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Why Did the 'Mad Men' Season 7 Premiere Tank with Audiences?

Television
by Ryan Lattanzio
April 14, 2014 4:28 PM
17 Comments
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Peggy and Don in 'Mad Men'

The days of "Mad Men" are numbered, and in more ways than one. Last night's seventh and final season premiere on AMC drew only 2.3 million viewers, the series' lowest ratings since the Season Two debut in 2008. That's even lower than the 2.7 million who tuned in for the sixth season premiere, and the average 3.37 million viewers who watched last year's finale. So what went wrong?

Well, AMC did do a few things right. The network positioned the premiere close to the Emmy nominations, which will be announced on July 10, so that by the time the first half of the seventh season wraps, "Mad Men" will be fresh in voters' minds. Secondly, AMC and Netflix made Season Six available to stream two weeks ahead of the premiere, encouraging a binge-viewing experience that would hopefully put the series back on the cultural map. 

These strategies were in hopes of maintaining buzz. At the end of last season, we saw the show essentially come unmoored from its bearings, as ad man Don Draper got the boot at Sterling Cooper & Partners for bad behavior, leaving copy chief Peggy Olson in the hot-seat. It was an exciting moment in television, and one that had us hotly anticipating what would come next.

Could it be that low Nielsen ratings for "Time Zones," the Season Seven premiere, reflect a general fatigue audiences are feeling toward the show? Seven seasons is long for a sophisticated adult drama. HBO's "The Sopranos," for which "Mad Men" showrunner Matthew Weiner also wrote, smartly cut the cord at six seasons before it could start losing steam.

Throughout a sixth season filled with boozing and infidelity, "Mad Men" blatantly mirrored that trashy soap opera starring Megan Draper, "To Have and To Hold." And like all soaps, the series was recycling its old tropes: Don was cheating again (again), Peggy was obsessing over a guy, and the writers started using drug-induced hallucinations as a crutch. In the case of Season Six, that happened in two episodes that weren't very far apart, from the amphetamine-addled "The Crash" (episode 8) to the hash-inspired death dreams of "A Tale of Two Cities" (episode 10).

"Time Zones," however, was a brilliant episode, filled with the subtle undercurrents of humor and sadness and poetry that we're used to seeing in "Mad Men." And now, the series, like Don who divides his time between NY and California, is bicoastal, and relocating a few of our favorite characters to Los Angeles (a swarthy Pete Campbell among them) is just what the series needed in order to reboot. 

Here's hoping more viewers will tune in to the conclusion of one of TV's great achievements.


Television
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More: Mad Men, Television, News

17 Comments

  • m | April 16, 2014 9:02 AMReply

    Mad Men has never had a HUGE audience. It's a show created by adults for adults. It's not "game of thrones" or whatever the hell that HBO show is called. The premiere did not "tank" just because you guys say so.

  • Buck Buckerson | April 21, 2014 5:39 PM

    Your reply makes no sense whatsoever. It TANKED because so few people cared enough to watch it. Game of Thrones is also made by adults--for adults... And it's a better show, hands down.

    GoT also got 6.6 million viewers--nearly 3x the amound of MM--and it's on a pay channel.

    Mad Men hasn't really been great since its second season.

  • C'mon Man | April 15, 2014 6:43 PMReply

    Because everyone time-shifted or watched it online. Mad Men fans aren't hayseeds and know how to work simple technology. It's not that hard to understand.

  • Tony l | April 15, 2014 11:18 AMReply

    On Sunday night I also watched
    Game of thrones (promise of major villains death per books)
    good Wife (majorly reenergized in S5)
    PBS's Midwife
    Nurse Jackie
    VEEP

    I did not watch Turn yet, which I fear is falling into the trap of being neither quite good enough and too dense (you can be one or the other, but too much of both and you enter Low Winter Sun mishmash. Rubicon was dense but I loved it. LWS-ugh.).

    So I think MM is partially a victim of the night, along with this divided season of only 7 epi each (though I don't see how AMC could have made any other choice,business wise.)

  • Paul | April 15, 2014 10:31 AMReply

    I would have watched the season premiere but didn't only because I dropped my cable subscription (I'm strictly Netflix/Amazon Prime now). I'm wondering if the decrease in the numbers could at least partly be blamed on lots of other people doing the same.

