Rachel del Valle | Still mad for ‘Mad Men’
Duly Noted | The appeal of ‘Mad Men’ has as much to do with quality as cultural presence
March 26, 2012, 2:14 am·
Rachel del Valle
The fifth season of Mad Men, the AMC drama set in the 1960s about New York City advertising executives, premiered last night. Lots of people watched, after lots and lots of waiting — 18 months to be precise.
In our age of overstimulation, how does a slow-paced, stylized television drama like Mad Men still manage to hold our attention?
With the online presence a show like Mad Men generates, it was kind of impossible to forget about it. I couldn’t read a style blog without a mention of Joan. I couldn’t peruse a show-biz site without seeing stolen shots of season five filming.
It’s been over 500 days since Don Draper exited my life. Am I the only one who didn’t feel like it was that long? Maybe it’s because he never really left.
In our age, it’s not just word of mouth that inspires interest in a given television show, film, artist or even a campaign against child soldiers in Uganda. It’s word on the internet.
The sustained interest in Mad Men has as much to do with its quality as a program as the cultural peer-pressure surrounding it. As a fan, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
Critical reviews can only do so much to promote a show. A genuine fan base is the only way to make something matter as much to the public as it does to highbrow critics. And the internet is the ideal place to foster fandom.
There are too many options for viewers to be drawn to a show simply because of blanket advertising or rave reviews. Instead, there needs to be a sense of everyone-else-is-doing-it in the form of Facebook statuses, tweets, blog posts and general online minutiae to generate interest.
So, is online geekdom the real reason why people still care if Don and Megan will really get married?
Sure, Mad Men is a sharply written, subtly acted masterpiece of 21st century television. But as the premature cancellations of shows like Arrested Development demonstrate, quality content doesn’t always reap popularity.
Instead, I think it’s a combination of Mad Men’s critical success, online presence and availability that has kept viewers interested — and attracted new ones. The extended gap between seasons has given people who never watched on TV the time to catch up via Netflix, iTunes or DVDs.
Could My So-Called Life or Freaks and Geeks have made it to a second season if they’d had on-demand and online availability to pull in straggler viewers? Would their angsty heroines have developed more of a following if they had been the focus of weekly episode recap blogs on vanityfair.com?
That’s purely speculative, but it’s something to consider when you look at the ratings history of a show like Mad Men. Season 1 was pretty spotty, despite the show’s status as a critical darling and cult favorite. It was only after a massive ad campaign promoting Season 2 that Mad Men became the cultural milestone it is today.
One could argue that Mad Men’s boost between seasons was owed as much to investment as it was to buzz. And, in a certain way, those things are pretty inseparable. But if a movie like John Carter is any indication, money can’t buy you love. (The film, predicted to have lost Disney $200 million, is primed to become the greatest flop of all time).
I have a confession: I didn’t get into Mad Men until a sluggish weekend a few days before the Season 2 premiere. I was one of the curious millions tempted by friends who watched the show and ads of Jon Hamm looking debonair in his fedora in the middle of Grand Central station.
I had heard of the show, but by the time I tried to watch Mad Men when it was on-air, the mid-season intricacies of the plot left me more lost than intrigued. So I waited for Season 1 on iTunes.
Once we started, my sister and I pulled a Grey Gardens and didn’t leave the house for two days. I fell in love/hate with Don, pitied Peggy and wondered if Betty was a sociopath.
I was hooked. And I was not alone. The Season 2 premiere attracted more than 2 million viewers, double the Season 1 average viewership.
That kind of thing wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. Maybe there would have been a marathon on AMC, but I could have been busy that day. What would have happened then? Good thing I’ll never have to worry about that again.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Duly Noted appears every Monday.