Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner Says HBO Never Even Read The Pilot Script

Considering that "Mad Men" was created by Matthew Weiner, a writer who worked on "The Sopranos" beforehand, it's always been a bit of a mystery why the '60s-set drama didn't air on HBO. With the show's mature storytelling and often very adult subject matter, "Mad Men" often seemed like an HBO show squeezed into a more restricted cable format. 

Airing on AMC meant "Mad Men" had to structure its episodes around commercial breaks. It also meant they couldn't curse as much, and the sex scenes (of which there were no shortage) were often a little awkward. They were either filmed in ways that covertly covered up any forbidden body parts, or the characters would keep most of their clothes on in a way that seemed to clearly be for the censors' benefits, not for realism. It wasn't too distracting, but it often felt like the show would be more comfortable with itself on a channel like HBO. 

Originally, Weiner did in fact intend for "Mad Men" to be an HBO show, but for whatever reason, HBO wasn't interested. Even though "The Sopranos" showrunner, David Chase, reportedly urged "everyone at the network to give it a look," nobody at the network seemed to lift a finger for Weiner's sake. "It was very disappointing to me, as I pushed the rock up the hill, that they did not notice me," Weiner said in "It's Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO," a book by Felix Gillette and John Koblin. "Because I was part of the family."

Possibly for the best

We'll never know the exact reasons why HBO seemed completely, utterly disinterested in what would be turn out to be one of the best shows of its day, but to the CEO of HBO at the time, Carolyn Strauss, it was nothing personal. "Tell me a programmer who hasn't passed on something," she said. "If you want to hold that as my grave, original sin, guilty."

Luckily, the people at AMC seemed perfectly aware of what a gem they had on their hands, and happily let the show go on to until it was ready to end on its own terms. And although "Mad Men" had to restrict itself when it came to the cursing, violence, and sexual content, that may have very well have been a blessing in disguise. Weiner himself was asked what the show would've been like on HBO on an "Ask Me Anything" thread on Reddit eight years ago, to which he responded:

"HBO has an insatiable appetite for nakedness and violence so there would have been a lot more of that. That may sound like a missed opportunity for some people but I have enjoyed the restrictions of basic cable. I think it has made the show strangely more sexy by implication and it was never going to be violent."

He's got a point there. "Mad Men" is a show about the mysteries underneath people's facades, after all, so it feels thematically fitting that even during intimate sex scenes, the characters are still covered up. Either way, we know that HBO made a big mistake by not taking up "Mad Men" when they had the chance, but the show itself was just fine without them.