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'Mad Men' Paid $250K for Beatles Song

Show creator says it was necessary to authentically portray the Sixties

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) listens to the Beatles on 'Mad Men.'
Courtesy of AMC
May 8, 2012 8:45 AM ET

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner paid $250,000 in licensing fees to use the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" in last Sunday's episode of Mad Men, the New York Times reports. It has become notoriously difficult to license the band's music for television, but Weiner felt the high cost was worthwhile because it was thematically and chronologically consistent with the setting of the show, which takes place in the mid-Sixties.

"It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing," Weiner told the Times, noting that previously attempts to license Beatles music on the show had been declined by Apple Corps. "Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century."

Weiner declined to discuss the specifics of the deal, but noted that he understands why Beatles music comes at such a high price point for television licensing. "Whatever people think, this is not about money," says Weiner. "It never is. They are concerned about their legacy and their artistic impact." In order to secure the deal, Weiner had to share story details with Apple Corps. "It was hard because I had to, writing-wise, commit to the story that I thought was worthy of this incredible opportunity," says Weiner. "The thing about that song in particular was, the Beatles are, throughout their intense existence, constantly pushing the envelope, and I really wanted to show how far ahead of the culture they were. That song to me is revolutionary, as is that album."

For a sense of scale, most popular songs are licensed to television programs for under $100,000. An episode from the previous season of the show included the Rolling Stones' classic "Satisfaction," which was likely licensed at a similarly cost, as the Stones typically demand a high premium for use of their music.

"Tomorrow Never Knows" was used at the end of Sunday night's episode of Mad Men, "Lady Lazarus." Don Draper is told by his young wife Megan to play her copy of Revolver, and is instructed to put on that song, the most artistically radical track the band had produced up to that point. The stodgy, conservative Draper is not impressed by the song and turns it off, underscoring a recurring theme through the season that the character is entirely out of touch with youth culture.

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