HBO News Blog

Why Mad Men Would Be a Better Show on HBO

By Jacob Klein on Mar 22, 2012 to HBO News

You’ve probably already heard the harrowing tale of how HBO passed on producing Mad Men in 2001.  Though HBO obviously doesn’t comment on these early dealings of their potential programs, several other sources have confirmed that HBO (and other networks, mind you) declined to pick up the show for various reasons.  They’re all kicking themselves these days as Mad Men is moving into their fifth season with their previous three seasons pulling in more awards than some entire television networks manage to produce in a single year.  But is AMC really the proper home for a series like Mad Men?  The series is undeniably great now but could it have been even greater on a premium network such as HBO?  We think so and here are the reasons.

More, Better Sex – A huge part of the allure of Mad Men is the sexual tension (and ultimate release) that courses through almost every moment of the show.  Affairs, passionate flings, sexual exploration and liberation are all central to Mad Men’s appeal.  Now we’re not necessarily suggesting sex scenes on the same scale as Game of Thrones’ (are we?) but a bit of skin now and then certainly wouldn’t hurt the show and would ultimately add to the realism of the program.   What is a sexual revolution without sex?  We’re positive that an HBO version of Mad Men would include the occasional sex scene giving those pivotal sexually charged moments even more weight.  Besides, you’re just lying to yourself if you say you don’t want to see Don Draper with his pants off (or January Jones for that matter).

More Realistic Language – I’d be willing to bet that a high-power advertising agency filled with men who smoke, drink and have sex in their offices tend to curse with greater furor than the word “damnit”.  On HBO, you’re free from the filters of cable television and can say whatever is most realistic to the place and time.  I can’t say I’ve watched Mad Men and thought to myself “Gosh I wish they’d curse more!” but the addition of a few choice words here and there would certainly add a bit of flair and realism to the high-paced world of advertising in the 60’s.  Particularly when a power-couple such as Don and Bets get into it– I expect a few F-bombs to be dropped in that sort confrontation.  Lost a $15 million client?  “DARN!”

No Commercials – Don Draper has just given a speech about marketing to women and respecting all good ideas in the workplace regardless of where they come from.  Peggy is almost in tears with admiration and joy.  The camera pans over the prospective clients faces as they ponder what Draper has just said–fade to commercial for a 2012 Land Rover.   Every drama on non-premium cable has had to contend with this problem.  When is okay to cut from a powerful scene that may be melting your audience into a lifetime of fandom– to an advertisement for Chicken Nuggets?  With HBO, this problem is alleviated with the complete absence of commercials.  AMC has opted to broadcast Mad Men with fewer commercials (sponsored by someone of course) but those jolts are still fairly jarring and tend to ‘break the spell’ for many viewers.  I don’t know about you but I prefer to watch Don Draper pitch a sale rather than a television network pitch me garbage.  This is particularly true when attempting to get into serious drama.

A Larger, More Robust Acting Pool – I must admit– most of the acting choices on Mad Men have been wonderful and part of what makes the show great is the ‘deep bench’ of talent the show commands.  But could some of the lesser characters have been a bit more talented if the show had access to the acting HBO stables? It’s tough to say for sure but I suspect HBO’s A-list of amazing talent could certainly bring more to the table then say, AMC’s.  No  one does a cameo better than HBO and with the access the premium network has, we might have seen a few more great appearances by our favorite actors in 60’s garb.

A Safer Home – Mad Men season five almost didn’t happen because of one, surmountable problem– money.  Well, that and a few creative differences between AMC and the lead writer about the need for advertisements (money).  When HBO takes on a drama series they give the creators, the magic workers, the people who enhance our lives through their art and understanding of the human condition– HBO gives these people the time, leeway and funding they need to realize their vision.  When George R.R Martin and show-producers of Game of Thrones said they needed $5 million an episode to make it work they said– as you wish.  And now one of the most hyped shows of all time is about to break all kinds of HBO ratings records this spring.   Could you ever imagine HBO arguing with the creators of one of their series, let alone the top show on television (Mad Men) over a few million dollars?  AMC’s entire business plan revolves around Mad Men and that’s a dangerous place for the broadcasting rights to your favorite show to be.  HBO would provide a safe place for the writers, directors and actors to practice their craft without fear of cancellation or being denied the money needed to get the job done.

