Lots of people watch Mad Men, but lots and lots more don't.
Mad MenAirtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery
Okay, so you watch Mad Men. I watch Mad Men. Everyone (cool) I know watches Mad Men. People are posting about it on your Facebook page or planning themed parties that you maybe think are lame (or maybe you're really excited about). You can’t open a magazine or walk past a Banana Republic without being bombarded by Mad Men-chic. The incredibly attractive cast has and will continue to promote the show in all the usual venues (Jay, Dave, SNL), while magazines like this one will devote a lot of attention to it.
Despite all this, it's estimated that three million people from the Mad Men-watching demographic have never seen an episode of Mad Men. The highest rated episode was the fourth season premiere, which had just under three million viewers, and for the first three seasons it averaged fewer than two million viewers per episode.
Last season, as a point of comparison, the average viewership of NCIS was over 20-million people. While I realize that the average NCIS viewer skews older than the average viewer of AMC’s shows, I can’t quite figure out why. Shouldn’t older viewers love Mad Men, too?
Perhaps older viewers (who lived through that era) don’t really want to go back, or aren’t really buying the version of the '60s that creator Matt Weiner is selling. Perhaps older viewers don’t need or want to spend five seasons learning that Don Draper is a complicated dude. Perhaps they want to watch Mark Harmon or Tom Selleck be stoic… or whatever happens on those CBS shows. Or perhaps cable itself is the problem.
This is clearly not the answer, though, as a quick look at the cable ratings shows that (other than Jersey Shore) most of the highest rated cablers are on networks I have never heard of and feature pawn shop negotiations or swamp people. So maybe older viewers don’t watch AMC? Maybe, though doesn’t AMC stand for, like, “Antique Movie Channel”? (It should.)
Furthermore, The Walking Dead provides evidence that a range of age groups will watch AMC, as the series’ second season never dipped below six million viewers (averaging closer to eight), with almost all viewers in the coveted 18-49 demographic. Of course, there's no guarantee that these viewers appreciate the deliberate pacing or the interesting tweaks from comic to television series… I mean, I attribute the viewership of The Walking Dead primarily to the routine zombie-slaying action… wait, I get it, now…
The real question, perhaps: Why Aren’t Dumb People Watching Mad Men? Perhaps the show (like me) tends toward elitism. We can look at Jon Hamm’s recent quote (or anything ever spoken by Weiner) as evidence of this: “Whether it’s Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian or whoever, stupidity is certainly celebrated. Being a fucking idiot is a valuable commodity in this culture because you’re rewarded significantly.” Is this the real reason that more people are not tuning in to Mad Men?
Perhaps. Ultimately, I don’t have the answer to this question, nor apparently does the creative team at Mad Men. At least the series airs on AMC where, as their slogan says, “Story Matters Here.” Fortunately, ratings don’t, at least not enough to disrupt their signature series, Mad Men and the equally ratings-challenged Breaking Bad, which will likely be discussed together as this generation’s Sopranos/Wire.
Ironically, AMC’s highest rated show (The Walking Dead, by a mile) has suffered budgetary and creative constraints as a result of the network’s commitment to Mad Men. At least we can feel fairly certain that no zombies will run amok in the offices of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce.