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The Nielsen Rating System’s Downfalls

by Sammie Crowley

The Nielsen rating system’s ability to correctly estimate the total number of viewers for a program has been called into question many times before. Viewers want to be counted and they want their opinions to be known, as part of the effort to encourage better programming. A major problem with the current Nielsen system is that it only takes into account live television numbers while the world of internet viewing and DVR technology is exploding therefore comprising a large chunk of all television viewers. Standard quantitative Nielsen data is no longer enough for broadcasters to make informed decisions about their programming. In order to keep up with a changing technological front that gives viewers more freedom and power than ever, the Nielsens need to take into account qualitative feedback, online media and live television numbers, and consider fan devotion in an expanding world of fan culture.

Cultural studies are about finding meaning in television programs (O’Donnell 149). Viewers form a relationship with programs and interpret them to find a meaning that is suitable for them (O’Donnell 149). Viewers must process what is presented to them on television and call on their previous life experiences to make sense of situations (Alcock). It is imperative to mentally process television in order to fully understand and grasp subtle plot changes as well as keep tabs on characters and motivations (Alcock).

An individual needs to have certain experiences to appreciate most television situations (Gibert 1). One has to apply his or her cultural knowledge to understand and identify with characters, leading to a rich television experience (Gibert 1). If a viewer is appropriately engaged he or she can derive a variety of meanings from simple exchanges and scenes (O’Donnell 150). A viewer also has to have knowledge of the medium and be able to determine the difference between what is constructed on television and what is real in life (Gibert 2).

When a viewer watches television, at the very least, he or she is interpreting the language that is spoken. Television uses certain patterns and one must be well versed in the subtleties that help distinguish what is relevant to the plot and what is extraneous information (Gibert 2). Interpretation is the key to enjoying television, as the viewer enjoys noticing patterns and being able to guess where the plot is heading (Gibert 4).

Raymond Williams is a key contributor to cultural studies (O’Donnell 151). He was a professor at Cambridge University who believed that an individual cultural work should never be taken on its own, but rather must be considered in the context of all works in a particular culture (O’Donnell 151).

The way an individual interprets the medium can be heavily impacted by who they are watching the program with, where he/she is watching it and whether or not he/she chose to watch it (Alcock). If an individual ritually watches a specific show at a specific time he/she will pay much closer attention to it than if it was simply stumbled upon when channel surfing (Gibert 4). A viewer who is watching a program that someone else selected is more likely to criticize the program: he or she will look for flaws and not pay as close attention as normal because someone else selected that show (Alcock). If a person watches a program with others he/she is more likely to react more harshly and vocalize their thoughts and opinions (Alcock).

Gender, sexual orientation, national origin and religion are some of the personal attributes that impact how we interpret television (Gilbert 4). If the viewer agrees with the dominant ideology he is likely to interpret the meaning that the creator had intended (O’Donnell 153). Hegemony describes the representation of these social norms and is an important term in cultural studies. It refers to the set of values and beliefs that encompasses a society so completely that it is regarded as normal and the obvious way of life (O’Donnell 153). Hegemony gives one group dominance over all the other groups (O’Donnell 153).

In a represented social society there are three types of social positions for decoding symbols presented in media (O’Donnell 155). A dominant position means that the viewer decodes the creator’s intended meaning; an oppositional position means that the viewer takes the opposite view from the creator; and the negotiated position holds a view somewhere between agreeing with the intended meaning and the oppositional position (O’Donnell 155).

Cultural studies, and more specifically how a viewer interprets the media, are important in deciphering how programs are enjoyed. The viewer has to interpret the program favorably to enjoy it and if he or she agrees with the dominant ideology, the audience member will relate to the show and find it enjoyable. Connecting with the program is important for qualitative ratings; if a viewer decodes the show in a way he/she finds enjoyable; he or she is more likely to rate the show highly.

There has been growing concern about the validity and usefulness of data gathered by the Nielsen rating system. Skeptics have suggested that some of the Nielsen data is even artificially created, while others worry about its validity in assessing demographics because only about thirty-five percent of statistics gathered are counted and considered usable. The Nielsen ratings are based on a representative sample with randomly selected houses, referred to as basic units (Milavsky 102 -106).

If a household that is randomly selected refuses to enter the program, a household that is geographically close and similar in number of children (or lack of children) will be recruited in its place (Milavsky 106). The people recruited must be a fairly accurate representation of nearby households, in terms of family makeup, as well as what kinds of cable and television technology they have (DVRs, satellites, etc) (Milavsky 107). Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to maintain a representative sample as sixty-two percent of people leave the Nielsen program every year, two-thirds of those people exit the program early due to non-compliance or moving (Milavsky 109).

