WASHINGTON — His name flashes by in the credits so fast you might miss it.
But actor Jon Hamm calls co-producer Joshua Weltman “the unsung hero” of AMC’s “Mad Men,” consulting with creator Matthew Weiner and his team of writers on the show’s advertising pitches.
“Matt Weiner … has insisted from Day One that Don (Draper) be good at his job, and he’s a stickler for detail,” Weltman tells WTOP. “In 25 years of advertising, I’ve only created four types of ads … What is it? Why do I need it now? What makes it different? And who else thinks it’s good?”
Weltman’s crowning achievement came during the Season One finale, “The Wheel,” as Draper pitches the Kodak carousel with poetic words that sum up the show’s own penchant for nostalgia. While Weiner wrote the beautiful speech, it was Weltman who came up with the idea during a routine research session, flipping through old copies of The New York Times in search of period products.
“Early on in the season, there’s a scene where Don is at one of his kid’s birthday parties and he had a Super 8 camera,” Weltman says. “When we were flipping through the paper and we saw that the Kodak slide projector came out, I thought of the idea that Don could use some slides of his own, of his family life, to develop a pitch for a slide projector, and I think that’s what sort of got the ball rolling.”
You don’t have to be an ad consultant on the show to connect with “Mad Men.”
Three of D.C.’s own “Mad Men and Women” are huge fans, all for different reasons.
“Advertising to me is the fascination,” says Chuck Husak, principal of August, Lang & Husak in Bethesda, Maryland. “These old brands I grew up with in the ’60s … Jantzen swimming suits and some of these old airlines that are now defunct … That to me is the juice of the show.”
So how realistic are the on-screen antics to the real-life advertising world?
“One take on it is that it’s about ruined marriages, careers, lungs and livers, and I think a lot of that still goes on,” says Cary Hatch, C.E.O. of MDB Communications, the largest woman-owned advertising agency in D.C. “My favorite moment was when Joan became a partner. … I do remember when I started in the industry, women still started as secretaries. … So I do think this is a reflection on that moment in time, and I hope people do take note of that. It made an entire difference to a generation to be able to start not just in a secretarial role, but in a role that you were trained to do.”
Hatch recounts a sexist moment from her early days in advertising.
“We went in to do a pitch to a pretty high-level client,” she says. “I’ll never forget, I heard one gentleman say to my boss … I could hear a male voice coming from the conference room and said, ‘When you come back, remember to bring Sweet Cheeks with you.'”
Women’s rights is just one instance of social change in “Mad Men.”
“This show is about one thing especially: it’s about change,” says Bob Witeck, C.E.O. and co-founder of Witeck Communications in D.C., which develops business strategies for LGBT clients. “There are so many mirrors on change in American society, looking at issues of race, women’s roles, family life.”
Such social changes made the 1960s the perfect time period for the show. But the decade was also perfect for other reasons, as material culture was at its zenith in post-war America.
“The economic thing that was going on at that time speaks for itself,” Husak says. “The ’60s was really a magical time. … By the time the ’70s came in, you’re seeing things like segmentation studies and focus groups and psychographics. I call it the Rise of the Grown-Ups. It took these big personalities out of the game. … I’m really glad the show is ending when it does.”
With just four episodes left, “Mad Men” is leaving on top, an approach Weltman stresses in his new book, “Seducing Strangers: The Little Black Book of Advertising Secrets.”
“Be willing to walk away a winner,” he says. “When you go into the meeting and get the answer that you came for, stop selling.”
And with that…
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