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'Mad Men' Creator On What's Next For Don Draper

Matthew Weiner offers his thoughts on Sunday night's Season 5 premiere, the character development of Don Draper, and what may be in store for the staff of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.



March 26, 2012

Guest: Matthew Weiner

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you watched the long-awaited season premiere of "Mad Men" last night, you probably have some questions about where things are headed and why. My guest, Matthew Weiner, can answer those questions better than anyone. He's the series creator and wrote last night's two-hour opener.

From here on, we start giving away details of what happened last night, so if you recorded "Mad Men" to watch later, you might want to postpone listening to the rest of our show. Listen to us online or Podcast us when you're ready. Just go to our website,

So when the last season ended, back in October 2010, Don Draper had just proposed to his new secretary Megan - who he hardly knew - which I think it's fair to say took everyone by surprise, including Megan, Don's colleagues at the advertising agency and maybe even Don himself.

Now the recently married couple are living in a beautifully furnished Manhattan high rise. At the center of last night's episode was a surprise party that Megan threw at home for Don's 40th birthday. He was furious, and the main reason gets to his complicated identity. As Megan apparently already knew, Don Draper is an alias. His real name is Dick Whitman. Draper is the identity of the man who was Whitman's lieutenant in the Korean War.

The lieutenant's tour of duty was nearly up. After the lieutenant was killed, Whitman took Don Draper's papers and his identity, enabling him to return to the U.S. He's had to keep up the charade ever since. Dick Whitman was born six months before the dead lieutenant, so the Don Draper birthday party didn't fall on Whitman's real birthday.

Here's a scene just after the party. The beautiful apartment is a mess. Don Draper is in bed, tired and angry, when Megan walks in.


JESSICA PARE: (As Megan) I know why you're upset. You're 40.

JON HAMM: (As Don) I've been 40 for half a year.

PARE: (As Megan) When is that going to stop? Only you know that. This is your birthday now.

HAMM: (As Don) Fine, I don't like my birthday. I told you, I never had it when I was growing up, and I have never wanted it since.

PARE: (As Megan) You've never had a birthday? Didn't Betty ever throw you a party?

HAMM: (As Don) No, because I forbid it.

PARE: (As Megan) Why?

HAMM: (As Don) I don't need to be the center of attention.

PARE: (As Megan) You love attention. You twitched every time I talked to another person.

HAMM: (As Don) More people feel the way I do than the way you do.

PARE: (As Megan) Where is your research?

HAMM: (As Don) Fine, I'm 40. It's too late.

PARE: (As Megan) Aww, nobody loves Dick Whitman. I love you. That's why I threw you a party.

HAMM: (As Don) I'm going to sleep. You can do what you want.

GROSS: That's a scene from the new season of "Mad Men." Matthew Weiner, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for coming, so glad the show is back. I missed everybody.


MATTHEW WEINER: I'm glad to hear that, Terry. It's great to be here.

GROSS: So exactly how much time has elapsed for the characters since Season Four? What year are we in?

WEINER: We are in June of 1966, and we went off the air, the last time - Don's proposal was around Columbus Day of 1965. So that's October, I guess it's seven months, eight months.

GROSS: So Don is starting a new life. We are all wondering how is it going to turn out, how will this new marriage turn out. And at first in the season premiere, it looked like they were happy, they have a beautiful home in Manhattan. But now it seems to me anyway that the marriage is largely built on sex and that she doesn't really understand who Don Draper is and who Dick Whitman is and how troubled he is by his double identity, how heavily that weighs on him.

How did you come up with the idea - yes, correct me if - this is my interpretation.

WEINER: I don't know, I mean, to me - no, no, yeah, it's great. I mean, that's the whole idea is for you to have those expectations. I do think that their marriage largely being based on sex, I mean, you know, she's 25 years old, and he's 40. I don't think that is necessarily - they've only been married for six months or so. I don't think that that's necessarily troubling at that point.


WEINER: I think that their relationship - does she understand it? I was hoping that the audience would hear her say nobody loves Dick Whitman and realize that she knows everything about him. And somehow, in a meta way, almost wonder, like, what's the story going to be about.

GROSS: Well, did I miss it when he told her, or was that in the...?

WEINER: Yes, it was off-screen.

GROSS: That was off-screen, OK. Yeah, I was wondering that.


GROSS: But she still doesn't seem to get it. I mean, she doesn't...

WEINER: But the idea, you know, so much of the...

GROSS: She just doesn't seem to get...

WEINER: You don't think she gets it?

GROSS: No, I don't.

WEINER: Well, she's young.


