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.