Cinema and Media Studies Mad Men
Gary Edgerton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0338


Once or twice a decade, a new television program comes along to capture and express the zeitgeist. Mad Men (2007–2015) was that show in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Soon after premiering on the 19 July 2007 on AMC (formerly American Movie Classics from 1984 to 2003), Mad Men evolved from being that little program that nobody watched on an also-ran basic cable channel to the most celebrated scripted drama of its era. Mad Men set the creative standard for dramatic series over the span of its initial run. It was recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as the Best Television Drama of 2007, 2008, and 2009; the British Academy of Film and Television as Best International Show of 2009 and 2010; and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as the Outstanding Drama Series of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, being the first basic cable series ever to win this award. Overall, Mad Men won five Golden Globes, sixteen Emmys, and fifty other major awards, including honors from all of the major Hollywood guilds, as well as receiving a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. In retrospect, AMC executives adopted what they referred to as “the HBO formula” of developing their own edgy, sophisticated, passion project by a proven writer-producer, Matthew Weiner, who just happened to have a pedigree that included The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007). What resulted was the gradual emergence of Mad Men as AMC’s first original hit series, generating unprecedented word-of-mouth, and rebranding the channel as a hipper, more discriminating, alternative cable-and-satellite network. In turn, Mad Men broke the glass ceiling for basic cable in much the same way that The Sopranos had done for pay TV some eight-and-a-half years earlier. Mad Men also benefited greatly from the emergence of multiplatform reception. Even though Mad Men’s impact on AMC was immediate and transformative, the show was at first more a cultural phenomenon than a breakout hit. Nevertheless, its first-season audience average of 900,000 on AMC in 2007 eventually grew to 2.5 million by Season 6. Moreover, Mad Men’s total viewership relied heavily on syndication, DVDs, and streaming to digital devices, translating into an estimated 30 million unduplicated viewers per episode in North America alone. By the time of its finale on 17 May 2015, Mad Men was being syndicated in over fifty countries and was available 24/7 through online streaming globally.

Monographs and Anthologies

Scholarly books and essay collections began appearing with some regularity soon after the final telecast of the third season of Mad Men. The anthologies are usually organized through disciplinary lenses. For example, McNally, et al. 2019 and Stoddart 2011 demonstrate a healthy cross-section of scholars representing various fields in the arts and humanities; Goodlad, et al. 2013 features authors emphasizing critical theory; Carveth and South 2010 philosophy; Goren and Beail 2015 political science; and Edgerton 2011 television studies. The single and coauthored academic books similarly highlight specific critical orientations, such as Bronfen 2016 with psychoanalysis, Booker and Batchelor 2016 with a sociocultural approach, and Dunleavy 2018 mixing a critical-cultural with an institutional perspective.

  • Booker, M. Keith, and Bob Batchelor. Mad Men: A Cultural History. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

    This book is a cultural survey and assessment of Mad Men from four interdependent vantage points. Part 1 probes the strengths and shortcomings of its representation of the United States’ national identity. Part 2 investigates the program from the perspective of its many intertextual references in literature, music, and movies. Part 3 explores the sociohistorical uses of nostalgia. And Part 4 interrogates the depiction of the era’s feminine ideal and the corresponding construction of women’s roles in the narrative.

  • Bronfen, Elisabeth. Mad Men, Death and the American Dream. Zürich, Switzerland: Diaphanes, 2016.

    This incisive psychoanalytic analysis of the series examines the personal dramas of the characters against the backdrop of the seminal historical events depicted in the program from the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaigns to the 1969 Moon Landing. Despite Mad Men being a period piece set in the Sixties, the author argues that it is much more about contemporary US society and culture caught once again on the precipice of transformational change.

  • Carveth, Rod, and James B. South, eds. Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2010.

    A provocative and insightful entry into Blackwell’s “Philosophy and Pop Culture” series that appeared following the program’s third season. The contributors engage with classical philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as influential 20th-century thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Milton Friedman. Sections examine matters of knowledge and freedom; the search for meaning; advertising and ethical concerns; and social philosophy involving matters of gender, race, and power.

  • Dunleavy, Trisha. Complex Serial Drama and Multiplatform Television. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    Having coined the “complex serial” concept, the author greatly expands upon this notion by delineating how complex serial dramas have recently been remodeled and actualized as vehicles of heightened authorial expression, narrative sophistication, and individualized aesthetic style. Mad Men is one of the representative examples that she closely analyzes.

  • Edgerton, Gary R., ed. Mad Men: Dream Come True TV. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011.

    An anthology featuring top media and television studies scholars analyzing the series’ first three seasons. The collection is organized into five parts: Industry and Authorship; Visual and Aural Stylistics and Influences; Narrative Dynamics and Genealogy; Sexual Politics and Gender Roles; and Cultural Memory and the American Dream. The volume includes an in-depth interview with executive producer Scott Hornbacher, an episode guide, and a creative team and cast list.

  • Goodlad, Lauren M. E., Lilya Kaganovsky, and Robert A. Rushing, eds. Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, & the 1960s. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.

    This collection covers mostly the first four seasons of the series, and chapters are grouped into three broad interrelated sections devoted to the uses of period historicism in the program; the meanings behind various onscreen aesthetic and stylistic strategies; and the representation of race, class, and gender. An extended conversation with Phil Abraham, one of the key directors and cinematographers for both Mad Men and The Sopranos, completes the volume.

  • Goren, Lilly J., and Linda Beail, eds. Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

    This anthology focuses on Mad Men as a political text. The ten chapters are organized into four sections, in which Part 1 deals with power and politics in postwar America; Part 2 addresses business within the contexts of capitalism, nationalism, and patriotism; Part 3 examines gender and racial politics within the narrative; and Part 4 concludes with reflections on how the program’s historical representations reflect and comment on America’s current preoccupations and future aspirations.

  • McNally, Karen, Jane Marcellus, Teresa Forde, and Kirsty Fairclough, eds. The Legacy of Mad Men: Cultural History, Intermediality and American Television. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    This collection emerged from scholarship first presented at “Mad Men: The Conference” at Middle Tennessee State University in May 2016. It is divided into four major sections that examine the series’ current position and status within the evolving tradition of contemporary scripted drama; its representation of gender and race; its intermediality, especially in regards to film, music, language, and literature; and its historical, psychological, and sociopolitical legacy. This volume is the first anthology to examine Mad Men over the entirety of its seven seasons.

  • Stoddart, Scott F., ed. Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Television Series. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

    A discerning assessment of the series after its fourth season conducted by thirteen academics from American studies, art history, English, fashion, and film. The concise introduction and dozen chapters address literary and social contexts; politics, advertising, and the tenets of late capitalism; the representation of women at work and in the home; and the evocation of nostalgia in Mad Men and how its onscreen representations re-examine the memory of JFK, his presidency, and the myth of Camelot.

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