The Long And Winding Licensing Road To Sunday's 'Mad Men' Beatles Appearance

Television
by Charlie Schmidlin
May 9, 2012 12:01 PM
3 Comments
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Any mention of the Beatles in popular media also comes replete with tales of conflict, blocked licensing rights, and frustration for those in pursuit of a few seconds of material. Master recordings of the group are considered an impossible goal, and on Sunday's “Mad Men” episode entitled “Lady Lazarus,” the group's inaccessibility even stood as a point of frustration for the characters. However, near the episode's end, as Don Draper (Jon Hamm) struck up “Tomorrow Never Knows” -- the original, not a cover -- while listening to Revolver, the moment carried with it a long history for creator/show-runner Matthew Weiner in the creation of those thirty seconds.

Considering most shows would kill off its entire cast to license the rights to the Beatles' library, it just goes to show the cultural residency, as well as the depth of Weiner's piggy bank, that “Mad Men” currently occupies. According to those briefed on the deal, Lionsgate, the studio behind “Mad Men,” paid close to $250,000 for the licensing and publishing rights, a few dollars up from the $100,000 another major song might draw.

It also marks the rare occurrence of the original recording being played, eschewing any “Across the Universe”-style cover theatrics in the process, and the commitment shows. “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing,” Matthew Weiner said in a New York Times article on the show's relationship to the group. “Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”

Obviously, as seen with another project featuring Beatles covers, 2003's disappointing “I Am Sam,” the achievement only seems worth it if the end product is satisfying, and Weiner seems completely aware of that dynamic. In fact, it even troubled him when dealing with Apple Corps, who owns the Beatles' library rights, and simultaneously writing the episode. “It was hard,” Weiner said, “because I had to, writing-wise, commit to the story that I thought was worthy of this incredible opportunity.” After being rejected for a few years in the past by Apple Corps, he also had to break his seal of secrecy with the company to win them over, sharing script pages and storylines to make the situation completely transparent.

In the end it worked though, because the moment marked “Lady Lazarus” as a bold comment on both the characters' relationship with youth culture, as well as an observation on music's relationship to film or TV in general. Season one's use of “Waters of Babylon,” and season three's “Where is Love” from “Oliver” both were impeccably used ending cues, and this latest was another sign that “Mad Men” can operate on a musical basis like few others can, or ever will.

Television
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3 Comments

  • apollo c vermouth | May 9, 2012 6:16 PMReply

    ......Since George's death The Beatles having been "selling out" left and right. Obviously it's a lot easier to convince their estates

    Selling out right and left?
    Ahh no.
    In the past decade but a few limited uses. And after certain requirements, as described by the Mad Men story.

    Imagine....the many requests that get turned down. It's certainly not simply about $$.
    IMO, it boils down to Paul. He's first among equals as far as deciding.

  • cirkusfolk | May 9, 2012 5:03 PMReply

    Its sad but I think the direct correlation between the recent uses of actual Beatles music and the lack of it before is the two most stubborn Beatles dying. Since George's death The Beatles having been "selling out" left and right. Obviously it's a lot easier to convince their estates to go along with things than the real person.

  • James | May 9, 2012 12:38 PMReply

    I AM SAM was not meant to have covers. I remember an article at the time. You have to get the consent of all 4 Beatles or their estates to use a recording it seems, and everyone signed off on I AM SAM, even Yoko, but then they went to George Harrison, who had produced SHANGHAI SURPRISE. He apparently was still angry at Sean Penn for some reason and refused to allow the songs to be used.

    Until recently the original recordings were almost never heard in features either, except for a few that Harrison produced in the 80s.

    The film that unleashed the floodgates, I believe, is BENJAMIN BUTTON. Since then GHOST TOWN, DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS, NORWEGIAN WOOD and SOCIAL NETWORK have also used original Beatles recordings.

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