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Recreating the ’60s: Mad Men and Its Pale Imitators

Try as they may, no show has been able to capture the look, attitudes, and mores of the 1960s quite like Mad Men.

by
Chris Queen

Bio

November 1, 2011 - 2:00 pm
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One of the most talked about television programs of the last few years has been Mad Men. It has long been a critical darling, and has won 14 Emmy awards in four seasons — including four consecutive wins for Outstanding Drama Series — and has been nominated for 54 more.

Set in the advertising world of the 1960s, the series follows the lives of creative director Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his colleagues at the fictional agency Sterling Cooper, later Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It also delves into the personal lives of its characters, including Draper’s rocky marriage.

Mad Men has been praised for its rich writing and vibrant acting, but what makes it such a remarkable program is the way it depicts the early ’60s in vivid detail. Everything on Mad Men creates a sense of immersion into New York in that era.

With the success of Mad Men as a buzzworthy series and a snapshot of times long gone, it made sense that sooner or later it would spawn imitators. And lo and behold, this year we saw the debuts of ABC’s Pan Am and NBC’s The Playboy Club.

Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss

Pan Am and The Playboy Club arrived on the scene with plenty of fanfare and high expectations. Both series were heavily touted, and the comparisons to Mad Men were inevitable. Yet now, a few weeks into the fall TV season, The Playboy Club has been cancelled, and Pan Am is on the verge of being grounded.

Is there a reason why Pan Am is floundering and The Playboy Club is already dead, while Mad Men resonates with viewers so much that it continues to pick up new fans even during its off-season? It boils down to the fact that Pan Am and The Playboy Club view their ’60s settings through a modern prism, while for Mad Men the ’60s are essentially the setting for a character and plot-driven show that remains true to the era.

Next: Why Pan Am is struggling to take flight…

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