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The way of Draper: 8-plus pieces of pop culture that Mad Men made possible

Pan Am

Mad Men’s effect on the culture at large goes far beyond the return of mid-century silhouettes in fashion designs and renewed interest in classic mixed drinks. It also goes beyond TV, as its characters’ powers of persuasion reached the screen as well as the stage, and shaped the dramatic discovery of one decade into a reliable comic voice of the next.

1. “Jon Hamm’s John Ham”


Mad Men has done a lot for Jon Hamm’s career—like securing his place on the throne as the king of toilet humor with gravitas. The day before Don Draper returned from his lost weekend in California (and years before Hamm played a talking commode on Bob’s Burgers), the man who portrayed Don gave one of the most important pitches of his career. In a direct address to a live television audience, Hamm summoned all the confidence of “The Wheel” to sell a pair of products: Jon Hamm, comic dynamo, and John Ham, the deli product you can eat on the toilet. “Jon Hamm’s John Ham” became the defining sketch of Hamm’s Saturday Night Live debut, a mid-’00s highlight for SNL that served as the actor’s unofficial audition for future comedic roles in movies (Bridesmaids) and TV shows (30 Rock, Parks And Recreation, Netflix’s upcoming Wet Hot American Summer prequel). Prior to the episode, Hamm was best known as the unknowable ad man with the shadowy past, a setup that helped his SNL punchlines land with surprising force—turns out the same stentorian voice that’s so persuasive on Mad Men could also tell a hell of a joke. The words of Don Draper will echo through the annals of TV history, followed shortly by this nugget of wisdom: “If it feels like a slice of ham, don’t wipe your ass with it.” [Erik Adams]

2. The Playboy Club (2011)/Pan Am (2011-12)

Between seasons four and five, Mad Men took a nearly 17-month break from the air. While Matthew Weiner re-upped his contract and AMC moved Breaking Bad to a summer schedule, a vacancy for mid-century period pieces opened up. Enter The Playboy Club and Pan Am, two pretenders to the throne that each got the ax while Mad Men was prepping its return. Befitting its subject matter, The Playboy Club was the more shameless offender in this arena, playing up all of Mad Men’s pre-sexual-revolution steaminess and pre-women’s-lib leering without any satirical edge. The Playboy Club also tried its hand at a pseudo Don Draper, going so far as to put the back of Eddie Cibrian’s head on prominent display in a promotional sizzle reel.

Pan Am opted to draft off of Peggy Olson’s pluck, putting Kelli Garner at the head of a group of stewardesses (from a time when they were still called “stewardesses”) that included former Wednesday Addams Christina Ricci and future Harley Quinn Margot Robbie. With a prominent espionage subplot and flashy New York-for-foreign-destinations photography, Pan Am tried valiantly to be more than its period trappings, but its ratings failed to justify the show’s price tag. Sony Pictures Television spent a reported $10 million on the pilot; despite that investment, a mid-season showrunner swap, and the studio’s recent aggressiveness with resuscitating canceled shows, Pan Am was permanently grounded in the spring of 2012. [Erik Adams]

3. Magic City (2012-13)

Magic City lasted only two seasons on Starz, but it endured long enough to cement its hallowed position as one of the great, failed retro-dramas that sprang up in the shadow of Mad Men. Not that it’s a straight rip-off or anything. Magic City’s setting in Miami circa 1959 not only predates the main storyline in Mad Men, it couldn’t be farther from the Madison Avenue bustle of Don Draper’s stomping ground. But the same way-back machine glamour is all over the show, which takes place in a luxury hotel owned by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose character Ike Evans is as cool, complex, conflicted, and inscrutable as Don Draper himself—or so Magic City wished. In reality, the show never delivered on that promise before running out of goodwill, although it wasn’t for a lack of desperate attempts to shoehorn historical figures and events—from Frank Sinatra to the Cuban revolution—into the background. Too bad those attempts at contextualization had little of the poetry or subtlety that Mad Men, at its best, musters. Maybe a golden opportunity for off-brand synergy was missed when the character of Mercedes Lazaro (Dominik García-Lorido), who’s training to be a Pan Am stewardess, wasn’t able to appear in a crossover with Pan Am. [Jason Heller]


4. Trust Me (2009)

One of the truest signs that a TV show has become a cultural phenomenon is when other networks try to rip it off and “improve” it. In 2009, as part of the procedural-laden TNT’s effort to diversify its original drama lineup, the channel debuted Trust Me, starring Tom Cavanagh as an erratic genius copywriter and Eric McCormack as his firm’s workaholic creative director. The calculation behind the show was obvious: Take Mad Men, lighten the tone, update it to the present, and rope in all the viewers who’ve found AMC’s series too arty and depressing. Instead, after a decent launch, Trust Me fizzled out and was canceled after only 13 episodes. Still, it was interesting experiment by TNT to see if the excitement of Mad Men’s client-pitches could be divorced from all the moody, literary drama. [Noel Murray]


