There’s no doubt that Mad Men fans are the show’s toughest critics, so when NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams opened last night’s “Mad-ness Returns to the Paley Center” Q&A, he didn’t hesitate to grill series creator Matthew Weiner on a glaring mistake from this past Sunday’s episode. The notoriously fastidious Weiner was made to eat crow when Williams pointed out that Joan Harris’ seemingly throwaway line about making a reservation at Le Cirque was an anachronism – Mad Men is currently set in 1968, and the famed New York restaurant didn’t open until 1974. Williams, ever the newsman and previously established Mad Men fanboy, even produced a copy of the day’s New York Post, which featured an article on the error. Weiner took the slip-up in stride, doing what any self-respecting showrunner would do, which was to pass the buck. He immediately put the blame on actress Christina Hendricks, who was conveniently not present for the panel: “She was ad-libbing,” Weiner joked.
Weiner, along with cast members Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Jessica Paré and Kiernan Shipka, sat down with Williams for an hour-and-15-minute conversation at the Paley Center for Media in New York about the Emmy Award-winning AMC drama that, even in its sixth season, continues to dominate the TV-culture zeitgeist. There was no rest for the weary though, as the cast only completed shooting this past Thursday. Williams gave his employer, NBC, plenty of free publicity throughout the evening, making faux-nervous comments like “I’m petrified I’m going to Farley this” at the start of the panel (he didn’t), and confirming with Weiner that a mention of an “Old Spanish” cocktail on Sunday night’s Mad Men was indeed a “tip of the hat” to now-departed series 30 Rock. While Williams did his best to steer his questions evenly toward all members of the panel, there was no denying the bromance that has developed between him and series star Hamm over the years, no doubt thanks to the actor’s regular presence at 30 Rockefeller Center (home to Saturday Night Live, Williams’ day job – he made it to the Paley Center “on foot” less than 15 minutes after finishing his Nightly broadcast and the setting for last year’s 30 Rock live episode, in which the two traded off playing David Brinkley). A running gag was Williams ribbing Hamm over his Don Draper-esque Mercedes-Benz commercials. Williams: “It really doesn’t seem like much work.” “At least I stand when I do my work,” responded Hamm, referencing Williams’ “desk job.” But Williams didn’t save all of his dry humor for Hamm. When he asked Paré how much denial Megan is in over her marriage, she began by answering that her character is “an optimist,” but Williams quickly interrupted with his follow-up: “Does Megan have a sense of smell [when Don walks in early in the morning from one of his trysts with Sylvia Rosen]?”
One character whose affair score card is starting to creep up to Draper numbers, however, is Pete Campbell. Kartheiser spoke with Rolling Stone prior to the start of the panel about how Pete still hasn’t quite mastered the art of infidelity: “He’s not as good at cheating close to home as Don Draper is, that’s true. He didn’t account for [Cos Cob neighbor Brenda’s] obsessive quality. Pete Campbell gets it where he can get it – I don’t think he’s too picky. He doesn’t have the same kind of pull that Don Draper has, and he feels blessed if he can get any at all.”
Mad Men was touched upon at several points during the evening, with Williams asking “Who do we thank – or blame – for ‘Zou Bisou Bisou’?” as well as commending Weiner for the use of a Serge Gainsbourg song in this week’s episode. Paré, whose rendition of the aforementioned yé-yé earworm was released on iTunes last year to mass acclaim, talked with RS about her desire to do more singing, but suggested it’s the struggling music business that’s more of a roadblock: “The industry is just rolling in it these days, they’re throwing money at me left and right,” she quipped. Weiner, who also stopped to chat with RS, said that if he had to pick one song that encapsulated the mood of 1968, it would be “Big Brother and the Holding Company, ‘Piece of My Heart.’ It’s soulful, it’s done by a white person [laughs] – it’s a co-option of a kind – it’s druggy, it’s sexual, it’s personal.” He also hinted at why he selected 1968 as the time frame for this season: “It was, as far as I can tell, the worst year in American history since 1863, and maybe 2013 – we’ll see. Hopefully not!”
Even though we’ve only just begun to watch the sixth season, the shadow of the seventh and final batch of Mad Men episodes is beginning to creep up on not only the audience, but the cast and Weiner as well. Williams asked Weiner, who has already stated he knows how the series will end, if anyone else does at this stage. Weiner answered his wife, The Sopranos creator David Chase and “a couple of writers” are in on the secret. Like his own fans, Weiner admitted to being in a bit of denial over the not-yet-written denouement: “Giving this up is going to be hard – I don’t expect it to ever happen again in my life. It’s not a sacrifice, but I don’t want to think about it. It’s like everything mortal, it’s best dealt with by ignoring it.”