The new household added, either an alternate house or the tenants of a former Nielsen home, brings new demographics, which corrupt the supposedly representative sample (Milavsky 107). In addition, Nielsen is continually cycling in more families to try and make up for the extremely high dropout and noncompliance rate, which often creates an imbalance in geographical representation (Milavsky 106). The belief that any person’s television viewing habits can be arbitrarily replaced with those of a person of roughly the same age and gender is questionable. The rating system insinuates that all viewers in the same category will have similar taste in shows without attempting to categorize people by their taste and program type preference.

The Nielsen “people-meter” system has members of the family plug in their individual code to log themselves as watching a given program (Milavsky 103). This log in must be repeated if the channel is changed or after seventy minutes on the same channel to indicate the person is still watching (Milavsky 103). An immediate problem with this system is figuring out how to deal with a viewer who is in and out of the room or present but not actively watching the television (Milavsky 109). Another problem is contending with guest; if a guest is watching television at a Nielsen home they are prompted to indicate their age and sex to log their viewership. All of this means that they know they are viewing in a Nielsen home, which in and of itself corrupts the data (Milavsky 110).

The Nielsen system is complex, but incomplete. Even their raw numerical statistics are suspected to be corrupt and most avid television viewers do not think that a representative sample taken from selected viewers, who often fail to participate, is enough to indicate how many people are actually watching a show. In a world with such advanced technology it seems that the Nielsens should expand to include as many people as possible, gathering a more accurate sample. There are many more problems with the Nielsens but one of the largest complaints is that it just delivers raw data and has no room for a qualitative scale.

All over the world there has been an increasing desire for a qualitative feedback system in addition to standard quantitative ratings. Ratings take into consideration anyone who is present when the show is playing, but fails to take into account how engaged the viewers are. Because there is no distinction between which programs the audience actively watches and which they simply play in the background, many believe that the current ratings system is inadequate. Qualitative figures will be a necessity as television develops and diversifies over different platforms and over many channels. As more channels come into existence, audience fragmentation is likely to occur as more channels leads to more viewing options. More viewing options will also lead to more “channel-grazing”, where the viewer can attempt to watch multiple programs at once by flipping between them, a practice which is very difficult to measure in the current Nielsen system (Gunter).

As the market expands it will be imperative for broadcasters to understand what engages the viewers’ attention and which programs have strong loyalty and viewers who are liable to watch repeat viewings. Learning how viewers enjoy a program is a great way to predict if the viewer is likely to watch the program the next time it airs and the subsequent episodes every week. A viewer with a high appreciation score of a show is the most likely to be an avid viewer whom the broadcasters can rely on to tune in every week. Also, avid viewers of one type of program are also more likely to tune into a different program of the same type (Gunter).

Broadcasters would benefit from a qualitative and more informative ratings system, in part because it would help them to characterize the audience for the advertisers, letting them know who the audience is that they are reaching (Gunter). Also, the advertisers would find it useful to know how the program that they are advertising during is being received (Gunter). The reception correlates positively with the products advertised; if a program has high viewer intensity and positive reaction, the audience is more likely to go out and purchase items that were advertised (Gunter).

Those in favor of a qualitative system believe it is totally feasible to create a system bench marked by quality ratings from the viewers. In the United Kingdom the Audience Reaction Indices have been taking qualitative measures from the audience and supplying them to the broadcaster as a way of adding to the straight statistical ratings data. This has become a common practice in Europe and many other countries are beginning to supplement raw data with qualitative feedback (Gunter).

Some broadcasters have been resistant to the idea of qualitative ratings. They claim that the ratings system is already complex enough and deals with advertisers already include extensive formulas that would be impossible to relate to subjective non-numerical data. Broadcasters also believe that qualitative reactions would be too difficult to collect (Gunter).

While quantifying qualitative data will not be simple, it has the possibility to revolutionize the way that broadcasters look at their programming. If the networks could be more informed about their programs, they could make better decisions on which programs to retain and which to cancel. As viewers get more opportunities to choose which programming they watch it will become more important to make programs that are well received.

Networks view ratings as a way of gauging the taste of their target audience (McDonald 64). The most successful broadcasters try to constantly update their programming so they are always in tune with changing audience taste, they stick with program formats and types which are popular or becoming popular and try to stay on trend (McDonald 63). While they have become something that plays a huge role in television, program types were created to help networks and advertisers define types of programs that could reach the same audience as other popular programs.

