Posted by: Burth Helm on July 23, 2007
Last Thursday night was the premier of AMC’s “Mad Men,” an hour-long drama set in the high-flying, chain-smoking, smart suit-wearing advertising world of 1960.
The show, says creator Matt Weiner (who was also an executive producer and writer on The Sopranos), was born out of his fascination with the sixties in New York, and with the advertising execs of the time — “it’s a show about a bunch of people who are overpaid, creative, glib, self-destructive and have no respect for authority,” he told me.
So last week I picked up the phone to ask a couple of these allegedly overpaid, creative, glib and self-destructive ad guys from the 60’s what they thought of the show. AMC courteously agreed to send them screeners. I got two very different opinions of the show itself, but some agreement on how accurately it portrayed Madison Avenue in 1960.
“What a miserable piece of garbage,” said Irwin Warren, who was a copywriter for Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1965. “It’s a kind of a poor man’s The Apartment”. Jerry Della Femina, who was in the mailroom of agency Ruthrauff & Ryan in 1960 before becoming a copywriter and a founder of his own agency, loved the depiction. He had recently participated in a panel discussion at Michael’s about the show. “It’s a pretty fascinating as a study of the 60’s.”
But how accurate is it? For those who haven’t seen it, the show is a parade of constant smoking, near-constant drinking, casual sexual harassment and anti-semitism. Warren admitted that much of that was spot on. “But that was accurate for any business back then, not just advertising,” he said. And Warren took issue with a few scenes as too heavy-handed. “Certainly when they had the token Jew from the mail-room sit in on a meeting with the Jewish client, that was absurd…and certainly you’d never go into a meeting with a client like Lucky Strike unprepared” — referencing a scene where the agency’s Creative Director comes up with a tag line just in the nick of time at the end. “And not everybody smoked like that!” Warren said.
Della Femina, now 71, said the relationships between men and women in particular reminded him a lot of the old days. “If you worked in advertising back then, it was like we were all in front of large bar smoking, and picking up each other,” he said. Then, he added, “I hope they move in closer to where it really got wild…This is sex without drugs and rock n’ roll.”