Pour yourself an Old Fashioned: Don Draper is back. AMC is set to announce this morning that Mad Men will return for its sixth season on Sunday, April 7 at 9/8c with a two-hour season premiere. The show will then move to its regular time, 10/9c, the following week.
Creator Matthew Weiner confirms to TV Guide Magazine that the show (last seen in 1967) will make another jump in time, putting Mad Men straight in the middle of the tumultuous late 1960s. The time jump "at this point has been such a great story engine for the show," he says. "I love writing that first episode as if the audience knows everything that has happened, and watching them piece it in their head. It's an elliptical experience."
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Weiner also reiterates the promise that the show's entire cast—except Jared Harris, whose character (Lane Pryce) committed suicide last season—will be back. That includes Elisabeth Moss, who some suspected might exit the show now that Peggy has left Sterling Cooper, and January Jones, whose role as Don's ex-wife Betty was limited last season.
"I can tell you their names are in the credits," Weiner says. "And none of the cast has been let go." Weiner is mum on details, but shares that while the show's stories continue to focus on its characters' internal struggles, a parallel can be drawn between much of next season and the current mood of the nation.
"I think the social environment and the general sense of anxiety and decay" of that period mirrors how people feel right now, Weiner says. "I think it's about, whether we realize it or not, we have lost something recently, and it feels very different. There's a bit of a self-esteem problem for the country, and it's turned people inwards."
Season five of Mad Men left things on an ambiguous note between Don (Jon Hamm) and his young wife Megan (Jessica Paré). Sitting alone at a bar, Don is approached by a beautiful woman, and we're left to imagine what he does next. AMC has confirmed that portions of the season 6 premiere (written by Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher) were shot in Hawaii with Hamm and Pare, so perhaps their relationship is rekindled on the beach.
Aloha, Mad Men! Don hits Hawaii — with Megan!
"As the season went on and Megan began to express her own desires and ambitions, it was a real blow to Don and didn't jibe with what his fantasy of this relationship was meant to be," Weiner says. "Maybe Megan wasn't exciting to him once she wasn't completely devoted to him anymore. But it ain't over. What was interesting to me was to see that journey of us taking his relationship seriously with her, and what the reaction was from the audience."
Weiner said he's proud of how Mad Men ended last year by "turning the emotional relationship between a husband and wife into a cliffhanger. That's the emotional scale that the show is operating on."
Weiner and his team are currently working on the eighth episode of season six, and at the same time he and the show's writers are breaking stories for the season finale. One of the major challenges this upcoming year was finding a way to depict the late 1960s without falling into the trap of how pop culture has reinterpreted that era. "I didn't know the show would go on this long," Weiner says. "And this part of the 60s I've always been fighting an image of the period that has been created by books and movies. It's the baby boomers' childhood. There is a propaganda that goes along with the whole era."
While it may be easy to pigeonhole the late 1960s as the time of protests, free love and hippies, the real timeframe is much more complicated, diverse and multi-generational. For example, even as artists like The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane revolutionized music, Weiner notes that Frank Sinatra continued to record No. 1 hits during that same era.
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"There's a version of that story out there, and some of it was even told at the time," he says. "So I'm always focused on what I can control, which is, what it's like to be Don's age and the story of the generations. Every character has a specific age on this show, and that's really useful to me... I don't want the show to be a history lesson. The job of the show is to show how these events affect our characters. Intellectually it's been very interesting to see how history really does interact with our daily life. What world evens pierce their way into our anxieties."
Weiner says he hasn't had a chance yet to watch Moss' upcoming Sundance Channel series Top of the Lake, which just screened to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. "I'm dying to see it," he says. "There's no way that she didn't kill it. She's such a great actress. It's nice to see people succeed in other forms and then come back here."
Weiner spent his time between seasons directing the feature You Are Here, starring Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler. The film, which he also wrote, is in post-production and about to be shopped to distributors. "I've been trying to make this movie for ten years, and when I saw that the stars were going to line up, I said, 'I'll sleep when I'm dead.'"
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Looking to catch up on Mad Men? AMC On Demand will start rolling out fifth season episodes on February 11. And the cable network continues to air repeats of Mad Men on Sunday mornings at 6 a.m. ET. Season five episodes will begin on March 3, leading up to the season six premiere.
Weiner has promised at least one more season of the show beyond this one, and says Mad Men's annual change-ups continue to invigorate him. "Because the end is coming and because of the success we've been afforded all this time, people came back to work, myself included, with an energy that has to do with really appreciating the unique experience that we're having," he says.
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