  • RJ | April 15, 2014 9:54 AMReply

    I think a relative lack of buzz is also probably connected to Matthew Weiner's highly publicized and extremely intense fear of spoilers leaking. He put so many restrictions on what writers/reviewers could say about the premiere episode (in addition to limiting many online screeners to just 2 views, which I admit is totally his prerogative so more power to him), that much of the writing in advance of the show was prevented from being truly substantial. Too many puzzled writers wrote instead about their dumbfoundedness at having to compose a review without mentioning anything that happens in the episode, and I think a fair amount just opted out completely of trying to cover the episode before it aired. For a show this deep into its run that is a fairly intimidating sit (which definitely rewards the viewers who do make it through), it really needed excited reviewers and raves to permeate the media/internet in order to convince people to jump on board the drawn out 2-year slog to the end. Weiner more or less single handedly prevented that from happening.

  • Che | June 24, 2014 3:19 PM

    I agree completely. Too much control in every area made it less desirable to stay excited about this series. A shame too.
    Mathew Weiner singlehandedly sabatoged his own show's ratings.

  • Gordon S. Miller | April 14, 2014 8:50 PMReply

    Seems odd to question the ratings and not reference all the other shows on Sunday, as if Mad Men exists in a vacuum.

  • Ken | April 14, 2014 7:26 PMReply

    I read the phrase "sophisticated adult drama" and thought, okay, there's the veiled reference to the fact that the show is fairly boring. And then you talked about The Sopranos. As though it were also a "sophisticated adult drama". So now I'm confused, because, by most accounts, The Sopranos was not fairly boring.

    As for why nobody is really picking up on Mad Men's latest season, geez, I just can't guess why that could possibly be.

  • Manalto | July 7, 2014 5:13 PM

    "Fairly" is being kind. Setting the show in an era to which a great number of viewers would respond nostalgically was its commercially brilliant idea. The frequent, glaring anachronisms are the only elements of the show that are worthy of a response (albeit negative) in an atmosphere of ham-handed references to outdated values and endless, grueling blather. It's a snore, and the worst kind of storytelling - no story.

  • Mason | April 15, 2014 8:03 PM

    I never thought The Sopranos got boring, but a lot of fans did. In the final season, which Weiner was a major contributor to, the story took a much deeper approach to the themes of family and human flaws. There was a major mafia war conflict, but it took a back seat. A lot of viewers wanted an action-packed crime thriller for the end run, and were disappointed.

    As for Mad Men. It is opposite Game of Thrones. Viewers can watch GoT commercial free on HBO. Then watch Mad Men on DVR and fast forward commercials, or have limited commercials on-demand. Also, there wasn't too much advertising or media buzz.

  • Kevin | April 15, 2014 10:07 AM

    This is your opinion, of course. I don't believe the post intended to imply that the show is boring at all.

  • ALP | April 14, 2014 4:52 PMReply

    You are perhaps overlooking an important point: NO one is into that "final split-season" bull***t. It's just a cheap shot at marketing two seasons at seven episodes each. NO one feels an urgency to watch the a "final" season, when the ACTUAL final season is NEXT season in 2015.

  • Mason | April 15, 2014 8:19 PM

    Nobody likes the final season split, but that doesn't mean it can't be marketed. It worked well with Breaking Bad. The ads were everywhere and it was Big Event Television.

    I think Mad Men's biggest problem (ratings-wise) is not being Big Event Television. It's an amazing show, but also an existential drama meandering through a decade with few big shocks. Breaking Bad had a very plot driven narrative, where you needed to know what happens next, within the show and in the popular culture. Mad Men's commercial free competitor, Game of Thrones, certainly fits this mold, with central characters unexpectedly dying all the time. Watch it when it airs or stay off social media and cover your ears by the water cooler because people will be excitedly screaming spoilers. With Mad Men, there is little to spoil over the past seven years. Don is still drunk, lying, and cheating.

  • Zara | April 15, 2014 3:02 PM

    Exactly! I think people know this season is gonna be as good as the others, probably better. But it is beyond frustrating to deal with all this waiting. I feel as if my passion for the show is being taken advantage of. I'm guessing many people are just fed up with this feeling, and they're moving on to shows that are more satisfying and more respectful to their audience, even if maybe not as good.

  • Brian | April 14, 2014 6:52 PM

    I agree as well. Don't drag it out into 2015. Sometimes easier to watch when it is done. Without commercials.

  • Blahdibla | April 14, 2014 5:14 PM

    I agree. It feels like the show has gone on too long. I was looking forward to the end this year, but it doesn't seem worth it to stick it out to the end now that they're stretching it out over 2 years. I was about to give it up for good, but I did watch this episode and found it promising. I just wonder how many people are not willing to wait around for another year for it to end.

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