WEINER: And part of the story is that she's young, and she's youthful, and she's less cynical than the people in the office, and Don is trying to delineate his private life and his work life, and she doesn't understand that because she's a more hopeful and open and youthful person. And for him to explain to her, like - that white carpeting to me in the apartment, that was a symbol of, you know, the sort of purity of their relationship, whether it's sexual or whatever, that that's their life.

And bringing the office into that life literally destroyed their apartment. So maybe she does understand that, or maybe she has to teach him to be more open with people. I don't know.

GROSS: Of course they both work in the same office together. So the office is already in the apartment in some ways.

WEINER: Right.

GROSS: But I'm wondering: How did you come up with the idea of a surprise 40th birthday party as the thing that was going to show weaknesses within their relationship, weaknesses within this new life that he's created?

WEINER: Well, it's funny. I don't know that I'm necessarily showing the weaknesses. There is certainly a conflict exposed. I wanted to just sort of show you what their relationship is like. And, you know, they do work together, and he does come in and say hey, are you ready to go? And Peggy both is her boss, and also she knows she has Don's ear, so that's an awkward relationship.

And he, you know, wants her to, you know, fool around in the office, and at the same time, she's theoretically doing a job. That's all - she's having to - I wanted the audience to see what she has to navigate, and at the same time, tell them a little bit of who she is.

Her speech to him, right before he proposed to her, when they were in California, about I don't care who you are, I care who you are now, is a really - to me is him choosing this youthful outlook. And her throwing this surprise party - I mean, it's an old saw. It's one of the oldest stories in the world, and I even sort of call it out when Peggy says to her: Didn't they have Lucy in Canada? This surprise party is a bad idea.

But I love the idea that she would publicly - she's an extroverted person. She's the polar opposite of Betty Draper in terms of what she's willing to show of herself. And I love the idea that she would give him this exuberant, openly sexual, you know, exhibitionistic birthday present that a lot of people, whether they were embarrassed or not, would be so - there is a way that you could enjoy this and that Don would say I don't like that, and sort of smack her in the face in a weird way for even sharing herself with other people.

And I thought that was, sort of, a great way to come into a little bit of what's different about them. And hopefully the most shocking thing that you hear in that episode is Don laying there on the floor and saying I don't care about work, I care about you. So maybe this is a kind of happiness, he's just having to school her on how he expects happiness to go.

GROSS: The previous season, Season Four, ended after Don proposed to Megan, and they're lying in bed together, and she looks really happy, and she's fast asleep, her head on his chest. He's awake, and his eyes are wide open. And he's kind of staring up at the ceiling, and then he turns his head and stares out the window.

And I have contemplated, a long time, the meaning of that scene.


WEINER: I'm sorry that you had to contemplate it for so long, but no, it's - what did you think it is?

GROSS: Well, I thought she's like sublimely happy, and he's thinking: What have I done? And I thought it was an echo of the previous scene's finale, when Don's first wife, Betty, is on the plane with her husband-to-be heading to Reno where she's going to get a divorce from Don so she can marry this new guy, Henry Francis. And she and he look so, like, gosh, we have absolutely nothing to say to each other.

WEINER: Yeah. You know what? People read into it, and it's part of what's so great.


WEINER: No, no, I'm not saying you're wrong. But people read into it. I mean, that trip on the plane, to me, I picked the moment to show, and I look at Henry and Betty, and I see a very loyal and substantial man who is taking care of this woman who has another man's infant. And I always felt that that scene was very intimate to me, that they were sitting on that plane.

Yeah, he's reading the book, but I mean, what, are they going to be holding hands and kissing? And that's not Betty Draper, she's not - and it's not the period, and it's certainly not that guy. But I did want you to think that there was some ambiguity in Don's face at the end of the episode.

You know, he had just come from seeing Betty, who had basically offered herself to him again. But what's exciting for me, and I cannot talk beyond this episode, is that there is an entirely new dynamic, and I love that it's being scene - the first episode of each season - this has been my experience - really starts to become the finale, in a way, of the season before.

And there is a new story starting there, and when you get to the end of the season, you will see it all laid out. It is not clear to you what is going on. And what is clear is it's a new dynamic, people are in different places. I think people understand that to some degree Pete and Don have changed places in a way. Don is living in this apartment that we all hoped he would live in as soon as he was a swinging bachelor.

I mean, it's an incredible place to live, and he has this young wife, and we are not pretending like they are the same age. And all of the clothing and the hair and everything, that we - production design - everything has changed like 25 degrees from there it was. And I've worked very hard to show what I think is an increasing sense of relaxation in social codes, even for that part of the world, that class and those people that age.

And you'll see that the language is becoming more modern, that the attitudes are becoming more modern that people are breaking a lot of the mores, whether they like it or not. And also because you know how old they are, they're changing. So when you come into that dynamic, what you hopefully will see is the setup of a bunch of problems.