The way people watch television and interact with the media has been changing rapidly. Beginning with the ability to record shows on a VCR, technology has advanced to digital video recorders (DVR) which allow people to be less bound to traditional television schedules (Bowen 573). Along with DVR technology, using the internet as a way to view television media has skyrocketed (Greenfield 72). Hulu and CBS.com are examples of two video services which are run by broadcasters and have made their shows available, on demand, to anyone with high speed internet (Greenfield 72). This technology has been expanding and many believe that streaming on-demand video is the future (Greenfield 73). Apple and Roku have both released devices that connect the computer to the television, allowing those who own the product to stream video onto their regular television, rather than watching it on a computer monitor (Greenfield 73).

In addition to streaming video to television, video on portable devices has become increasingly popular. It is becoming more and more common to have shows within reach at all times, either through an iPod or a cell phone. Being able to have television on a cell phone plays into the idea that anyone can access the information he or she wants wherever he/she is and whenever he/she wants (Greenfield 75). Despite the diversification of media across different platforms some still contend that television is the “mothership” of all TV (Palser 70), and claim that views from these sources do not need to be accounted for. While most traditional programs are still watched on live television, younger generations continue to look to the internet in instances where older generations looked to the television. Things like weather, sports scores, news and more are being sought out more and more frequently on the internet (Palser 70).

With the limitlessness of the internet providing consumers with endless options, it becomes even more important to put out a good product. People can be increasingly selective in what they choose to watch and with DVRs and Hulu, they can make a concerted effort to catch certain programs regardless of time constraints (Greenfield 73).

Television being viewed on the internet has huge implications for the way ratings are tabulated. While there are individual ways of measuring these, there is no definitive system for combining television ratings with views online. There is also a diversification among the way that shows are viewed; streaming videos from the broadcasters’ websites, purchasing shows from iTunes, as well as illegal downloaded torrents of shows. All of these people are watching the show and should be counted in a ratings system, but are often overlooked.

There have been attempts in the past to make sense of all of these figures. NBC tried a system called TAMi, Total Audience Measurement Index. This index combined traditional television ratings from the Nielsens, data from web and mobile use from Ominture, and information from Rentrak for video on demand. They boasted that it was a new way to follow ratings over several platforms, but they failed to develop it and went back to primarily considering Nielsen ratings (Palser 70).

Another avenue that broadcasters should consider is web activity related to their programming. Viewers can now venture online, expanding their total television experience, and bringing water cooler talk to the next level. The audience is now able to go on the internet and get a more in-depth experience with character blogs, detailed plot summaries, and sometimes even games. These opportunities have extended television’s role in viewers’ lives, making them more active consumers than they have ever been (Bowen 571). Television is no longer limited to the screen, but instead can extend to franchises and merchandising (Sandler 84).

Networks would benefit from considering the level of audience involvement, as it is a great predictor of future viewings. Week to week, new shows get back less than fifty percent of the audience they had the week before (Barrett 5), making it important to have a dedicated fan base. Devoted fans are not only more likely to continue watching new episodes, but are also likely to purchase DVD sets and merchandise, all of which make money for the network. Avid fans are also more likely to become fans of other similar shows on the same network, leading to a more consistent overall audience. If networks can learn to cultivate dedicated fan bases for their shows they will find that other areas of their business will become more profitable.

Fans in the past have also launched campaigns to save their shows. In 2009 there was a “Save Chuck” campaign that involved the fans of Chuck going to Subway (an advertiser in the show) and purchasing subs on the day of the season finale (Save Chuck). This movement was intended to show advertisers the buying power of fans. While renewing Chuck after this campaign has not necessarily paid off for NBC, as the ratings have not increased, it led to a stronger product placement deal with Subway. NBC also cultivated some network loyalty by responding to fans (Save Chuck).

Fan loyalty is key in maintaining a stable network. If broadcasters can learn to use the online world and fan culture to their advantage, to build hype and word of mouth exchange amongst fans, they could reap the benefits. Fans culture can immerse viewers into the world on a new level causing others to become curious over what all of the fuss is about.

The Nielsen homes represent a tiny portion of the actual country. The idea that this small sample could possibly be representative of the entire nation is ludicrous. If the Nielsens refuse to update to include quality responses, DVR, and online media numbers, the least they could do would be to start counting a much wider sample of people, if not everyone. The technology exists for every person to have a Nielsen box or for the Nielsens to directly connect to a cable box and get their numbers information via that mechanism. The Nielsen Rating system needs to make serious changes in order to better serve the networks and the people.

Sammie Crowley is a senior at Columbia College Chicago studying writing for television. She developed a special interest in the Nielsens in 2007 when it seemed all her favorite shows were perpetually on the brink of cancellation. Fascinated by the way the numbers worked, she quickly began to notice flaws in the way they were construed. She has since become obsessed with checking ratings and waits impatiently every week to hear the Chuck overnight numbers.

Works Cited

Alcock, Katrina. “In What Ways is Watching TV an Active Process of Interpretation Rather Than a Passive Process of ‘Assimilating Information’?” Active TV Viewer. Apr. 1997. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.

