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It Really Pays to Advertise

July 26, 2007 By:
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So smug and self-smitten? Some of the mischievous "Mad Men" making up the summer TV season
The man in the gray-flannel suit wears a plaid kipah.

"Not on my watch," says Don Draper, draped in a thousand-dollar smile smeared with anti-Semitic smugness.

"Mad" about the boy? Not if he's Jewish, and in the ante-enlightened ad world that is the late '50s/early '60s of "Mad Men," the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency of which Draper is lead dragon doesn't have to advertise its anti-Semitism.

"Mad Men"? What, them worry?

Not over at AMC, the cable channel offering its premiere original series on Thursday nights.

Subversive, inventive, played out with panache, the production speaks for itself.

And so does Matthew Weiner, the new series exec producer/ writer, dealing with the Madison Avenue mob scene in which a Lucky Strike is not only a company account but an executive's viperish swipe at the new girl in the secretary pool.

But then, Weiner is no stranger to mob scenes; near the end -- and his handiwork helped mean the end for Chris and Bobby -- Weiner was exec producer of "The Sopranos" as well as a writer.

Indeed, his spec script of "Mad Men" made him a made man with David Chase, who hired the sitcom veteran based on that effort for his "The Sopranos."

Now, Weiner lends his voice to the killing fields that is advertising, where the best-paid "sanitation workers" are those ad men who clean up a company's bad image through smoke and mirrors -- such as the cigarette account at Sterling Cooper, where they filter news about cancer through a money-funnel.

And while Draper never does encounter a kipah-clad Jewish co-worker -- his response of "Not on my watch" was actually to a question of whether the company has any Jews working for it -- he does encounter one each week during this series' 13-week run.

Meet Weiner, 42, who claims his interest in the ad business goes back to high school, where commercials made the grade in excitement. "I love this period" in which "Mad Men" maneuvers. "In a way, it was some of the greatest entertainment in my life."

Appropriate for a network formally known as American Movie Classics, "Mad Men" feels more movie than TV in capturing the misogyny, anti-Semitism and perniciousness that permeated the closed-club kind of world that Mad Ave was at the time.

"I looked at these guys, at this world, these men who were overpaid and drank too much and smoked too much and bit the hand that fed them all the time and showed up late and had no respect for authority, and I thought, 'These are my heroes.' "

Bada-bing! But these aren't Jersey boys, but "Mad Men" and the mishuga mix that was society at the time: civil rights, uncivil riots; prudeness, prurience; Camelot royalty, dark princes with darker secrets. It was, according to Weiner, "a very repressed time actually."

Yet ... "at the same time, the promiscuity, alcohol, marijuana, infidelity -- these things were really quite at the forefront."

Front and foremost is the chain-smoking depicted in this smokin'-hot show. "It is not to be underestimated," says the producer, "that people who smoke in this show cough a lot."

Those chain-coughing jags may be an unchained melody for the actors, but it all sounds and seems so right for those who lived through the era.

As does the anti-Semitism -- not right, but right on target. When a prospective Jewish client comes to the agency, she is dismissed brusquely with the suggestion she use one of the "Jewish" ad agencies to promote her business.

And, now, some 40 years later, a Jewish producer/writer is assaying the misguided misanthropic missiles that blew up the nation's belief of equality for all right there on the launching pad that was Mad Ave.

It is an astounding accomplishment, mixing history, fine literature and philosophical musings -- all subjects that Weiner was a wonk at while at Wesleyan University before getting a master's in film from the University of Southern California -- that make "Mad Men" -- and their women -- such a wonderfully complex mix of demons and demographics.

Proving for a hopeful AMC -- with Weiner's talents on full display -- that it certainly pays to advertise. 

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