More Thinking on AMC's Mad Men and Its Nielsen Ratings

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August 27th, 2008

Commenter Ian White writes in response to one of my comments (in response to one of his comments):

I agree that the pacing has been slow, but I don't think that applies to every episode. Two of the episodes this season have been very fast-paced. I think one of the problems with Mad Men is that you can't figure out what the hell is going on unless you've seen a previous episode. The characters are not engrossing enough that five minutes with them has you hooked. John Slattery has brought a lot of depth to "Roger" but I don't think you can watch two scenes of "Don Draper" (at least this season) and really know that he is a complex character.

One thing we can be sure of, the hype and marketing around season premieres is at least fairly effective at getting people to check out the premieres. While Ian's point above may be true, the season two premiere was a (seemingly fairly typical) glacial set-up episode and was not fast-paced. Let's face it, the season two premiere was the best shot AMC had this season in terms of reeling people in and keeping them around. Mad Men seems to be following last-years Nielsen ratings trend where many people tuned in for the premiere and then wound up tuning out.

What Ian says about not being able to figure out "what the hell is going on" is largely true for all shows that are serial rather than procedural in nature. No matter what, it's much easier to catch an episode from season 3 of House and not get lost than it is to jump right to a season 3 episode from LOST! That's the nature of the beast and I'd think (perhaps incorrectly) anyone working on a serial show would be well aware of it

Ian's point around the point-in-time-view of the characters not necessarily giving full insight to true complexity is very interesting to me. I'd have to go back and watch some old episodes of a show like The Wire or The Sopranos to see if somehow this is more pronounced with Mad Men/ Don Draper. My guess is it comes out worse for Mad Men versus those shows for a very specific reason. The Wire and The Sopranos are shows that are full of well-known archetypes. Cops, criminals, murderous gangsters who love their children.

We may just respond better/more easily to well-known archetypes. This is a challenge for Mad Men because while there's probably nothing particularly unique about a boozing and womanizing advertising executive (not in 1962, and not in 2008), there is more complexity to Draper's character, though this mostly has unfolded at a snail's pace as well.

Though I am a huge fan, I think it was probably a bad move to have the well hyped/marketed season premiere be a set-up episode rather than have more theatrical dramatics that might have pulled people in and kept them around longer.

Note to Ian: I'm not picking on you, your comments were just so thought-provoking to me that I felt it merited a stand-alone post rather than continuing to discuss Mad Men in the comments of the Broadcast TV overnight ratings results!

Despite the above commentary I will be very surprised (not to mention, disappointed) if there's not a third season of the show.

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