One of them is, one of the central problems of the season, is going to be the relationship between Don and Megan. What's wrong with it? All I can say is you know already. You've been told. But it's not what you think.

GROSS: So when you ended Season Four, did you know what Season Five would look like? Did you know what Don Draper was thinking when he was staring out the window after proposing to Megan? Did you know what the complications arising this season would be, or did you figure: I'll find that out later when I sit down to write?

WEINER: I always try not to paint myself into a corner, and when I came in at the beginning of Season Four, I said: Don is going to have these two parallel relationships; we're going to bring this character in, you know, as a tiny part as a receptionist, and she - the actress didn't even know it - is going to end up married to Don Draper.

And, of course, I had the chance to pull the plug on this thing at any point during the season because it's not set in stone even though that's what I said I'm going to do, and then when it got there, I was like: This is exactly what I wanted.

So I knew that the reason why no one had really told much of a story about a divorced man, and there really aren't a lot of them, it was really hard for me because I was worried, like, do people not tell this story because it's bad, or is it exactly what I discover to be true: Men that age, at that time, and this time, don't stay single. And it's a very short period.

So he needed to have that steak on the table and needed to find some stability in his life. Whether it was Faye or Megan is a personal - that's Don to me. But I knew that he was going to marry this woman. I knew she was a lot younger. I knew that she was a representation of the next generation. I knew that he was looking for all of the pure, fresh start that comes with a person like her. And I knew that that would be part of the dynamic for the new season, yeah.

GROSS: I think a lot of viewers, and I think I maybe put myself in this category, wish that Don Draper had kept his relationship with Faye, who is a psychologist and marketing expert who works with advertisers doing test marketing and stuff like that, and she's his intellectual equal. And she really understands the existential that he's going in as having, like, two identities and the guilt that he feels over it.

WEINER: Right, wouldn't that be great if we went with the people who are good for us?


WEINER: But you know what? I felt that - I love that people were rooting for that, and I think Dr. Faye was a very viable candidate for him to spend his life with, and it would have made just an interesting show for me to see what would have happened with that.

But I don't believe that Don, with his business in crisis - there's a scene at the beginning of "Tomorrowland" where Faye basically puts her cards on the tale, saying: You'll just deal with that problem, and then you'll get to be yourself and move on. You know, you have a problem with this past of yours, get a lawyer. You have a problem with how you feel about it, accept it and move on, grow up.

And then there's this other woman who says: I don't care. Look at the future. You can be anything you want to be. You can start over. We'll be Adam and Eve. I don't even care what you've done in your past. We're going to get a chance to be the person that you always wanted to be.

Those are two very different choices, and to me, 46 years old, I really think they're based on age and life experience. And I think that Don - and we grew to know him as being very realistic and practical and kind of honest with himself last year - shocked us by choosing a very young woman who saw him with stars in his eyes and the kind of person that he wanted to be instead of the person he actually was.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men," and he wrote the season opener, the special two-hour season premiere. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men," which just began its fifth season, and he wrote the season opener, the special two-hour season premiere.

Last season, Don Draper became so, like, irresponsible and kind of unlikeable. You know, he's always showing up late. He was drinking constantly, throwing up, passing out, trying to bed every woman he met. And in one episode, he takes Peggy out to a birthday dinner, and Peggy is one of the writers at the advertising agency, and they know each other's secrets.

And after drinking too much, they go back to the office, he throws up, and he comes out of the bathroom with this big kind of puke stain on his shirt, well, medium-size I'd say...

WEINER: Realistic. It's a splash.

GROSS: It's a splash. And I thought, like, OK, that's it. We have seen Don Draper at his lowest, because here he is, he's like Mr., like, Cool, and he's so, like, handsome and well-dressed and everything in place. That's the iconic Don Draper. And here he is just coming out of the bathroom with this splash on his white shirt, just falling apart. He can't even sit up.

I thought, like, how can you take this, you as the creator.

WEINER: Well, Jon Hamm asked the same question: How far are you going to take this? And by the way, one of the things I love about that episode is at the end of the episode, after Peggy has slept on the couch and looks like, you know, like you would, like a rat was rolling around in her hair, she walks in, and Don looks as good as he did the day before.


WEINER: He obviously is capable of some kind of recovery to live that way. I felt that this man had an idealized life, that he had disintegrated and that spending Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's without his children, without the social trappings of marriage – obviously, he was not that dedicated to the fidelity part of the marriage, but he certainly expected to have a home and expected his wife to be there for him, no matter what his behavior.

And she had kicked him out, which was a blow to him. And, you know, I can say that he's certainly, situationally, an alcoholic. And there's a kind of punishment going on, a kind of self-flagellation. And I did worry about the audience being dismayed at the fact that it wasn't so much fun to see him drunk anymore, but I felt that this man was just - without a wife, without a home - that he was a disaster.

