When the TV show Mad Men first debuted, it wasn’t expected to do very well. It featured a cast of actors who were mostly unknown, it was AMC’s first attempt at an original series, and it was different from anything on television at the time. But the smart, intense drama soon caught the attention of critics and viewers, and it became a huge hit.
Mad Men exuded the cool, suave ambition of a New York advertising agency. But it turns out that aside from a single episode, none of it was filmed in New York.
The world of ‘Mad Men’
According to Mental Floss, Matthew Weiner wrote the pilot for Mad Men in 1999. It would take another eight years for the show to make it to the small screen, but it opened doors for Weiner along the way. In 2002, he sent the script as a writing sample in a bid to join the writing team for The Sopranos. They were impressed enough to give him the job.
They weren’t the only ones impressed by his work, and in 2007, Mad Men premiered on AMC. It was set in a New York advertising agency in the 1960s. The main character was Don Draper, a talented, charismatic, and deeply flawed man. The show lasted for seven seasons.
The setting for the series was New York, and the city was almost as much a character as the people in the story. In fact, “Mad” in the title refers to Madison Avenue, the site of many ad agencies. But despite the slick New York feel to the series, very little of it was filmed there.
Making California seem like New York
According to Conde Nast Traveler, only the pilot episode of Mad Men was filmed on location in New York City. After that, production moved to Los Angeles. Even scenes that were supposed to show famous New York locations were instead set in local look-alike settings.
For instance, in one episode Don took his wife Betty out to dinner at Toots Shor’s Restaurant, a well-known spot for celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank Sinatra to frequent. But not only was Toots Shor’s on the other side of the country, but it was also shut down in 1971 because of an outstanding tax bill.
To recreate the atmosphere of the famous restaurant, the scene was shot in a Koreatown venue called The Prince. The establishment was opened in the 1920s, and it was famous for its fried chicken. It seemed to provide the ambiance needed to make viewers feel like they were watching a scene in the famous New York spot.
The location didn’t impair the show’s success
Despite the alternate settings, the creators of Mad Men managed to pull off the illusion that the action was taking place in New York City. And that’s not all they achieved. As Insider explains, the show was a huge success.
Mad Men was the first time AMC executives tried their hand at making an original series, and at first, it didn’t draw very much attention. But soon critics were raving about the smart writing and talented acting.
The first season made a splash during the awards season, drawing nominations from the Writers Guild of America, the Golden Globes, the Primetime Emmy Awards, and more. Before long, the show had a large and loyal following.
The success of Mad Men opened the door for AMC to create more original programming, leading to widely acclaimed series such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. No matter where it was filmed, it changed the direction of television.