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Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, spoke with AMCtv.com about the unrivaled anticipation for Season 5, keeping track of all those characters, and writing Don's most memorable lines.
Q: The anticipation for Season 5 couldn't be any greater. Is it exciting to know the audience is still right there with you?
A: I can't even get over it. It's an incredible experience.
Q: After such a long break, were you ever nervous that fans wouldn't return?
A: I shouldn't lie. People have been asking me "when is the show coming back" the whole time. But the anxiety hasn't gone away.
Q: The season premiere is two hours long. Did you enjoy the process of writing a longer episode?
A: What happened was that I went back to work and started writing and it kept getting longer and longer... All I was thinking was that I've got to do something to show the audience that I care. I felt like with this long of a delay, there had to be some special event besides the return of the show.
Q: After four seasons, is it getting hard to keep track of all the characters and story arcs?
A: I have to be reminded of things. There is a universe unto itself. We remember things better than the audience sometimes...but [we] do forget some things, and we'll have our person who does the research go back and look and ask, "Didn't they have this conversation before?" or "When did Pete go to college?" For me it's about remembering the dynamic, and I really don't want to repeat myself. Every once in a while someone says something in the show that's very pithy and quotable and it sounds like you've heard it before. I waste some research time sending people to finding out, "Did I actually write that?"
VIDEO: A Look at Season 5
Q: But there are times when lines are repeated in the show on purpose, right?
A: Well, when Don says, "What do you want to hear?" or "What do you want me to say?", that's on purpose. I feel like that's the ultimate thing for Don to say. But Peggy saying "Maybe this is my time" is the kind of line that should only happen once.
Q: Why is that the ultimate Don line?
A: Because he's being kind, but still being honest. I think it's a great way of dissolving a conflict in a powerful way. He's basically maintaining control, but at the same time submitting.
Q: You often say the show is about how human it is to misbehave and make mistakes. Is that why people relate so personally to Mad Men?
A: All entertainment is about conflict. The story is never about walking across the bridge; it's about how the bridge is out. It's about creating tension and problems and what people associate with the negative experience of not getting what you want. I embrace that.
Q: Each character on the show deals with their transgressions differently. Don for example is haunted by his.
A: Yeah, we try not to judge [doing something bad]. You do something bad and nobody knows about it, but you've still done it. And you have to live with that. And there are some people who are not bothered at all by it, but most of us are. And that's what you get to see on the show.
Q: The audience seems more forgiving of Don's mistakes than those of, say, Betty. Do you think that's true?
A: That's definitely in the audience's mind. There's this whole rule in TV to not let your female character cheat. They'll never recover. [The audience will] never stop judging them. People were so mad in Season 1 for Betty Draper for being so stupid for being married to that man who was cheating on her. They weren't mad at Don for cheating.
Q: On The Today Show, you recently defended Betty as being a normal mom. Is that how you feel?
A: Yes, I think she is. I don't think she's the ideal mom. But get somebody in a room, any mom, give them a couple of drinks and see if you can get the story of their "Betty Draper moment" out of them. They all have them. We just happen to be in Betty's private life more than some of the other characters.
Q: What's fascinating is Don can do pretty much anything and the audience still feels like he's a good person...
A: He is! He is. I feel like the theme of the show, when it's over, is that it's hard to be a person. You should try to be a good person, but you will fail, all of the time. [Laughs]
Q: Where did you get the idea for the Season 5 poster, which has this very evocative image of Don glancing through a store window at two mannequins?
A: I had a dream. I had an image in my head of Don looking in a store window at a man and a woman, at this domestic scene. It's not the way advertising is right now, because this poster requires a second look. But it's still arresting. It still draws you in. I love Don being on the outside, and that we're in his place. And I think as the season goes on, people will understand it more.
Q: Do you dream about the show a lot?
A: Sure. I see a lot of things in everyday life too. Without sounding crazy, I've always had a very hallucinatory imagination, and I think a lot of people do, but they try to stop it because it's a distraction. We daydream, which is something we chastise our children for, but that's how I make my living. Lines come to me, thoughts come to me, and images. If you attune yourself to it, it's like radio. It's not all good, by the way. Not everything that comes to me is a gem. [Laughs]