And especially losing the one person, that's what that episode's about, the one person that knew him as Dick Whitman, that was gone. So he was just really - he says at the end of it, the only person who really knew me is gone. And Peggy says: That's not true.

And it's kind of one of the big emotional moments of the show. But I wanted him to be at the bottom and I mean basically on the verge of suicidal drinking. It's self-destruction at a high level. And then Duck comes in, the man who he has the least respect for, because Duck is such an incredible, self-destructive alcoholic and hates him, and Duck gets to judge him, even worse than the vomit stain.

GROSS: Were you worried that your audience would start not liking Don Draper because Don Draper is such an iconic character, and he's such a popular character, and you are taking him to such, like, emotional and physical depths. And he was alienating people.

He was alienating a lot of women because he was just so crude in his behavior to other women.

WEINER: I treat this as a - listen, Don gets away with a lot of bad behavior that the rest of us cannot get away with. I don't even want to try and explain how that works. But I do believe that - what I hoped is what I felt, which is when you see somebody falling apart, you can be disgusted, or you can actually feel badly for them.

And sometimes feeling pity for them can be a tough corner to turn, but I don't think about likability. I think about lovability. And Don, at the bottom there, was the most lovable I've ever seen him. He was the most in need of love. He's a man who never asks for anything and doesn't know how to. He's a man who keeps such distance, and the grains of vulnerability that he expresses are the moments for us to put ourselves into his life.

The other thing is that you're telling a story, and part of the story is going to be uncomfortable. And I'm always puzzled by, you know, people's desire to - they don't want to see everything working in harmony. That's not entertainment. And so that moment of catharsis that people have at the end of the show, when he puts his hand on Peggy's, and they have this silent bond of actual - where he breaks down and cries, that is earned by his trip down this swirl of shame and bad behavior, you know.

He stole that kid's idea because he was drunk. He pitched drunk. You know, one thing we always expect from Don is that he's good at his job, and he was good at it, but he sold that was inadvertently his. He slept with two women in one night. He slept with his secretary and tried to pretend like it didn't happen. I mean, it's - all of that behavior is somebody acting out and somebody just heaping shame on top of the rest of it and just trying to hold their life together.

And to me, that doesn't - that may make him unlikeable, but it does make him loveable. And when you are getting this much detail, when the story is this detailed about someone's character and their private moments, that should draw you in. That shouldn't repulse you unless you're the kind of person that as soon as, you know, a friend of yours is in trouble, you don't like them anymore.


GROSS: That's me.


WEINER: Good to know, Terry.

GROSS: Matthew Weiner will be back in the second half of the show. He is the creator of the AMC series "Mad Men" and wrote last night's two-hour season premiere. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Matthew Weiner, the creator and executive producer of the AMC series "Mad Men." He also wrote last night's two-hour season premiere. Before "Mad Men" Weiner wrote for "The Sopranos."

At the end of last season, Don Draper proposed to his new secretary, Megan, much to her surprise and everyone else's. When the new season began last night, Don and Megan were already married and still working at the advertising agency.

So Don still seems very turned on by his new wife and he asks her to open the blouse - her blouse while they're in the office together and she resists but does it and calls him a dirty old man in a loving way.



GROSS: And...

WEINER: It's a game obviously.

GROSS: It's a game. And speaking of games, after, she's angry because he was so angry about the surprise 40th party. She goes home early from the office because she was really feeling kind of sick.

WEINER: She was ridiculed for her - he was right, is what she experienced, is he told her not to do that in front of the office and she went to that office, not only did Don judge her at home, but they were making fun of her behind her back.

GROSS: Right. Because she did this very kind of sexy performance. She sang a song...


GROSS: ...with a band that she'd hired. It's like very sexy and people were making fun of her because of it, and because they wanted her too.


GROSS: And they also dirtied her rug, her beautiful white rug and so on. But anyway, so she goes home early and then Don comes home and she's really angry. And she takes off her clothes and strips down to her like sexy black underwear, turns her back to him and starts cleaning up the rug in a very sexy pose...


GROSS: ...which he's obviously turned on by. And it's kind of clear that she's kind of doing this like sex game that they do and that she's...

WEINER: I think - yeah.

GROSS: That she's kind of like, you know, like the whole kind of the fantasy of the made and the sexy maid outfit who...

WEINER: I think it's more like about the sort of the, you know, you can just say it. I hear you skirting around it. It is a sadomasochistic...

GROSS: Thank you for saying that. Yes. And...

