Mad Men is okay, we suppose, though sometimes it’s impossible not to think how much better it would be if Sterling Cooper employees were permitted to strip naked and drop F-bombs. Alas, the show airs on swear-free, nudity-forbidding basic-cable channel AMC because HBO famously turned it down some years back. HBO’s pass has never been fully explained, since the network has been (understandably, we guess!) reluctant to discuss its own hilarious stupidity. But in a pretty awesome Mad Men feature in the new Vanity Fair, Bruce Handy sheds some light. Turns out, HBO would’ve bought the show if only David Chase had agreed to executive-produce or direct a couple episodes.
Matthew Weiner’s script for the Mad Men pilot got him his job writing for Chase on The Sopranos, and Chase passed it on to HBO to consider. Writes Handy:
Weiner and Chase both told me that at one point HBO indicated it would make Mad Men on the condition that Chase be an executive producer, and Chase said he had further discussion with Weiner about directing the pilot, but despite being “very tempted” by directing, he said no to both propositions, wanting to move away from weekly television. Still, Chase championed the script, and Weiner said he never really got a straight explanation from the network for its pass, which still seems to irk him.
So if Chase had simply been willing to collect a giant paycheck and have his name attached to television’s most acclaimed drama since his previous one, then Jon Hamm might be allowed to drop his pants and say “fuck” every once in a while.
Or maybe not! Handy also learned that Hamm was almost rejected for the part of Don Draper on account of his unfortunate hotness:
According to Alan Taylor, a Sopranos director who directed the Mad Men pilot and was involved in the casting, Weiner and he held off committing to Hamm because of a “reverse prejudice” about the actor’s good looks. “I think Matt and I, coming off Sopranos, both had a kind of bias because we had a wonderful experience with Jim Gandolfini, and there is a kind of superiority that goes along with that kind of casting — you know, ‘Look, we’re not casting a movie star, we’re casting a great actor.’ ”
So if Sopranos creator Chase — whose own proclivity for the unattractive is well documented — had signed on and had had a say in the matter, Mad Men might’ve had nudity, but it might’ve also had a cast full of uglies. So count your blessings.