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‘Mad Men’ Creator Matt Weiner on TV’s Golden Age: ‘Sopranos’ Is the Cornerstone

NCTA 2014: AMC President and CEO Josh Sapan says DVR viewing helps viewers pay attention to complex drama

The new golden age of cable television can be attributed to a cost structure that allowed networks to take risks on content that’s simply “good,” according to “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner.

“It was an economic opportunity to brand your network, to make a splash, to attract advertisers… all in this sort of netherworld of basic cable,” Weiner said Thursday at the annual National Cable & Telecommunications Association Cable Show in Los Angeles.

Weiner said the model, a hybrid of the type of drama set up by HBO’s groundbreaking “Sopranos” adapted for commercial television, opened the floodgates for creative voices to pitch shows that didn’t necessarily have high concepts, or even likable characters.

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“HBO showed everyone that you could make billions off a seven rating,” Weiner said. “In terms of the prestige [of cable drama], it’s ‘The Sopranos.’ That’s the bottom of the entire thing.”

Weiner was a writer on “The Sopranos” when he penned the pilot for “Mad Men.” In bringing the critically acclaimed drama series to AMC, Weiner said he was willing to sacrifice fame and fortune to see his vision come to life.

“I will work for less, I will work harder if you let me – if you trust my creative vision on this,” Weiner said. “I and a lot of people like me were like, ‘This is what we always wanted.'”

Also read: ‘The Sopranos’ Full Seasons Available Via HBO On Demand

But the basic cable medium has its limits.

“I can’t draw people in with boobs,” Weiner said “I know the value of titillation and violence and things like that, and I couldn’t do it.”

Instead, Weiner said, he focused on character development and good old-fashioned storytelling.

AMC President and CEO Josh Sapan said that wouldn’t have been possible without the advent of technology that actually helped fans pay attention to highly nuanced dramas like “Mad Men” and one of AMC’s other hits, “Breaking Bad.”

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“Technology actually had something to do with the uplift,” Sapan said. “It’s a show you need to pay more attention to, so if you can’t actually watch it on a DVR or any form of on-demand… it may pass you by.”

“All these changes in technology, which are part of the cable business, actually facilitated people paying more attention and having a little bit more focus, the way they do in a darkened movie theater,” Sapan added.

“Mad Men” concludes its seven-season run in 2015.

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