WEINER: Yeah. It's a sadomasochistic experience. And, you know what? Who knows what goes on in people's bedrooms, but this is the natural part of human behavior. And she is punishing him. And well, I don't know what your conclusion that you're driving to, but you see afterwards everything's OK.

GROSS: Oh, right. OK. But the conclusion I was driving to is that this is a part of Don I have a feeling we're going to get to know more about because in, I think it was like two seasons ago, or maybe last season. I lose track of...

WEINER: It was the beginning of last season.

GROSS: I lose track of time in my life let alone Don Draper's life. But...


GROSS: So he's having sex with a prostitute and she slapping him and he seems to like it. And this seems a little connected to that, that maybe he does have this S&M thing...


GROSS: ...going on that we'll be learning more and more about in subsequent episodes?

WEINER: I'm not going to tell you what you're going to learn about but it certainly - Don's relationship between, and the women in his lives – the relationship between power and sex is very closely linked and I think that it's part of the human experience. I think it's an animal thing and I think it goes with, I don't know, maybe it's because I read the book "The Balcony" by Genet when I was in high school, but powerful men in particular seem to want to be controlled sexually.

And then, you know, for me you're seeing something very private and I do that a lot in the show, where you're getting to see things that people don't dramatize normally. And I can't pretend like it's old hat and that this is going on in everybody's bedroom, but I think what you're seeing is that they do have a vibrant sex life and that she is controlling that part of it and he likes it. And it's the way they fight. And it's kind of her saying to him you want to be this way, then, you know, guess what? You can't have this and teasing him. And I think on some level really not wanting him to - wanting him to realize that if he behaves badly he's not going to get it.

And at the same time, what I love about it and what I think is fresh is that this woman is not treated like - she's not judged afterwards. It's very rare for a woman to express that kind of sexual confidence and control and not be the prostitute and not be - and be somebody's wife and be in a relationship afterwards. And I think I'm both at the same time sexualizing their relationship and also explaining her status in their relationship and hopefully showing that it's an expression of the good part of their relationship, that it's actually based on love. There's a real warm, kind, intimate scene afterwards of actual communication and openness that we haven't seen from Don before. Would you agree with that?

GROSS: Yeah. But there's a part of me that keeps wondering like say she wants to have a baby? Say she gets pregnant and she can't be like this seductive wife...

WEINER: Right.

GROSS: least for a while. Does he have to go find a new wife after that?

WEINER: Right. Right. I don't know. I don't know. Yeah. I mean if this is a big part of their relationship, you don't lose it. Would her becoming pregnant do that? That's something for you to worry about.


GROSS: All right.

WEINER: I think it's fun that - I think it's fun, it means of telling a story well that people are spinning out what it is. And I love that they are trying to keep ahead of it. And if you guess it right it's not going to upset me, but I'm not going to tell you. You're going to have to wait and see.

GROSS: So everything is changing. It's 1966. There's the civil rights movement. There's riots in some cities. There's a new youth culture. There's alternative weeklies. There's the war in Vietnam, which people are starting to talk about and is dividing the generations. And ads are changing too. There's new technology...



GROSS: ...that the advertisers can use. Which leads me into a clip that I want to play. Peggy, played by Elisabeth Moss, who is a copywriter at the ad agency, she's really talented. She's not quite got the poetry yet of Don Draper, but she's very good and she's pitching an ad for Heinz canned baked beans. And so the client is in the pitch room and here's Peggy making the pitch for the ad that she wants to do.


ELISABETH MOSS: (as Peggy) And so we take a bandage of this new micro photography and high-speed camera to show a bean ballet.

JAY R. FERGUSON: (as Stan) (Singing) Do, do, do, do...

MOSS: (as Peggy) Spinning in air with their delicious perfection. The beans pirouette in slow motion. They somersault in slow motion. Some of them spin clockwise, some counter-clockwise so they'll appear to be moving towards each other, until they drop into a full can, first seen from the top. There's a splash of mouthwatering sauce as each one lands. Then we cut to the front. The iconic label...

: (as Stan) (Singing) Do, do, do, do...

MOSS: The art of supper.

GROSS: OK, very nice. That's Peggy's pitch. And here's, I want to play the reaction of the client to that pitch.



GROSS: And he's a middle-aged man. I'd say he's actually a little older than middle-age, maybe in his 50s or something?


GROSS: OK. So here's his response.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (as character) You ever seen beans up close? They're slimy. They look like a bunch of bloody organs. And it's not just for fellas like me that saw things in Korea. Kidney beans are called kidney beans because they're shaped that way. But you could call all beans that. They look better in a group, in a bowl. Hell, what's wrong with a spoon?


GROSS: OK. I love all the advertising stuff in "Mad Men." So...

