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Matthew Weiner Talks Writing Women and Race in 'Mad Men,' Criticisms of Don's Storyline and More

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood March 27, 2014 at 1:01PM

As Part 1 of "Mad Men" Season 7 debuts April 13, James Poniewozik of TIME sat down with showrunner Matthew Weiner to talk everything about the show -- from viewer criticisms of Don's story arc last season, to writing women, race and how to handle those those too well-known moments from 1960s history without succumbing to cliches. Interview highlights below -- and don't worry "MM" diehards, there are NO SPOILERS.
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Matthew Weiner with Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks
Matthew Weiner with Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks

As Part 1 of "Mad Men" Season 7 debuts April 13 (trailer here), James Poniewozik of TIME sat down with showrunner Matthew Weiner to talk everything about the show -- from viewer criticisms of Don's story arc last season, to writing women, race and how to handle those those too well-known moments from 1960s history without succumbing to cliches. Interview highlights below -- and don't worry "MM" diehards, there are NO SPOILERS.

On the criticism that we were seeing Don’s same old cheating story again in Season 6:

There was so much new story last year, I don’t think that that was what people were responding to. I think what people responded to is that they were really in a state of powerlessness and anxiety in 2012 and ’13 in the United States. And they want to see Don kicking ass and taking names. When Don said “Please” to Sylvia in that hotel room, that was hard for the audience. That’s what I think they were responding to. I have no defensiveness about it. We repeat things in life all the time.

On writing women characters:

I don’t write like, “A woman thinks this way and a man thinks this way.” People think this way. And they think in their own interests. And yes, men and women are different on some level, but the crossover is ridiculous. I mean there have been very few things that have been gender specific behavior in the show. I learned them from having a strong wife and working with a lot of women. And there are plenty of gender-specific things about men that I don’t know. I don’t play sports; I don’t know a lot of that shit. I type for a living.

On race in ‘Mad Men’:

As long as I’m in that world of this white majority that is insulated, that is learning about civil rights on TV, unless they’re activists, you’re not seeing a world of specific prejudice or individual prejudice. But you are seeing segregation. And I chose to do that and I chose to do that to remind people that it was real. And there is an entire parallel universe. There are black ad agencies and there are obviously so many African-Americans in New York City. But I really chose to not lie about the interaction that these characters are having with different kinds of people.

...Let’s put it this way, I’m proud of the fact that not just guilty liberal white people noticed that black people were not in the show. And not just black people also. That there was a kind of confusion about whether it was some oversight, but I’m not telling the story of the civil rights movement. I’m telling a story of the mass culture and their experience of the civil rights movement.

On recreating cinematically well-trodden events from the ‘60s:

Oh, it’s horrible. Yeah. I mean believe me, you know, that’s why I go to primary sources as much as I can. And I also just try and remember the way we experience things now. The Kennedy assassination is the hardest; it’s such a well-trod thing. And the first time you have your first hippie you’re just like, well, am I just doing Dragnet here? Are there hand-painted signs down in the prop department? I don’t want that. But in fact, when you go to the archival footage and Life magazine, Time magazine, Newsweek, when you see what was really going on – you can’t re-create that without looking like one of these clichés because it really looked like that.

So it’s a challenge, but I’m always sort of looking for the average person’s experience of it.

This article is related to: Television, TV, TV Interviews, TV News, Mad Men, Mad Men, Matthew Weiner


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.