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Why Did the ‘Mad Men’ Season 7 Premiere Tank with Audiences?

Why Did the 'Mad Men' Season 7 Premiere Tank with Audiences?

The days of “Mad Men” are numbered, and in more ways than one. Last night’s seventh and final season premiere on AMC drew only 2.3 million viewers, the series’ lowest ratings since the Season Two debut in 2008. That’s even lower than the 2.7 million who tuned in for the sixth season premiere, and the average 3.37 million viewers who watched last year’s finale. So what went wrong?

Well, AMC did do a few things right. The network positioned the premiere close to the Emmy nominations, which will be announced on July 10, so that by the time the first half of the seventh season wraps, “Mad Men” will be fresh in voters’ minds. Secondly, AMC and Netflix made Season Six available to stream two weeks ahead of the premiere, encouraging a binge-viewing experience that would hopefully put the series back on the cultural map. 

These strategies were in hopes of maintaining buzz. At the end of last season, we saw the show essentially come unmoored from its bearings, as ad man Don Draper got the boot at Sterling Cooper & Partners for bad behavior, leaving copy chief Peggy Olson in the hot-seat. It was an exciting moment in television, and one that had us hotly anticipating what would come next.

Could it be that low Nielsen ratings for “Time Zones,” the Season Seven premiere, reflect a general fatigue audiences are feeling toward the show? Seven seasons is long for a sophisticated adult drama. HBO’s “The Sopranos,” for which “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner also wrote, smartly cut the cord at six seasons before it could start losing steam.

Throughout a sixth season filled with boozing and infidelity, “Mad Men” blatantly mirrored that trashy soap opera starring Megan Draper, “To Have and To Hold.” And like all soaps, the series was recycling its old tropes: Don was cheating again (again), Peggy was obsessing over a guy, and the writers started using drug-induced hallucinations as a crutch. In the case of Season Six, that happened in two episodes that weren’t very far apart, from the amphetamine-addled “The Crash” (episode 8) to the hash-inspired death dreams of “A Tale of Two Cities” (episode 10).

“Time Zones,” however, was a brilliant episode, filled with the subtle undercurrents of humor and sadness and poetry that we’re used to seeing in “Mad Men.” And now, the series, like Don who divides his time between NY and California, is bicoastal, and relocating a few of our favorite characters to Los Angeles (a swarthy Pete Campbell among them) is just what the series needed in order to reboot. 

Here’s hoping more viewers will tune in to the conclusion of one of TV’s great achievements.

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Comments

guy

I think season 6, although as well acted as ever and it was bold showing the deterioration of Don Draper, lost a lot of viewers. It was too depressing. No one wants to see a pathetic alcoholic shagging a mousy housewife. The great thing about the first 4 seasons is we saw the bad, but also the good..the brilliant ad pitches, how smart Don was and how he could get woman to fall over over him. It might be artsy to go full dark, but its not entertaining. Maybe a couple of episodes would have been okay, but a whole season of Don being pathetic without some alpha guy moments the fans loved in previous seasons was too much.

Intheknow

I used to watch MM when it first aired and the first two seasons were really good. Then it began to become predictable to some extent and a bit boring. Instead of finding myself looking at the clock and wondering how an hour went by so fast, I started looking at the clock and thinking how it seemed like a couple hours had passed when only 15 minutes of the show had gone by. Too much Don Draper permeated seasons 3 and 4 and I know everyone just thinks Jon Hamm is wonderful, to me, he's totally wooden. Other characters were far more interesting, at least at the outset. Hamm just leaves me cold. And now, so does MM.

m

Mad Men has never had a HUGE audience. It's a show created by adults for adults. It's not "game of thrones" or whatever the hell that HBO show is called. The premiere did not "tank" just because you guys say so.

C'mon Man

Because everyone time-shifted or watched it online. Mad Men fans aren't hayseeds and know how to work simple technology. It's not that hard to understand.

Tony l

On Sunday night I also watched
Game of thrones (promise of major villains death per books)
good Wife (majorly reenergized in S5)
PBS's Midwife
Nurse Jackie
VEEP

I did not watch Turn yet, which I fear is falling into the trap of being neither quite good enough and too dense (you can be one or the other, but too much of both and you enter Low Winter Sun mishmash. Rubicon was dense but I loved it. LWS-ugh.).

So I think MM is partially a victim of the night, along with this divided season of only 7 epi each (though I don't see how AMC could have made any other choice,business wise.)

Paul

I would have watched the season premiere but didn't only because I dropped my cable subscription (I'm strictly Netflix/Amazon Prime now). I'm wondering if the decrease in the numbers could at least partly be blamed on lots of other people doing the same.

RJ

I think a relative lack of buzz is also probably connected to Matthew Weiner's highly publicized and extremely intense fear of spoilers leaking. He put so many restrictions on what writers/reviewers could say about the premiere episode (in addition to limiting many online screeners to just 2 views, which I admit is totally his prerogative so more power to him), that much of the writing in advance of the show was prevented from being truly substantial. Too many puzzled writers wrote instead about their dumbfoundedness at having to compose a review without mentioning anything that happens in the episode, and I think a fair amount just opted out completely of trying to cover the episode before it aired. For a show this deep into its run that is a fairly intimidating sit (which definitely rewards the viewers who do make it through), it really needed excited reviewers and raves to permeate the media/internet in order to convince people to jump on board the drawn out 2-year slog to the end. Weiner more or less single handedly prevented that from happening.

Gordon S. Miller

Seems odd to question the ratings and not reference all the other shows on Sunday, as if Mad Men exists in a vacuum.

Ken

I read the phrase "sophisticated adult drama" and thought, okay, there's the veiled reference to the fact that the show is fairly boring. And then you talked about The Sopranos. As though it were also a "sophisticated adult drama". So now I'm confused, because, by most accounts, The Sopranos was not fairly boring.

As for why nobody is really picking up on Mad Men's latest season, geez, I just can't guess why that could possibly be.

ALP

You are perhaps overlooking an important point: NO one is into that "final split-season" bull***t. It's just a cheap shot at marketing two seasons at seven episodes each. NO one feels an urgency to watch the a "final" season, when the ACTUAL final season is NEXT season in 2015.

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