WEINER: Well, the thing that's kind of fun about this scene too is like that is a great commercial. And I have heard a few people say like oh, wow, she's really lost her mojo or whatever. I was like no, sometimes the story is about the client.


WEINER: That guy has a very, very clear thing in mind.

GROSS: But, you know, I think, I think he's right about a couple of things - that people associate beans with like poverty and with war and, you know, that kidney beans you might think of kidneys. And, but the kind of, the ad Peggy's proposing I've seen like so many ads over the years with like, you know, dancing...

WEINER: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...Fig Newtons and dancing...

WEINER: Sure. And the raisins.

GROSS: ...candies and the raisins. Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. The Motown Raisins.


GROSS: And things being like jumping into like vats of chocolate, the M&Ms used to do that. It was animated...


GROSS: ...but they were dumped into a vat of chocolate. So what ads were you thinking of when you wrote that pitch for Peggy?

WEINER: Well, I want the agency to look forward looking and I want it to also have the sense of humor, which is really defining the time. These are the three things that sort of go that show that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is actually if not on the cutting edge, at least advanced beyond Sterling Cooper, which was a very sort of stodgy and behind the - very '50s ad agency. One of them is photography. One of them is the sense of humor and, you know, the film, the television ad itself having a story, and this whimsy, and the music this great tagline, and the wordlessness of it. That was bold. It's an experimental film to put an ad on with just music and the product, and if you can imagine for a moment literally seeing of bean spinning in the air with sauce on it. Yeah, he has a point. It's kind of gross looking up close. But this is a great ad. So that's what we're trying to show there and the fact that he, you know, he's telling what his problem is again and again and it's not being answered and I guess he wants something more specific. But what he asked for is something that would appeal to young people and he doesn't think this does and maybe they didn't answer that question.

But whether it's good work or not, it is work of the period and it's kind of forward-looking and it takes advantage of the technology and it's a pretty good pitch. His response to it is, you know, clients are capricious. We've seen plenty of them. Look at Conrad Hilton, you know, Don gave one of the best pitches we've ever seen on the show to Conrad Hilton and he hated it because all he wanted was the moon. And then, of course, the story that you get is that Don comes in there, instead of saying to the guy shut up, this is a great idea, he's like OK. We'll do more work. And that was the story part.

GROSS: I love the way the character of Joanie has grown over the years. She starts off just being like kind of like sexy, you know, head secretary at the advertising agency whose kind of dishy, and now she's become like much more intelligent and focused and independent. You know, she has a new baby. Her husband, who's in the military, is away from home. He's based, you know, some place else and she really wants to go back to work. She was to be with people again. She wants to be working again. And she doesn't really understand her emotions, because that's not the gestalt of the time.

WEINER: Right.

GROSS: And it...

WEINER: It still isn't. How many powerful woman stopped to have a baby because that's what they always wanted and because they want to have a family and then they're at home with this baby and they're thinking like god, I miss working. Does that make you a bad mother? It doesn't. But that doesn't mean you don't feel that way. And then they go back to work and the most common complaint you hear is now on a bad mother and I'm bad at my job.


GROSS: It's so hard to balance though. But, so...

WEINER: It's not easy. I mean I love the idea of her being this sort of single mom and I think we learn more about Joan's personal life in the first, you know, 20 minutes of this episode then we've known the entire time we know her. And what you're seeing is someone who is in a very kind of modern quandary. Because we know how powerful Joan is. We know that her ambition has been confusing to her because really, all she ever said she wanted to do is get married to a doctor or a professional and have a big house and live in the country and be taken care of like a queen. And life has thrown a lot of other conflicts at her, so why should she feel bad about wanting to go back to the office and be important and have that status? And at the same time she's, you know, being a mother is supposed to fulfill all of that.

GROSS: My guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator and executive producer of "Mad Men." We'll talk more after break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator and executive producer of the AMC series "Mad Men." He wrote last night two hours season premiere.

Now I just recently learned, I should've figured this out but I didn't, that one of the actors in "Mad Men" is your son. And that's the character of Glen.



GROSS: It's played by your son Marten Weiner.


GROSS: And he is like the neighbor's son who had a crush on Don's first wife Betty, and he actually accidentally walked into her when she was in the bathroom, when it was just kind of like...

WEINER: Not accidentally. Not accidentally.

GROSS: Not accidentally. OK. Yeah.

WEINER: He went in there to see her. He went in there to see her and that's why he stood there and she had to chase him out.

GROSS: And he really had a crush on her and...

WEINER: Oh yeah.

GROSS: I, you know, I think a lot of people including me and see him as a, you know, as a smart but kind of creepy character. And then...

WEINER: The word creepy comes up a lot. Yeah.


