I am going to be devastated when Mad Men goes off the air this Sunday. I have watched every episode, some more than once. I have watched AMC’s inane videos on costuming the cast. I have binged on DVD extras. I’m not sure if I’ll be more sad to say goodbye to Don Draper or David Letterman. (There are some similarities between the two, actually.)
As Laura wrote recently, lots of ink has been spilled analyzing the story arcs and dissecting its characters, and I’ve read a lot of it. But my favorite article was less about the show and more about its creator. In a recent Fast Company article, Matthew Weiner describes some of the setbacks he had in getting the show going, from writing scripts on spec and not making a cent to researching the ‘60s in his spare time to shopping the pilot for seven years (!!!) to getting rejected by every major cable network except AMC.
“Everybody felt sorry for me,” he says about finally getting their green light. “I can’t even tell you the pity I got. It was as if I were taking my project and screening it in someone’s basement. No one even knew that channel.”
Of course we know the rest of the story, and between now and this time next week you won’t be able to go online without hearing about the season finale. The show has captured the imagination of millions of people, and it seems hard to believe there was ever a time when Matthew Weiner couldn’t even get a meeting.
But it’s important to believe it. It’s easy to look at people at the top of their game, like he is, who are experiencing what may be their biggest professional success, like he is, and compare your now to theirs. It’s easy to assume you’re never going to get there, and that this is where that other person started—that this is the first thing Weiner did, the first show he worked on, that this all just happened effortlessly for him.
The value of the article is the reminder that’s not true. “The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant,” he says. “I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt.” Or as Mason Cooley put it, regret for wasted time is just more wasted time. So enjoy the Mad Men finale this weekend, raise a (whisky-filled) glass to Weiner’s success—and then get back to work. Your moment may still be coming.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Adam Chamberlain