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I sometimes weep at series finales and — writing this shortly before the final episode of Mad Men airs on AMC — I’m almost certain to so again tonight. Regardless of the final scene and music, I’ll likely tear up when it’s time to ritually delete the program from the Series Manager list on our DVR, in which Mad Men has held the #1 priority position since its 2007 debuted (the #1 slot tells the DVR “if you must record only one program, let it be this one.”)
It surprised me when I suddenly began bawling on March 1, 2005 after the final episode of NYPD Blue aired, and I deleted it from the auto-record menu of the DVR. It wasn’t just that brilliant final crane shot which completed the transformation of Andy Sipowicz. It was all the memories of that classic program flooding back, and knowing there would never be another scene, another frame of the show.
Nostalgia for Mad Men is a special punch to the gut because of The Wheel, the Emmy-winning episodic masterpiece from season one wherein Don Draper references the emotion to pitch the Carousel campaign to Kodak. I could list for you dozens of moments and episodes from the show which moved us, or made us laugh, or made me recall the 1960′s or the human condition, or perfectly typified the essence of a character. (Maybe you have some to share?)
Great moments from great shows stay with our family (I’ve watched it all sitting next to my wife) in a way that others are moved by the Bible, or Shakespeare. We reference Seinfeld every day around here.
Some TV shows limp to the finish line — the final two years of Seinfeld weren’t as great as the rest — but others are walk-off winners. The finale of The Fugitive on August 29, 1967 was a thriller ending with the final exoneration of Dr. Richard Kimble, falsely convicted of killing his wife. Everything in the series built up to that moment. Although summer was dead time in TV ratings in the 1960s, it reigned for years as the most watched American series episode of all time.
The Fugitive was the first purely adult series I ever got hooked on. Kimble took on all kinds of jobs, usually working-class gigs in the heartland, laying low while keeping an eye out for the murderous one-armed drifter. He worked for a sail-maker, or as a ranch hand, and often had to risk his own anonymity to right some wrong. It opened my eyes to worlds outside my experience as an urban teenager.
For me, Mad Men has been a more personal sojourn. I grew up in Manhattan during the 1960s, my dad’s name was Don, and he worked in advertising in the Time-Life building. I can vouch — as many have — for Mad Men‘s authenticity. It got the details right, including the details of character. Many of the men had fought wars, and were living it up in an economic boom of their own making. The women in advertising were ahead of their time. To paraphrase what Marshall McLuhan said at the time about media, they shaped the 1960s, and the 1960s shaped them.
Still, for all Mad Men built around the truth of that time, our real “Mad Men Era” has been those Sunday nights since 2007 when its stories unfolded in our living room, and fed our conversations about it in my classes and in restaurants. Well, we’ll always have reruns, and Blu-rays with commentary tracks.
I’m curious which television programs have affected you the most, and which series endings you remember.Published in