesson. On some level, it's about how we function at work, how we function in our relationships, how much we lie and how hard that is to deal with. One of the things that is never dealt with [on TV] is the concept of fidelity. It's so juicy, it's just exploited for the sex. And what I've tried to do with just that issue itself is ask, really, how do you live with that? Because people do. It's like the most common commandment broken, probably. It's not murder, it's weakness and human nature. Why do women do it? Why do men do it? What is the depth of feeling that holds you to another person? Are you really alone? Sopranos is such a different thing because those people are criminals and there's always murder. There's always a way out. Here, it can't be [a way out]. It really can't. People do not kill each other in this job. They do in other ways."

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