As the name of this news-blog reveals, we’re a little bit biased on this issue. We’re not so biased as to deny a wonderful show when we see it.  Man Men is one of the premier television programs of the new millennium and I’m sure it would have been an honor for HBO to broadcast the show.  What we find unacceptable is the fact that this amazing series that has captured the hearts and minds of so many was almost cancelled due to a stubborn executive at a television station of little renown or import.  Waiting 18 months for a new season of Mad Men was unbearable enough but to think that it almost didn’t happen at all is simply insanity.  Unfortunately, it’s too late now and I’m sure if HBO had a time machine that moment where they rejected the Mad Men pilot would be a strong candidate for their first trip back in time.  But alas, we’ll all just have to tune into AMC this March 25th and some of us will wonder– what if Mad Men were on HBO?


    The 60’s Television was already so white-washed and insulated, that a show that gives us the “real picture” with a bit more uncomfortable-even, edge, would actually help. As it is, the tease-approach AMC employs has certainly worked fine.

  • Claymore

    I’m just glad you didn’t suggest that there be more violence/gore. I’d much rather see naked people (no matter how unconventionally attractive) than people getting chopped/sliced up. In fact, my real issue with Game of Thrones is how many rape/molestation bits there are in the books, cause that’s violence, not sex. I’m completely anti-censorship, but I roll my eyes at people who think brutal violence is more desirable than porn (not that I’m ignoring the exploitation in the porn industry, but when the people in it are enthusiastically consenting it’s good). And I’m really enjoying Carnivale BTW, bummed that that got cancelled. Can’t wait to watch Deadwood from beginning to end, both seem like my kind of show. There’s so much HBO stuff that I want to get round to watching.

  • Yuyi

    More sex, more nudity, more f-bomb… has this article been written by a 13 years-old?

    Mad Men is still the best show on tv. It’s telling us that you don’t need to throw boobs to the masses to make a appealing story. That you can be thrilling and stay classy. S*ck it up, whoever wrote that. I absolutely love HBO shows like GoT, but i don’t think the constant (and almost always female) nudity is necessary. It doesn’t bring anything the story needs. So, HBO, make your shows better before criticizing the other networks.

  • i am delighted with your impressive words. please keep posting these awesome articles.

  • not Bridget

    HBO is “more secure”? Tell that to the fans of Deadwood & Carnivale…

    I don’t mind the sexual restraint in Mad Men–the media of that day weren’t showing Money Shots. As much as I like Game of Thrones, we’ve had a few extra sexy/nudie bits thrown in. Were they really necessary? (If we’re going to get more naked ladies, why not more naked men?)

    HBO should be proud to continue doing its own shows well. (Has the exec who rejected Mad Men been thoroughly chastised?) I’m looking forward to your project with BBC: Parade’s End. I love the books–which are quite lacking in sex scenes. That doesn’t mean it might not be truly excellent–with a script by Tom Stoppard!

    • Jo

      I agree with Bridget, Mad Man do not need sex scene to be good, I love Game of Thrones but some scenes were very exaggerated, not that I’m puritan, but when something is played very often I just kept rolling my eyes. is good to have a show that does not think need sex scene every chapter to be bold. I agree also was to have more naked people, why not show more men as well (with the same quality of course)

    • jacob

      Mad Men wouldn’t be at all better on HBO. Especially these days, where HBO seems to just randomly throw in a bunch of unnecessary sex scenes and penis shots. Whereas, shows on AMC are more character and story driven, without the need to appeal to a bunch of horny people.

      As much as I do enjoy shows on HBO, they seem to go overboard with the sex and nudity and doesn’t help at all with the story. So, just because HBO shows nudity and unlimited cussing doesn’t mean a show would be better than it is.

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