I went to the TV academy earlier this week, where "Mad Men" was being feted. When you sit in a plush auditorium and watch a show creator and his actors try to encapsulate with words what the show means to them, you start to get a little misty-eyed. Or I do, anyway. Because on that stage is the Reason We Do It. That's the goal, gentle readers. Not the adulation or the physical idea of being on that stage, but the reason for the adulation, which is: Doing what you love, the way you want it done. Almost every answer was prefaced with, "As an actor," or "As a writer." I saw these people trying to define their feelings, but how can you really do that and not have it sound banal? "It's the greatest thing I've ever done" sounds trite. "I love coming to work everyday" does also. But it was obvious that these answers were heartfelt and emotional.
Matt Weiner doesn't appear to have been the guy who sold his soul and worked on shit shows before getting fed up and writing his passion project. He isn't the guy who's too good for TeeVee; in fact, he went on about how much he adored TeeVee, how obsessed he is with it, and how important it is in his life. Do you know how RARE that is? Too often, we think of TeeVee as the red-headed stepchild of features. You know... TeeVee is where you go to make money, and anywhere else is where you go to feed your soul. But here's Matt Weiner, the creator of one of the best shows to come around in a long damned time, gushing about television.
He's not a feature writer/novelist/playwright who's decided to elevate television so he can do it without vomiting. He's a TeeVee guy, and "Mad Men" is his love letter.
I fuckin' love it.
If you really love the craft of television and the power it can have and you haven't seen "Mad Men," shame on you. Do yourself a bloody favor; it's not just good for you. It's GOOD. And we can all learn from it. In fact, I'm intimidated by it. I'm not good enough for that show, but I'd like to be at some point. That means practice, and practice means using inspiration and not getting your soul crushed by the process.
What's hard about that is, it's SO obvious what's wrong with TeeVee and how to fix it that you can get impatient and frustrated on a daily basis. I go back and forth about how to handle this crap. If you're Matt Weiner, you work on your passion project, it gets made, it's perfect, and you're fucking happy forever. But is there a way to do that kind of work within the system? Sure, you can create a hit, a "Grey's Anatomy" or a "Desperate Housewives." But something that really stands apart? One of the "Mad Men" actors, John Slattery, compared working on AMC to working in independent film. That's a good way to look at it, and I pray it becomes the paradigm. You want to go to The Show, you pitch to the networks but you understand what you're getting yourself into. But if your ideas are smaller, quirkier, (ahem) period, you go to the boutique cable networks.
I absolutely love that idea.
I will say that amongst the dreck permeating the networks, there are moments of sheer, beautiful joy. I mentioned "Sarah Connor Chronicles" last time and for those not watching, at least watch this scene, from the season (and hopefully not series) finale. I'd love to make a DVD of brilliant shit like this. Scenes scored with music would feature prominently. What I love about the sequence is how it's choreographed. I had a thunderous nostalgic moment while watching it. It reminded me of a time back when music was used correctly, and to great effect. You used music to underscore a scene, to give it impact. Back in the day, you could use old Patti Smith songs, or even "Downtown," fer Chrissakes.
What's happened since is, music supervisors have gone fucking insane. They don't care about the choreography of a scene or a sequence. All they care about is blaring the Flavor of the Week. It's just background music. It's a commodity, another thing to sell during the show. Then they advertise afterwards" If you liked the music in this Warner Bros-produced show, go to our website and buy Death Cab For Cutie.
It drives me fucking crazy.
So when I see something like the Sarah Connor scene, it makes me feel like all is not lost. You CAN still do interesting things on network TeeVee. But you have to work within the system at a certain level, and the mass audience isn't going to get what you're doing. And if the audience doesn't get what you're doing on a network show, that show ain't gonna be around very long. While networks crave the adulation of something like "Mad Men," they forget about the smaller audience. And you know they'd just cancel it. I've been on two shows nobody watched, but they should have. I know what I'm talking about, and I feel for the people who are passionately struggling against the network juggernaut.
Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who had a rough year with his teammates last year, had this to say:
"For me, the easiest part of baseball is playing . . . man, if I could only just play the game," Kemp said.
I feel the same way about TeeVee. Man, if only I could just WRITE and not deal with the bullshit. But Kemp's figured out that in order to play, he has to work within the system. Now it's up to him to be as brilliant as he can be, in spite of that.
I guess it's up to all of us, too.
np -- 78 Saab, "Lean On In"