Upfront Notebook: AMC Presents Dinner with Don Draper and Friends

AMC scored big at Basketball City on South Street Thursday night with an upfront presentation that brought media buyers up close and personal to the stars of some of the most acclaimed shows on television.

After a cocktail hour, and admirably brief remarks from AMC president Charlie Collier, attendees were ushered into a large dining room filled with about 60 tables. At each, media buyers and other guests were joined by the casts and showrunners of AMC’s shows. As one upfront veteran observed, nothing sells a show like the talent.

The stars of Mad Men, about to start its final season, got the spotlight treatment, with John Slattery, January Jones, Jessica Pare, Harry Hamlin, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss and finally Jon Hamm, accepting applause.

Between courses, AMC showed clips from its Saturday night Western Hell on Wheels and the upcoming dramas Turn and Halt and Catch Fire on big screens surrounding the room. There were also live actors who jumped out of seats to perform slips and falls (actionable on the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul) and re-enacted a Revolutionary War battle—complete with fife and drum corps for Turn—a skirmish that some agency execs likened to upcoming price negotiations with the suddenly successful network.

Dinner ended with an invasion of Walking Dead zombies that pushed guests back into the cocktail area for desserts and pictures with the stars.

A year ago, AMC held its event at the Lexington Avenue Armory and set up areas where guests could feel like they were visiting Breaking Bad’s meth lab and the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Media buyers said this year’s event was better.

Lyle Schwartz, managing partner and director of research & marketplace analysis at GroupM, said the dinner provided a more relaxed opportunity to talk with the shows’ stars and that the combination of video and live experiences created a memorable presentation.

“Other companies will be hard pressed to beat this,” Schwartz said. "They’ve raised the bar.”