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NATPE 2012: Matt Weiner Waxes on Capturing Real Life, What Ifs and Why HBO Passed on 'Mad Men' Way Back When

Complete Coverage: NATPE 2012

Matt Weiner, creator-exec producer of AMC's Mad Men and 2012 NATPE Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award honoree, thinks HBO passed "hundreds of times" on his Mad Men pitch because he was simply unproven at the time.

"They were not interested in it because they had an agenda about more proven people, so they had no interest in me," Weiner told B&C contributing editor Paige Albiniak during a Q&A at NATPE in Miami Wednesday morning, pointing out that David Chase had a 30-year career under his belt before creating Sopranos and Six Feet Under's Alan Ball had just won an Oscar for American Beauty. "Everyone who was there who passed on the show has been fired -- but I didn't wish that on them.  ‘Whatever happens' is always better. I believe that. Look at where I am."

Weiner says he treasures the "underdog" and "peculiar" feel the show has been able to capture under the auspices of network AMC and the show's studio, Lionsgate. He's committed to basing the show on real life, real people doing things real people would do and sees Mad Men as something of a catharsis. "It's something biological, to provide the working out of the story -- tragic and otherwise -- and to let people feel those feelings in a distant way," Weiner says. "There are couples I've heard of who insist on watching the show together and couples who insist on not watching together. They (the characters) are based on real people, they do things real people do."

And for that matter, reality in some respects hasn't changed since the 1960s, the period depicted in Mad Man, Weiner says. In particular, he doesn't think the world has evolved much for women in the workplace. The rich, multi-dimensional characters of working women Joan and Peggy are "a counter to the butt pinching and bra snapping" for which "the male characters are frequently punished" but Weiner says that is to suggest "it's not a fair universe."

He recalls being asked by a reporter, "Aren't you glad it's changed?", implying conditions for women in the workplace have improved since the days Mad Men depicts. "I said, ‘You're a female reporter, shouldn't I ask you," he said. "I don't think anything's changed, I think it's (harassment and discrimination) just legislated against. Which is good. But I think a lot of it's gone underground and it's just biological."