Programming alert: Something you may not have dared to dream about for a long, long time is happening in a few weeks: The first half of the seventh—and final—season of Mad Men will premiere on Sunday, April 13, at 9 p.m on AMC.
According to AMC, the last season of the award-winning ’60s-era advertising drama will be split into two halves—in a manner similar to the network’s acclaimed series Breaking Bad, which ended its successful run with a record high 10.3 million viewers in September 2013. Each half of the seventh season of Mad Men will consist of seven episodes (the second half is slated to begin in spring of 2015).
The popularity and buzz surrounding Mad Men may have been eclipsed more recently by edgier progeny such as Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and other beloved basic cable series—or even new entries from Netflix including Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. But Mad Men is still considered hugely influential, not only for how it raised the bar for television excellence, but for renewing interest in ’60s fashion, style and culture, and sparking the national conversation about gender and race bias.
And one more thing: Mad Men was an early offender in a still-growing list of shows that push the limits of the dreaded “Extended Hiatus.”
Network TV series used to run like clockwork from approximately September to May, with short rerun seasons over the holidays and summer. The Cosby Show ran for eight seasons on NBC (1984-1992)—starting in September and ending in May. NBC drama ER (1994-2009) ran for 15 seasons—each season spanning September to May.
But the eagerly anticipated advent of the fall TV season started to become diluted as September premieres began to roll out in a more staggered fashion, with certain favorites even languishing until October.
One of the highest-profile cases of this trend was ABC’s Lost, which premiered in September of 2004. Boasting both critical acclaim and high ratings, Lost was the recipient of hundreds of award nominations throughout its run and consistently ranked by critics as one of the top ten series of all time. The highly anticipated second season of Lost came in September 2005 as expected, but the third season made us wait until October 2006, and subjected viewers to an unprecedented three-month mid-season hiatus from November 2006 to February 2007. To add insult to injury, Lost made us wait from May 2007 until January 2008 between its third and fourth seasons.
Of course, fans of premium channel series such as HBO’s The Sopranos weren’t daunted by months of anticipation; after waiting from May 2001 until September 2002 for the third season of the groundbreaking drama—and even longer for subsequent seasons—the breaks on network TV seemed brief in comparison. Cable TV got on board with the trend, and viewers of Mad Men were forced to endure a break from October 2010 to March 2012 to see the popular show’s fifth season.
At first, there was outrage when this practice of sustained breaks started, but now, it’s a sanity-preservation tactic to simply put the shows out of mind, and be pleasantly surprised (if not blindsided) when they return. For example, keep your eyes open for another series premiere coming up soon: HBO’s award-winning, outrageously profane Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The mad-cap political comedy follows a predictable schedule, at least; the series premiered on April 22, 2012, with an eight-episode season, and followed up with a second season of ten episodes debuting on April 14, 2013. The ten-episode third season of Veep is slated to premiere in a couple of weeks on April 6.
So consider yourself warned about the premiere of Mad Men, because you may need these next few weeks to remind yourself where the story left off those many months ago. When we last saw Don Draper, he was being told by his colleagues at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce that he should take a nice, long break…and in this case, the viewers were forced to follow suit.
Does the building anticipation make the show more desirable? Or are we as consumers just getting used to waiting? I prefer to think that it’s a combination of both sentiments, mixed in with a healthy dose of realism: quite simply, excellent storytelling combined with visual artistry and exceptional craftsmanship require more time to produce. Now that we’ve had a taste of the extraordinary quality that television shows can provide, we will settle for nothing less…and good things come to those who wait.