My favorite moment of the Mad Men series finale.
I was a big fan of Mad Men for the first several seasons. The series started with my favorite foundation for a story line for any drama (remember this, kiddos): show the viewers a world they’ve never seen before. The average TV viewer doesn’t know what it’s like on the inside of a high-powered ad agency (never mind one from the 1960s), so instantly you’ve got ’em on the hook (it’s the same trick behind shows like The West Wing or any mob-based movie/play/TV show).
And for the first few years, the show balanced the drama in the conference room with the drama in the coitus room. And then it jumped the shark, spent less time on the advertising stuff that separated it from all the other shows out there, and just became another Desperate Housewives.
So, did I like the series finale that aired on Sunday night?
I did like the closure on all the characters.
And I did love the mixture of fact and fiction in the final fifteen seconds, knowing that Don would stop his whining, get his sh$t together, and create one of the best ads in the history of advertising (I just wish he didn’t have to spend so much of the episode in that weird commune with all that group therapy (therapy sessions are such a writer’s cheat, in my opinion – you can’t think of another way to get a character to talk about what he’s feeling?)).
But none of that was my favorite moment of the episode.
And it wasn’t the dripping Stan/Peggy phone call either.
It was a throwaway line after Joan convinced Peggy to do a little moonlighting and write a commercial script for her. It went something like this:
“Sorry, Joan, I don’t want to moonlight.”
“It pays $1,200.”
“Ok, I’ll do it.”
“Great . . . “
And here it comes . . .
“I’ll drop off the research.”
That’s right, even at a fictional ad agency with fictional copywriters and fictional clients, they knew that not one piece of copy should be written without doing and analyzing research on the product that was being sold.
Broadway shows are one of the few commercial industries on the planet that spend $10mm, $15mm or more building a product, but won’t spend $10k to research it before going to market.
I do some sort of research on every show I do, whether it’s quantitative studies done online, or qualitative in-person focus groups, or even dial-testing. And often, I do all three! (And yeah, I did it for the art for Daddy Long Legs, which I announced on Tuesday.)
Now, is the data you get from all this research meant to be taken as gospel? No. It’s not gospel, it’s a guide. It’s a picture of what the market thinks about your show, and it gives you suggestions on how to get the market closer to making a purchase. And in an industry like ours, with a high failure rate, and a high fast failure right, it’s imperative that you know your strengths and weakness right away.
So listen to Joan. Do your research. Know what you’re working with.
And then you can add your personal dash of creativity and get all Don Draper on it.
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