GROSS: Yeah. And then, you know, he befriends Betty and Don's daughter Sally and Betty's very upset about that because she feels like this kid's a little weird and he doesn't want her, want him hanging around Sally.

WEINER: I think that...

GROSS: And maybe she's a little jealous of the attention too...

WEINER: That's true but...

GROSS: ...because...

WEINER: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: She was very lonely at the point when he was, when he had a crush on her. But, you know, he's a little destructive. He's kind of unpredictable and weird. You know, he, when Sally says that she doesn't really like living...

...was when he had the crush on her but, you know, he's a little destructive. He's kind of unpredictable and weird. You know, when Sally says she doesn't really like living at home, things are bad, he comes in and turns the house upside down, with the exception of Sally's room. So why did you want your son...


GROSS: be playing such, you know, a role like this.

WEINER: I thought we were going to talk about the story. You know what? He was cast because he was the best person available for the role. I would have never thought of him if he wasn't my son. It was actually someone else's idea, and I was counseled against it, because of, you know, all the complications that could happen from him failing at that job. But he really nailed it, and he's a really good actor.

GROSS: Did he want to act? Was that his idea?

WEINER: I don't know if he'd ever thought about it, but when I asked if he wanted to do this, he wanted to do this. I mean, you know, it's very sweet. I mean, he's now 15, but at the time, I remember someone saying to him, you know, what's your favorite part about, you know, about acting?

And he said, eating lunch with my dad. So, I mean...

GROSS: Well, that's sweet. Yeah.

WEINER: ...who knows if he even understands the difference between this job and other jobs, but it's beautiful to have – I work a lot, and... But he is part of the cast, and the reason I had him play it is because he was good at it. The fact that I identify a lot with Glen was confusing to him.


WEINER: When he said, you know, like a lot of actors, a lot - like Kiernan - he can easily separate between himself and the character. Whether the public wants to separate him or not is going to be his problem, but he can. I feel like he's not creepy. I feel like this is an admission of childhood, you know, unpleasant realities of the experience of childhood, which is that children are sexual, children are obsessive.

They have almost all the same emotions and feelings that adults do but they are children. And the thing that becomes creepy to me is that Betty is incapable of treating him like a child, and that is a peculiar relationship. But he's a little bit old for his age and she's a little bit young for her age. And I think the scene at the end of the first season, when he sees her, you know, in the parking lot is one of the most touching things we've done on the show.

Because he just says I wish I could take care of you. I wish I could be your boyfriend. He even comes back the next season, he says I have money. I know your marriage is falling apart; we can run away together. I mean, that idea – and now that he has transferred his interest to Sally. But to me, he and Sally's relationship is that he is a spirit guide.

He has been there before. There aren't that many kids that have divorced families. He likes Sally. He's known her for a long time. There's very little stability in his life. And I think he is there and I don't—I think it's true friendship. And both of them need it really badly.

GROSS: So how did you say to your son, how did you explain to him that he was going to walk into – that he was going to eavesdrop on Betty while she was in the bathroom? How do you explain that?

WEINER: I told him that, you know, you walk in on her in the bathroom and you get caught. He just did it, you know? He read the script and he got it. He knew it wasn't him. I did tell him, eventually, that I had done this.



WEINER: And he said, Daddy, you're weird. You know? You can say whatever you want, but being a nine or 10-year-old boy and seeing adult women – at least I have not met a man yet who has not shared this experience of already having feelings, even if you don't understand them, you don't know how the mechanics work, but having very strong romantic and sexual feelings for adults.

And it's part of childhood and it should remain in childhood, but it is not some fairytale world of innocence where adult feelings don't exist. And that's something that I think is a great point of entry for the audience. We've done it with Sally and with Glen, and even with Don's childhood, seeing that adulthood is confusing. And it's actually kind of a theme on the show, is how you perceive adulthood. It's still confusing to Pete Campbell, you know?


GROSS: Were there consequences that you faced for walking into the bathroom of an adult...

WEINER: Yeah. A tremendous amount of shame.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

WEINER: A tremendous amount of shame and trying to pretend like it was an accident when it wasn't. And our babysitter was, you know, it was - I don't know what they call it, imprinting or anything. I just remember...

GROSS: So it was the babysitter?

WEINER: It was the babysitter, yeah. It was not somebody's mom. It was somebody, she was about 18. But, you know, I have – my wife has this amazing story about her brother, was 11 years old, I think, and that they had gone to see a movie with Gina Lollobrigida in it. And he had gotten up and walked to the front of the movie theater and stood in front of the screen when she was on the screen.

I mean it's, um, it's part of male, you know, adolescence, for sure. And then of course they pretend like girls don't have this at all. My relationship with my son, I have tried to maintain, and have maintained, I'm not his boss, I am his father and we treat the show very seriously. But he's an actor. It's not him.