Barrett, Marianne. “The Relationship of Network Affiliation Change to Prime Time Program Ratings.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 43.1 (1999): 98. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Mar. 2010.

Bowen, Tracey. “Romancing the Screen: An Examination of Moving from Television to the World Wide Web in a Quest for Quasi-Intimacy.” Journal of Popular Culture. 41.4 (2008): 569-90. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Mar. 2010.

Gibert, Marie. “Watching Television of Film as an Active Process of Interpretation.” May 2003. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.

Greenfield, Howard, and Wes Simpson. “2009 IPTV Update.” SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal 118.6 (2009): 72-75. Computers & Applied Sciences Complete. Web. 25 Mar. 2010.

Gunter, Barrie. “On the Future of Television Ratings.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 37.3 (1993):359-65. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Mar. 2010.

McDonald, Daniel G., and Russell Schechter. “Audience Role in the Evolution of Fictional Television Content.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 32.1 (1988): 61-71. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Mar. 2010.

Milavsky, Ronald J. “How Good is the A.C. Nielsen People-Meter System?” Public Opinion Quarterly 56.1 (1992): 102-15. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Mar. 2010.

O’Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. Minneapolis: Sage Publications, Inc, 2007. Print.

Palser, Barb. “Measuring Across Platforms.” American Journalism Review 30.5 (2008): 70. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25. 2010.

Sandler, Kevin. “Teaching Media Convergence.” Cinema Journal 48.3 (2009) 84-87. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Mar. 2010. Save Chuck. CNN. 5 Aug. 2009. Web.

Those Who Made It (After All)

by Lynne Stanko

What makes a television show a classic? Perhaps it has an outstanding ensemble cast. Maybe the story lines and themes masterfully reflect and comment on current events or the political climate of the time. Or, the show could have just appeared at the right time on the right channel and addressed the right audience. For the 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, all of those events and more transpired in order to eventually elevate the show to “classic” status. The groundbreaking subject matter and sophistication of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is due to the creative team’s unwillingness to collapse under network pressure, changes in network policies and practices, and MTM Enterprises’ high standard of quality.

No part of television is free from a string of causes and effects. Every frame on the screen, word in the script, and extra in the background appears on the show because of the people involved with and the nature of television production. This idea is the center of production context criticism, a critical theory that dissects television programming and observes how workers and decisions at all levels affect every facet of the final product.

When critically analyzing a show using production theory, there are three different levels one can choose from: micro, macro, and mid-range. Micro-level criticism focuses on an individual worker and the daily pressures of his or her job. Mid-range criticism explores how the organizational structure of a company impacts the shows it produces. Macro-level sees the larger picture, looking at how networks interact in the marketplace.

In 2005, James S. McLean of Concordia University conducted a case study of CKCK Television in Regina, Saskatchewan. He compared the operations of the TV newsroom in the 1980s to those in place now (McLean 325). He focused on the employees’ daily work and the institutional rules. McLean was using mid-range criticism to analyze how, or if, journalistic morality was maintained throughout the years.

Production theory also deals with the hierarchy of the television business. Critics analyze this using “power roles,” based on Joe Turrow’s thirteen positions of power in television production. The task for every level of power is “to use resources strategically to gain control over resources needed from others” (Vande Berg, Gronbeck, and Wenner 265).

Anna Zoellner of the Institute of Communications Studies and the University of Leeds studied how power struggles affect the final outcome in British documentaries (Zoellner 503). She also looked at how the decisions made by individuals such as the producer and groups like the production company influence different aspects of the program. Zoellner was using production theory, specifically the idea of power roles, to analyze why certain content made it to air while other scenes did not.

The production theory allows for critical analysis of the minutest parts of television (for example, the janitor who cleans the sound-stage at night) to the largest and most public affairs (like the network wars over Conan O’Brien’s ousting). It examines how one individual can influence a generation of television viewers just by deciding what should get on a show and what shouldn’t. Most importantly, production theory proves the power of media makers, and explains why we must be ethical and responsible in our decision-making.

In order to appreciate the success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, one must first understand the key players in the creation of the show, the company that was formed in order to promote and protect the show, and the marketplace and competition for networks at the time. These three scenarios can be analyzed by using the three levels of production context criticism: micro, mid-range, and macro.

On a micro level, a few talented, ambitious individuals made The Mary Tyler Moore Show possible. Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, Grant Tinker, Jim Brooks, and Allan Burns started it all.

