On the Set: Mad Men

Today's cuppa: Raspberry pick-me-up iced tea

A month or so ago, I did a set visit to AMC's "Mad Men" for a syndicated feature story timed to this week's premiere. Since the story was used primarily in Sunday TV supplements, it's been hard to find on the Internet, so I haven't been able to link to it. But now I can, thanks to a little Web wizardry from the Albuquerque Journal.

It still may be hard to read for some, so below find the story as it appeared in Albuquerque (sans a lovely black-and-white photo). Soon, I'll also be putting up a post in which someone with firsthand memories of the "Mad Men" era comments on watching the first season on DVD.

AMC's 'Mad' ad world is back in season

Even without earphones, it's easy to hear the resonant voice of Robert Morse echoing through the downtown Los Angeles set for the Manhattan-based Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, the main location of AMC's 1960s-era drama "Mad Men,'' which returns for its second season on Sunday.

On this late June morning, the camera is on Jon Hamm, as newly promoted partner Don Draper. He's listening to Morse, as agency co-founder Bertram Cooper, informing him he'll be sitting on a museum board.

At a certain point, Cooper asks fellow partner Roger Sterling -- heard but not yet seen in this take -- to exit. Actor John Slattery emerges, tossing his tie dramatically over one shoulder as he laughs with series creator Matt Weiner.

Cooper then essentially tells Draper he's giving him the keys to the kingdom, news that Draper takes with aplomb.

Weiner smiles approval, and it's time to move on.

While "Mad Men'' has yet to find a huge audience, it charmed critics and awards voters (Hamm and the series won Golden Globes earlier this year). To say its return is highly anticipated would do a disservice to the state of quivering anticipation displayed in certain corners.

On the phone a few days later, Weiner is keeping his own emotions under control.

"I'm very superstitious,'' he says. "I have to warn you. It's mistakenly seen as modesty, but I'm really just superstitious. I want all these things, but I don't even want to think about them. But it is a really nice thing. It's nice to get recognition.''

Journeyman actor Hamm -- who projects both masculine confidence and self-effacing humor -- his hair sleek and suit immaculate, settles into an armchair in Draper's office.

Asked about all the press attention, he jokes, "Fortunately, I'm pretty good at talking.''

The new season picks up a little more than 14 months after season one ended, but it's still the early '60s. Even though Draper's former secretary, young Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), is now a junior copywriter, Sterling Cooper is very much a man's world.

"This is an agency,'' Moss says, looking very puttogether in a tight ponytail and snug plaid suit, "where men run it like it's 10 years ago, not necessarily in the creative ideas, but in the way they treat women.''

The top ad execs enjoy practically unlimited access to liquor, cigarettes and sex.

"Totally,'' Hamm says, "but all of that stuff comes with a price. It's like a big playground, Manhattan, for these guys.''

Sterling is one who knows the price, having suffered a heart attack last season.

"In what other job,'' Slattery says, "are you going to get to ride the girl into your office in a bra and girdle, then, 10 minutes later, be crying your eyes out, afraid you're going to die after having a massive coronary?''

For Cooper, though, it's another matter.

"I never get the girl,'' laments 77-year-old Morse.

Inhabiting the world of "Mad Men'' are people who, depending on their age, lived through some combination of the Depression, World War II and the Korean War. The shooting has stopped, but the Cold War continues.

What "Mad Men'' is not is a show about Baby Boomers, who began to be born after World War II.

"The generation that came of age in the '50s was responsible for the '60s, all of it,'' Hamm says. "The generation that came of age in the '60s was responsible for the '70s.''

But it is a world where the fascination with youth culture is just beginning to bubble up. After lunch, filming starts on a scene in which Draper hands a meeting over to 20-something Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) to introduce a youth-oriented campaign for Martinson's Coffee.

It includes a Latin-flavored song that plays repeatedly during different takes. Morse, who has doffed Cooper's goatee and suit in favor of a T-shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers, nods and keeps time.

Near the end of one take, Kartheiser starts dancing, followed by Moss, followed by Hamm wiggling his butt across the frame. The crew also bops along.

When Peggy says of the song, "It stays with you,'' she's not kidding.

"How about that, huh?'' Weiner says. "I saw the dailies. Last year we didn't have a gag reel. I'm going to do that this year. Jon Hamm and John Slattery cannot go through a rehearsal without making fart noises. I want that on film. It's so elegant.''

In a way, this odd little dance routine is a very "Mad Men'' moment, though happier than most.

"I'm always looking to do something new,'' Weiner says, "looking at a part of humanity that doesn't get dramatized much, and I'm not just talking about on TV.

"I love the private moments. I love seeing the small embarrassments. I love seeing how a tiny thing can ruin your day, just doing a show about having a bad day, even.''