By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, July 23, 2010 — Sterling Cooper Draper & Pryce? Meet McMann & Tate.
As “Mad Men” opens its fourth season this weekend (Sunday, July 28, at 10 p.m./9c on AMC), the year is 1964 — Thanksgiving to be exact.
It’s a year after the assassination of President Kennedy and much has happened in the lives of the Sterling Cooper Mad men. Their newly constituted agency — encompassing the names of partners Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) — is up and running in new offices in the then-ultramodern Time & Life building on Sixth Avenue, in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
In the real world of fall 1964, TV audiences were being introduced to another fictional ad agency, McMann & Tate, whose own Mad men were forever trying to lure and retain clients, while partaking in prodigious quantities of booze.
It was “Bewitched,” the ABC sitcom about one man’s effort to strike a balance between his home life in the New York City suburbs and his career in the pressure-cooker of the advertising business.
He was Darrin Stephens (first played by Dick York), account executive at McMann & Tate. Like Don Draper, Darrin was involved in a continuous struggle with clients. Also like Don, Darrin reported to a white-haired boss, senior partner Larry Tate (David White). Draper reported to white-haired Roger Sterling (John Slattery) until he, Draper, was elevated to partner.
The big difference between Don and Darrin is, of course, witchcraft. Darrin’s wife, Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), was a real witch capable of casting spells on neighbors and clients (or, more frequently, undoing the spells cast by her mother, Endora — played by Agnes Moorehead).
Don’s estranged wife Betty (January Jones) might seem like a witch sometimes to Don, but she isn’t one. He gets no help from witchcraft in performing his responsibilities as creative director at Sterling Cooper.
Sure, “Bewitched” was a silly comedy (a popular one, though, that lasted eight seasons) in which Darrin would suddenly grow donkey ears, compliments of his mischievous mother-in-law. But in its depiction of the life of a Manhattan ad man in the mid-’60s, it bears striking similarities to “Mad Men.”
The one thing most people cite when they recall “Bewitched” is the consumption of alcohol depicted on the show — something that would be considered politically incorrect to feature so prominently and casually in a prime-time sitcom today. Back then, though, you probably couldn’t produce a TV show about businessmen in midtown Manhattan without acknowledging the role liquor played in their everyday lives — at lunch, in the afternoons and after office hours.
Liquor, as a plot device, first turns up in the fourth episode of “Bewitched” — in October 1964 — when a prospective client comes to dinner at the Stephenses and Samantha turns him into a dog after he drunkenly makes unwanted advances on her.
In an episode that premiered a few weeks later, in November, Darrin is suspected of making advances of his own — on a teen-aged girl who comes to his office to interview him for her school newspaper. The enterprising reporter starts pouring drinks in his office and when Darrin tries to take a drink away from her it splashes all over his suit, leading to rumors that he was carrying on a drunken affair with her. “Bewitched”? That sounds like “Mad Men”!
The real question for “Mad Men”: Will this show acknowledge the existence of “Bewitched” as part of the AMC show’s 1964 time frame? “Mad Men” is a show whose producers, writers and set designers are meticulous about the details they apply to establishing the show’s place and time. They simply must have a scene that acknowledges “Bewitched” and the tribulations of McMann & Tate. Perhaps Don will go visit his kids on a Thursday evening at around 9 o’clock and find them watching the show.
Or maybe the ABC sitcom will come to the attention of Sterling Cooper’s head of TV, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), who might make a comment about the show during a meeting about a tough client. “You know what would help us now?” Harry might ask. “Witchcraft!”
Don Draper would likely reply dismissively, in a manner similar to Tony Soprano when he informed his crew that he was undergoing psychotherapy and one of them asked if it was like “Analyze This.”
“That’s a comedy!” said Tony, in an annoyed tone. “This is serious!”
Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com