Dick Van Dyke was of course Mary’s co-star in The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s (Alley and Brown 1). When that show ended, Mary embarked on new acting ventures (Alley and Brown 1). After a few failed movies and Broadway shows, however, Mary’s career came to a standstill (Alley and Brown 1). Then, in 1969, Mary’s generous friend Dick Van Dyke asked her to star in a CBS special with him entitled Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). Van Dyke more or less handed the show over to Mary allowing her to showcase her acting, dancing, and singing skills (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). The audience was charmed and CBS quickly offered Mary her own series (Tinker and Rukeyser 87).

This is where Grant Tinker and his brilliant mind for television business came in (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). At that time, Tinker had already spent over twenty years in television and was serving as programming executive at 20th Century Fox (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). He was happy working for other people, but was also curious to see if he could succeed in forming and running his own company (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). When CBS offered his wife her own show, he quickly negotiated a series commitment of thirteen episodes (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). While Moore was just happy to have her own show, Tinker recognized the potential for a new business venture (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). Thirteen episodes meant an increased likelihood of the show getting on the air and gaining success, which would decrease the financial risk of Tinker and Moore starting a production company (Tinker and Rukeyser 87). With that, MTM Enterprises, Inc. was born, although Moore thought it should be called GAT, as she knew that Grant Tinker would be running it (Alley and Brown 3).

Once Moore and Tinker had a series commitment, Tinker moved to the task of hiring a creative team (Tinker and Rukeyser 88). Instead of picking a safe, seasoned writer, Tinker persuaded James Brooks and Allan Burns to co-create, produce, and write the new series (Feuer 5). Brooks and Burns had worked on the classroom dramedy Room 222, but CBS was still not confident in their ability (Tinker and Rukeyser 89). The network’s distaste of the writers intensified when they pitched the idea of Mary playing a divorcee (Alley and Brown 5). Brooks and Burns wanted to write relevant, truthful, edgy scripts, and they felt that Mary was the best person to give divorce a new face in the media (Alley and Brown 4). The network was horrified; they thought people would think Mary was divorced from Dick Van Dyke (Alley and Brown 4). CBS begged Tinker to fire them and find someone else, but he refused (Alley and Brown 5). Brooks and Burns were caught in a difficult position– they didn’t want to quit and risk damaging the reputation of Moore and Tinker, but they didn’t want to compromise their artistic integrity either (Alley and Brown 5). They decided to stay on the project and brainstorm new ideas that they still found interesting and relevant to the early 1970s (Alley and Brown 5). Finally they came up with the idea of setting the show in a newsroom, based on Brooks’ experience of working in one for years (Tinker and Rukeyser 91). Mary wouldn’t be divorced, but she would be just getting out of a long-term relationship with her live-in boyfriend (Tinker and Rukeyser 91). The twenty-one page written proposal to CBS ended with:

This series will, as we hope you have noted, be comedically populated. But it is clearly about one person living in and coping with the world of the 1970s… tough enough in itself… even tougher when you’re thirty, single, and female… when despite the fact that you’re the antithesis of the career woman, you find yourself the only female in an all-male newsroom. (Tinker and Rukeyser 95)

Before leaving the topic of individuals, it is important to note the power roles being played. Grant Tinker put his marriage, career, reputation, and financial welfare on the line for this show. One aspect of production context theory is Dimmick and Colt’s nine-level hierarchy.  Formal hierarchies display normative social influence, meaning one person or group exercises power over another submissive person or group. In this case, even though CBS clearly had more power than Tinker, he defended the show and its creators until the network eventually backed down. It was perhaps due to interpersonal influence, where individuals’ decisions affect the outcome of a show, that these CBS executives accepted the reversal of power and trusted Tinker’s intuition. It would not be the last time that Tinker overrode a network decision. (Vande Berg, Gronbeck, and Wenner 265)

Macro-level issues such as developments in advertising and shifts in demographics benefited The Mary Tyler Moore Show during its first season, allowing it to gain and keep an audience.

In the 1960s, the time of single-sponsor television programs came to an end. Now networks had total control over programming, and were able to sell time slots to different advertisers. However, beginning in 1971, cigarette ads were banned from the airwaves, thus emptying many prime-time commercial slots. The networks panicked as their revenues dropped by $43 million dollars (nearly half) in one year. CBS was forced to lower its rates, reduce programming budgets, and cut the minimum time that advertisers could buy from one minute to thirty seconds. These changes made advertisers flock to the network, spending $100 million dollars in two weeks and prompting CBS to raise its rate by 25%. Then the Prime Time Access Rule of 1970 restricted the amount of network prime time programming to just three hours. The new scarcity of ads made advertisers even more crazed to win a spot, and upped the price of ad time even more. (Kerr 66-67)

The creation of TMTMS also coincided with the second wave of the woman’s movement, and thus attracted many feminists who were happy to see a single career woman at the center of a sitcom. This made advertisers finally recognize working women as consumers instead of just the housewives who bought soap and detergent. CBS capitalized on this idea, publishing a guide entitled “Where the Girls Are,” which detailed the female demographics of each of its programs:

Its cover featured a revolving disk which would reveal at a glance the age distribution of retail buyers of 91 different products bought mainly by women. ‘And the pages inside,’ said the brochure, ‘show you how you can apply this handy information to Nielsen’s new audience reports by age of lady viewer.’ (Kerr 67)

The change in demographic was in large part due to a risky decision made by new CBS Network president Bob Wood. In 1970, CBS was the leading network, but Wood knew that the most popular shows attracted a rural, aging audience. He canceled many high-rated shows like Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres in order to make room with new programs that would hopefully attract a younger, more urban demographic. In his autobiography, Tinker praises Bob Wood as the best network president ever, citing Wood’s knowledge in sales, respect for creatives, and persuasion with affiliates. The Wood “revolution,” as Tinker called it, might have started with Mary Tyler Moore, but it was driven into full force a year later with All in the Family. Together these shows provided CBS with Saturday night “literate comedy,” which would eventually grow to include M*A*S*H, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett, making it possibly the most entertaining and successful lineup in history. (Tinker and Rukeyser 103)

Besides a beloved star, talented writers, and network support, The Mary Tyler Moore Show had one other very important attribute: a production company that strove for enlightened humor and honest entertainment.

This mid-range analysis looks at the style of MTM Enterprises, Inc. and the shows it produced. MTM sitcoms had to operate on several levels in order to appeal to a liberal, sophisticated audience as well as the mass audience. To the larger everyman audience, TMTMS was a warm situational comedy that could seem like a family show set in the workplace due to the close relationships of the characters. Yet to the “quality” audience, the show was sharp and self-aware, commenting on social issues and dynamics in work and family life. The ability for TMTMS to play to both crowds meant that the sophisticated audience could enjoy watching an ordinary, popular show without feeling guilty, and the larger section of the audience would be entertained and not talked down to. (Feuer 56)

The idea of a work-family was no doubt inspired by the boom of divorce rates in the 1970s. Until The Mary Tyler Moore Show, most sitcoms were centered on the idealized nuclear family where all problems can be solved by the end of the episode. Now that the traditional family was no longer relevant to many Americans, TMTMS offered a solution: forming bonds with one’s coworkers could fill the void left when relatives deserted, disappointed, or died. (Feuer 57-59)

MTM Enterprises was also determined to represent women in a much more liberated, empowered light than most other production companies. Producer Bob Schiller of All in the Family lamented in 1978 that now that The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Maude were over, television lacked a powerful female lead. The few exceptions to that over the next few years would come mostly from MTM, with strong female characters in Hillstreet Blues, Remington Steele, and St. Elsewhere. Even when the second wave died down– in fact, at a time of intense backlash against feminism– MTM Enterprises was dedicated to showcasing empowered women on the small screen. (Meehan 130-131)

While the timing and surface characteristics of The Mary Tyler Moore Show cause many viewers to believe it to be feminist, the subtext of most episodes and the relationships between characters reveal the show to still be deeply rooted in traditional patriarchal values. Critics have said that while Mary is a career woman, she plays the role of wife, daughter, mother, and sister to her co-workers. This enables men to feel comfortable with a woman in the workplace, as she is still fulfilling traditional roles. In her book Prime Time Feminism, Bonnie J. Dow recounts the plot of the first episode. Mary Richards enters the WJM newsroom in order to interview for a secretarial position, but instead is offered a job as producer. Mary takes the producing job, even though it pays less and her coworker informs her that she was hired to be the “token woman.” Dow explains that this clearly demonstrates Mary’s level of enlightenment: she recognizes the sexism in being hired for her gender instead of ability, and in being paid much less than a man would be paid in the same position; yet she accepts the job and the sexism that comes along with it. (Dow 25-31)

When criticizing the show for its sexism versus its feminism, it is important to note the time period. While in 1970 the woman’s movement was underway, not every woman that would eventually turn feminist had gotten involved yet. To look at this at the micro level, Treva Silverman was hired as the first major writer after Brooks and Burns. Silverman immediately identified with the character of Rhoda, Mary Richards’ underdog sidekick, and wrote most of Rhoda’s lines. In the beginning, Silverman gave Rhoda the same self-deprecating humor that she herself had, always talking about dieting and not dating. However, as the show progressed, both Silverman and Valerie Harper, the actress who played Rhoda, became heavily involved with the woman’s movement, and Rhoda’s lines began to change. Silverman started to take pride in her womanhood, and Rhoda, in turn, began to respect herself more. Suddenly Rhoda was more confident and became enough of a winning character to lead her own spin-off in 1974. The point is that a series cannot be criticized for its political stance or lack thereof just based on the pilot. A show, along with its characters, actors, and writers, needs time to find its audience, voice, and message. (Alley and Brown 41-42)