And in terms of like the, you know, these things are shot in separation so there is – what that means is that his angle is done first and even though he knows what's going on, Sally knows what's going on, they read the script, they're not actually in the experience of the show.

GROSS: Right.

WEINER: We do protect them as children. I mean, I don't want to take anybody's innocence away just because they're in the show.

GROSS: So my guest is Matthew Weiner and he's the creator of "Mad Men" and wrote the opening double episode, season premier. "Mad Men" just started its new season, its fifth. Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Weiner, the creator of "Mad Men" which just started its new season. So I read that your father was President Reagan's neurologist but you didn't find out that until after Nancy Reagan went public that her husband had Alzheimer's.


GROSS: Was that kept a secret from you because the Alzheimer's was kept a secret?

WEINER: I assume that that's what it was. My dad is an old fashioned doctor and he takes that oath very seriously, and patient details – even afterwards he's never spoken publicly about that, and certainly privately. But, you know, they're old lefties. My father works at the county hospital and it was just astounding to me, a tribute to his skill as a physician that he was picked by the most conservative people in the country at that time.

Now it's very different. They look like, you know, liberals, the Reagans. But someone who I knew he had never voted for and had not supported and, you know, but as a physician he is above that. And what can I say? We're a family that knows how to keep a secret. I could not believe it. When he finally - when it came out he showed me a picture of the two of them together. I was like this is Photoshopped or something?

Like, how did this work? But, yeah. No, it's a – I think that, you know, it's part of the story of the show, in a weird way. My father is from a different era. Confidentiality is confidentiality and no matter, you know, I've told more people that he was Reagan's doctor than he ever has. That's not part of his – he's not walking around bragging about that.

He's a physician and his job is to have a relationship with his patients. And I've always admired him for that.

GROSS: So one final question. When Megan throws the surprise 40th birthday party for Don Draper she surprises him even further by doing this very sexy song and dance number and the song is a French song, and it's called "Zooby Zooby Zoo" and I thought where did you get this song from.


GROSS: Of all the songs in the world, how did you end up choosing this song?

WEINER: I have a fascination with French culture from this period. It's all over the show.

GROSS: Joanie sang a song in French.

WEINER: Yes, she did. She did. And hers is a little older than that, but this is one of those French novelty songs that just reeks of, like - it's like "Bye-Bye Birdie" to me. It's one of these things where there's a little girl quality to it and it's kind of childlike, but it makes it even dirtier when someone's behaving that way with it.

And I just, you know, I found it – I don't know if I have a record of it or if I just found it on iTunes when I was looking for some other singer. I might've been looking through Serge Gainsbourg, who I think it started recording. But I found this song. It was so catchy and it's "A Little Kiss" which is the title of the episode.

And I just thought, here's Megan, she's going to come out and give Don this innocent song with this really, really striptease, you know, performance and we're going to know that she wants to declare to the world that they are in love and super hot for each other, and Don's going to say please keep that to yourself.


WEINER: I mean, for me, part of it's showmanship that we did the number. And Jennifer Getzinger, who directed the episode, did an amazing job. She also directed "The Suitcase." But Jessica, I mean, the performance of this song - and it's not easy to do but she did. And there's a story being told during the song and they did a great job of it.

That was for the audience and it was – some of it's just, you know, it's a little bit of a French movie for the audience, whether they've seen it or not. It's a little bit of "La Dolce Vita" in there too, and just the new aesthetic and the new dynamic. And I know it's a crazy song. I don't know how to explain it. But I played it once for the writer's room and people were humming it all day, and I'm like I think I found something.


GROSS: So there's this season, plus two more seasons left of "Mad Men." You've committed to a total of seven seasons. Are you already thinking ahead to the final, very conclusion?

WEINER: I really had just an inkling, but during this experience of launching the show this season I think that I'm getting a message from the audience that I better start thinking about it.


WEINER: I just used the story that I have. I just finished episode 13 of season five. I am, creatively...

GROSS: That's the final episode, right?

WEINER: Yeah. I am creatively tapped out. There are 24 – 26 to do after that, and I'm going to take them one at a time. But, yeah, I mean, it's imminent, I guess. I can be talked into doing more. We'll see. I mean, I think that that's the perfect for the show and I'm looking at other shows that I admire and saying, like, let's not overstay our welcome.

GROSS: Matthew Weiner, it's been so much fun to talk with you. Thank you so much.

WEINER: Oh, thank you, Terry. It's always great to talk to you.

GROSS: Matthew Weiner is the creator of the AMC series "Mad Men" and wrote last night's two-hour season premier. You can hear that interview as well as our other interviews with Weiner and with Jon Hamm on our website

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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