Matthew Weiner was probably as prepared as any writer-producer could be for surviving the pop culture tsunami that "Mad Men" has stirred up the past few months.
It's a storm that will now gather more strength thanks to the AMC period drama's haul of 16 Emmy noms, the most of any drama series this year and a first (shared with FX's "Damages") for the once-humble realm of basic cable original skeins.
Weiner (pictured second from left with "Mad Men" thesps and Josh Sapan of AMC parent Rainbow Media on far left) is, after all, an alumnus of "The Sopranos" alum, so he knows about the extra pressure that comes with the fond embrace of the cognizati. (See last month's New York Times Magazine cover story on "Mad Men" for further explanation.) His way of keeping his feet planted on the ground is to focus squarely on the show, his baby that he nurtured for years from a spec script that no network wanted to a sensation that is transforming its cabler into a player in original series programming.
"The content of the show seems to be resonating with the culture. That's the thing I'm most proud of," Weiner said Thursday during a break from lensing on season two of the Lionsgate TV production at downtown's L.A. Center Studios. He was ebullient about the news that broke before dawn about "Mad Men's" Emmy showing, but he had other priorities even on such a momentous morning.
Before going to work on his own show, he took his kids to attend a table reading of "The Simpsons," something they'd all wanted to do for a long time. "That was a great experience," he said, sounding like a fan and like a dad.
By late morning, however, Weiner was back in 1962. "Mad Men's" second season begins July 27. Can it live up to the lofty expectations that only became grew as dawn broke Thursday.
"Awards are a strange thing," Weiner opined. "If you are ignored by them they become inconsequential. If you're recognized, then it's an incredible experience.
"For us to have gone through this process of making the show the best way we would and to get this kind of affirmation -- it feels pretty great," he says. "We feel like were doing something new and different and the fact that audiences and our peers recognize it and think it's excellent -- that's a large part of why we do this."
Will "Mad Men's" audience grow, given the heat? Its first season viewership was barely-there by the standards of most Emmy contenders. Yet for AMC, the show's hard core following of 1.5 million viewers represented triple-digit gains over virtually everything else on its air.
"I don't know about numbers. I always want a bigger audience, but I'm very happy with what's happened so far. want the largest audience that we can have," Weiner said. "We're on a new network with a new product. It's a very crowded field, and I'm proud that we've stood out the way we have. I feel like we've already been a tremendous success."
In addition to the show's champions at AMC, one of the behind-the-scenes heroes of the "Mad Men" story is Lionsgate TV prexy Kevin Beggs (pictured far right with Weiner), who recognized the specialness of the show right away. He made a point of telling me to keep an eye on it nearly two years ago, when the pilot was just starting production. Beggs is not a hype-y kind of guy, so the recommendation stuck in my mind.
Beggs admits to approaching his first read of the pilot script with some skepticism, knowing that it had been kicking around for a while.
"That was erased after a few pages and I was swept into Matt's world of 1960 Manhattan," Beggs says. "The pilot further elevated the compelling story of Sterling-Cooper (ad agency), and in the series Matt has realized a masterpiece."
"Mad Men's" trajectory also proves the TV biz adage: "You never know from where a hit may originate," Beggs observes..
In addition to everything else, the period piece about a conflicted Madison Avenue player in his New Frontier lifestyle is beautifully lensed and crafted, by a team that includes many of Weiner's fellow "Sopranos" alums, including helmer Alan Taylor (who is nommed for the pilot) and d.p. Phil Abraham (also nommed).
"It's entertainment, and it's craftsmanship, and it is saying something that the culture is somehow attuned to it," Weiner says. "That's really exciting."