5. Lone Star (2010)

There’s the direct approach of beating another network at its own game, and then there’s the oblique angle Fox pursued in its attempt to replicate the magic of Mad Men. The Don Draper/Dick Whitman divide—Madison Avenue pitchman and son of a prostitute, Kodak-perfect family man and alcoholic serial adulterer—was given a broadcast-network spin in Lone Star, the debut series from Kyle Killen. James Wolk starred as Bob Allen, a charming speculator in Midland, Texas who’s known as Robert Allen to his wife and in-laws, who run the big-money oil game across the state in Houston. Protagonists caught up in an identity crisis have become a hallmark of Killen’s TV work, but in 2010, Wolk’s confidence man with a conscience cut a particularly Draper-esque silhouette against the visual lyricism director Marc Webb brought to Lone Star’s pilot. The premiere episode was a stunning piece of work, but Mad Men-sized ratings for a Mad Men-like series couldn’t cut it at Fox, and Lone Star was kaput after one more episode. Wolk landed on his feet, though, playing another Bob with other secrets in season six of Mad Men. [Erik Adams]


6. Broadway revivals: Bye Bye Birdie (2009), Promises, Promises (2010), How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (2011)

It’s an understatement to say that the first few seasons of Mad Men brought the early 1960s into the zeitgeist in a big way. The influence of that little AMC show extended all the way to the Great White Way, where three separate musical revivals sought to capitalize on the popular appeal of Mad Men’s glamorous setting. In the 2009-2010 season, John Stamos took on the Dick Van Dyke role in a revival of the retro musical Bye Bye Birdie. The next year Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes played the leads in Promises, Promises, a 1968 musical based on Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. The revival moved the musical’s setting back to 1962, almost certainly to better replicate the Mad Men aesthetic. Then finally, in 2011, Daniel Radcliffe took on the central role of J. Pierrepont Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a zippy, satirical musical that originally opened in 1961 with Robert Morse (a.k.a. Bert Cooper) as Finch. Years later, Morse’s Broadway past would influence his Mad Men exitbut first Mad Men influenced Broadway. [Caroline Siede]


7. New Broadway shows: Catch Me If You Can (2011), One Man, Two Guvnors (2012)

Revivals weren’t the only stage shows to capitalize on the popularity of the Mad Men aesthetic—two brand new shows did the same. The musical adaptation of Catch Me If You Can combined the popular era with another big Broadway trend: turning hit movies into musicals (in this case, the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio/Tom Hanks caper). After an out-of-town tryout in 2009, the show opened on Broadway in 2011, where it failed to earn much critical success but did win a Tony for its lead Norbert Leo Butz. Meanwhile, the 1960s-set farce One Man, Two Guvnors also nabbed the Best Actor prize for its star James Corden (now of The Late Late Show) as well as widespread critical acclaim after it transferred to Broadway from London in 2012. Based on a 1743 commedia dell’arte comedy called Servant Of Two Masters, playwright Richard Bean chose to set his adaptation in the far more accessible (thanks partially to Mad Men) year of 1963, with a skiffle folk band playing catchy music between scenes. While it’s hard to concretely prove Mad Men directly influenced either stage show, at the very least the AMC series made the market friendlier for theater set in the early 1960s. [Caroline Siede]


8-plus. The Pete Campbell figure

Pete Campbell may be descended from Christopher Moltisanti, the dim, macho wannabe and second banana on The Sopranos, but Pete’s innovations set him apart. He’s more distant from the male lead of Mad Men, because he’s not related by blood, which both translates the Christopher character to the workplace and allows him to be the major antagonist. Accordingly, he’s a softer kind of bad guy, more cerebral than physical, to the point where you could root for him to grow. Overall the Pete Campbell figure is more weasel than ape, and lately, TV is crawling with baby Petes: Dr. Haas on Masters Of Sex, Dr. Gallinger on The Knick, Charlie Isaacs on Manhattan, and Ted Jr. on Rectify. They’re weak, subordinate men with close relationships to the male leads, they’re entitled patriarchs possessive of their women, and they’re the self-pitying heroes of their own private melodramas. Some are loving husbands, some are geniuses, some are even heroes, but what makes them so interesting is they’re all Petes. [Brandon Nowalk]


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