Ultimately, what makes The Mary Tyler Moore Show a classic is the sum of all its parts: the groundbreaking creative team; the production company, with its dedication to producing quality television; and the sheer luck that a show about a single woman in a big city was developed just as the second wave of feminism was underway, CBS hired a new president who wanted to add urban shows to the network lineup, and advertisers recognized that working women were an untapped group of consumers. The production theory allows one to draws these conclusions based on macro, mid-range, and micro level criticism. Without this analysis, it’s difficult to understand how and why a show is a success. To be a successful media maker and mimic the achievements of classic shows, one has to be able to analyze what made them classics in the first place.

Lynne Stanko is a television writing and producing major at Columbia College Chicago. Her interest in media studies goes back to the discovery of classic television at an early age. She strives to integrate the  lessons of the legends that came before her with postmodern ideas. Therefore, it should be no surprise she loves “Mad Men”– as it’s a show set in her favorite era, commenting on the social issues of both then and now. And, it’s damn entertaining.

Works Cited

Alley, Robert S., and Irby B. Brown. Love is All Around: The Making of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. New York: Dell Publishing, 1989. 1-42. Print.

Dow, Bonnie J. Prime Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women’s Movement since 1970. N.p.: Bonnie J. Dow, 1996. 25-31. Print.

Feuer, Jane, Kerr, Paul, and Vahimagi, Tise, eds. MTM Enterprises: An Overview. By Jane Feuer. London: British Film Institute, 1984. 5. Print.

Feuer, Jane, Kerr, Paul, and Vahimagi, Tise, eds. The Making of (The) MTM (Show). By Paul Kerr. London: British Film Institute, 1984. 56. Print.

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Family Dynamics

by Joseph Riedel

Matthew Weiner’s program Mad Men examines the importance of social roles within humanity, primarily in the 1960s.  There are many different roles to be played.  I have noticed that most roles within Mad Men can be related to roles in the modern nuclear family.  It raises the questions: “What is home?”  and “What role do I play there and in society?”  Throughout the thirteen episodes of the first season, each character’s role within that family has changed.  The men and women of Sterling Cooper and their families back at home all evolve together and take on different roles with each other to function as a community.  I will look at and compare the first episode of the series “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and the last episodes of season one “The Wheel” to view what roles the characters take on and how they change.

After viewing the first season of Mad Men two specific roles truly stick out.  These are those of father or parent, and son or child.  Every single character in the Mad Men reality are either a parental mentor to someone, or a childlike student.  It is a common theme throughout the program and the roles shift further from the second season onward, but here I will be focusing on the first season as the two episodes that I am examining bookend that season.

Of course, the character that wears the most hats is Mad Men’s protagonist Don Draper, or Richard “Dick” Whitman.  He takes on both parental and childlike roles.  Interestingly enough, most of his parental roles are through his connections as Don Draper, and a good deal of his childlike roles come from his connections as Dick Whitman.  First off is Don’s actual family:  In the first season, Don lives with his wife Betty Draper and his two children, Sally and Bobby.  He also has a dog that he got for Sally’s birthday.  They seem to be living the American Dream.  In reality, this may be one of the most artificial roles Don takes on at this time.  He prides himself on being a good father, but in reality this fatherly role may be the weakest.  The aforementioned dog that Don got for Sally was only to make up for the fact that he left her birthday party for a cake and never returned.  This fatherly role is actually quite childish.  When it gets down to it, Don Draper is still the scared little Dick Whitman.  He uses this reality of wife and family that he has created for himself as a safety blanket to cover his own unease.  “Mad Men captures those gleaming images of a perfect place and an idealized time, but also turns to reveal the specter in the background that is waiting to come into focus. In it we find the source of our unease”  (Mark 8).  At the start of the series the Don’s family itself eases and protects Don from things that go bump in the night.  In that way, his family serves as a father to him.  Though in the literal sense he serves as the father of his family.

At the very beginning of the series, one gets the feeling that Don does not care to deeply for his family.  They are not even seen until the last few moments of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”.  Throughout the rest of he episode the viewer observes as Don gallivants around with his mistress Midge.  We believe her to be his steady girlfriend.  At one point he even suggests to her that they get married.  It would seem that he has no true care for his actual family.

