Mad Men is considered to be one of the best TV shows of all time and if you look at the shit load of awards the AMC drama has won it’s not hard to see why. From winning Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys 4 times in a row to multiple writing, directing and acting awards, the chronicles of Don Draper has earned the respect from critics and fans alike. The ratings maybe weren’t all that stellar but everyone who wasn’t turned off by the slow pacing, loved the show for what it was. A wonderfully directed, near perfectly written and an exceptionally acted period drama. That’s no faint praise. There aren’t a lot of shows out there that can say the same. But to be named one of the best ever there has to be more. One of the reasons why Mad Men is considered to be one of the best TV shows ever is because it changed the medium forever. Matthew Weiner created a show that has had such an enormous influence and legacy it might be unparalleled. For me personally the show is right up there with The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. So now that AMC’s former crown jewel has left us for a little under a year let’s talk about how Mad Men changed the world of television forever.
A Leap of Faith
When Matthew Weiner first shopped around his idea for Mad Men he approached HBO. But instead of picking it up David Chase hired him to work on The Sopranos. Weiner delivered and was a big part of the show about New Jersey gangster Tony Soprano and his two families. When Weiner’s work on the show ended it would have been as logic as it would have been perfect if HBO had picked up Weiner’s period piece about an advertising agency in the 60’s. But strangely enough HBO passed on the series and when Weiner approached AMC they decided to go for it. That might not seem like that big of a deal but it was. In those days the best scripted television came from the regular TV networks. The big three: ABC, Fox and NBC. Their only serious competition was HBO but since that is a premium cable channel it wasn’t that much of a threat for them. Basic cable networks, which include AMC, were not known for their scripted programming. AMC had never even launched an original series. But instead of going for something by the numbers and playing it safe the cable network decided to go for quality and it’s probably the best move the network has ever made. Without Mad Men their monster hit show the Walking Dead would probably never have happened. AMC took a leap of faith and boy did it pay off!
Taking the TV world by storm
And then there was Mad Men. It came and it did what no others had done before. The critics were raving about the quality of it, the fans were loving it and the awards came in one after the other. Mad Men was the first basic cable show to win the top award at the Emmys and did so for 4 years straight. No one saw that coming and the ratings were very good for basic cable. Weiner and co. became the darlings of the small screen and period dramas became popular again. One of the first signs of great success is imitation. Period dramas like Downtown Abbey have certainly benefited from Mad Men and later more blatant imitations aired with shows like Pan Am and The Playboy Club. But Mad Men’s influence went beyond that. Way beyond that. The character of Don Draper was named the most influential man in the world by Ask Men. A fictional character being chosen over real-life people. 50’s and 60’ style clothing became popular again in countries like the US and the UK, especially men’s suits. The name Betty became popular again in the US and several musicals about the 60’s got a revival. The list goes on and on. Mad Men’s legacy is huge and its influence can still be felt strongly.
Times are great for the small screen. TV shows have approached and in cases surpassed the quality of Hollywood productions and A-listers frequently venture to the small screen where in the past big name actors only went there if their big screen careers had died. Now it’s a legitimate thing to do and it can even relaunch careers. This all started with the second golden age of television and Mad Men is one of the last great shows that started in that era. After shows like Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and The Wire had gone Mad Men was the last man standing. With Mad Men gone there is an enormous void. Both AMC and HBO have tried to fill the void and other networks have as well. Game of Thrones is a monster hit for HBO and is shattering all records but despite its insanely high production value, the good writing and a terrific cast it will never be considered one of the best TV shows ever made. Boardwalk Empire was solid and better than most series in its time but it didn’t quite achieve what the premium cable network hoped it would achieve. The big three also have nothing that approaches Mad Men right now nor do the other cable networks. The overall quality is higher than it’s ever been and while Netflix hasn’t put an end to traditional TV watching as they said they would they are becoming more powerful. At the end of the day I don’t think we will see a TV show that will come close to what Mad Men was anytime soon. And when it comes to influence and legacy, we might never see anything like it ever again.