Another relationship introduced in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is between Don and Peter Campbell.  In this relationship Don once again plays the role of father.  Pete is the son, and a rather troublesome son at that.  The child who aspires to be like daddy and one day surpass him.  He wants all that daddy has.  This is a prime example of an Oedipal complex.  Pete certainly is willing to kill his “father” to achieve what he wants.  This is proven when Pete learns the truth about Don’s past and actually chooses to throw his “father” under the bus by ratting him out to Bertram Cooper; the grandfather of Sterling Cooper.  Pete’s relationship with his birth father is strained.  He is not too fond of his family.  They were New York aristocracy that met with an unfortunate fate and fell from their high esteem.  Sterling Cooper is a fresh start for Pete.  It is a way for him to make something of himself and get off of the sinking ship that is his family legacy.  He must do away entirely with his old family, and Sterling Cooper has replaced them – with Don as his new father.

Naturally Don wants nothing to do with his son Pete.  As many fathers do, he fears the upcoming generation.  He recognizes the power that his son holds.  He fears that Pete desires to take his job away and fears that Pete might actually succeed.  “There’s a kid who comes by my office everyday and looks where he’s going to put his plants” (Don, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”).  There is often a healthy competition between fathers and sons.

Then there is the prodigal daughter, Peggy Olson.  She is a young, female Don. “When she gets pregnant by the sleazy mid-level executive Peter Campbell after her very first day at work, Don becomes a kind of mentor” (Tyree 33).  Tyree uses the term “mentor”, while I use father.  We both mean the same thing.  Like Pete, Peggy aspires to be like her father Don.  She, however, does not push like Pete does.  She does not scheme to hurt Don in order to surpass him.  She respectfully takes in all of his life lessons and embodies them.  Being a female there is no Oedipal complex.  She is also able to connect to Don on a very special level.  They both have terrible secrets.  Don even helps Peggy deal with her secret.  This brings me to “The Wheel”, when Peggy’s secret is “born”.

By “The Wheel” the family roles for everyone have changed greatly.  By the end of the first season Don no longer has a mistress.  Don has left Midge and his short relationship with Rachel Menkin has ended.  Don seems to have grown more accustomed to being a father in all aspects of his life.  His father/ daughter relationship with Peggy starts to head down a new direction with the birth of her child.  Hostilities with Pete have slowly started to die down.  Things oddly sizzled after Pete revealed to Mr. Cooper that Don hid his past as Dick Whitman.  Though Don attempts to hurt Pete by appointing Peggy as a copywriter in the episode, the episode itself serves as a gate way into the second season where Don and Pete’s relationship begins to change.  In the second season Don even compliments Pete on his work and acknowledges that he does a decent job.  This of course means the world to Pete.  Nothing feels quite as reassuring as a pat on the back from the old man.  That said, there will always be the competition, and Don never truly does trust Pete.

There is one particular scene in “The Wheel” where Don’s feelings for his family, nuclear and otherwise are made clear.  I refer to the scene where Don reveals his pitch for the “Kodak Carousel”.  It is a simply beautiful scene.  Don has personalized his pitch.  He uses the device to pitch the concept of nostalgia.  Watching past events over and over again.  Around and around they go.  He uses images of his family in the pitch, and he cries.  It is clear now that family is no longer a fake ideal to Don.  It is a necessity.  This episode is also where Don’s fatherly side and his childish side finally meet each other.  At the end of the episode the childlike qualities of Dick Whitman surface once again.  Fatherly Don has a childish Dick like fantasy about returning home to his family, only to be crushed when he realize that they have already left for their vacation.

The family roles play a very important part in Mad Men.  Sterling Cooper is essentially a giant family.  A lot of the family looks to Don as their father.  They all have their own families outside of work as well.  Don has his beautiful wife and kids.  Throughout the first season, family roles do shift, but they remain there nonetheless.  On the surface, Mad Men’s primary theme is the corruption of big business in the mid nineteen-hundreds, but I argue that the true theme is the family one acquires during life.  How one juggles all the different family members they accumulate during their travels, and how one learns to accept everyone in their families -even the Petes. 

Joseph Riedel was born and raised in New York. Not only is he a writer, but he has obtained a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has developed an extensive resume in musical theatre.  Three years ago Riedel moved to Chicago, IL where he began his career as a writer.  Though focusing on mostly narrative television writing, Riedel also has his hand in film and journalism.  He currently studies at Columbia College Chicago.

MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Millicent Evans

The opening title sequence to Mad Men, probably one of the most poignant openings in the history of television, sets forth the tone and style for the entire series. The creator Matthew Weiner does not waste the first thirty-seconds to tell the viewer who Don Draper really is every week. The viewer follows a black silhouette of Don Draper as he enters his office, sets down his briefcase, and takes a few steps. After a few seconds the office crumbles at once, sending the entire contents of Don’s office, including Don himself, cascading into a downward spiral of advertisements, smiling ladies, and slogans. It ends with Don resting in a chair with a cigarette while the title to the show appears and sets off into the episode. This opening matches the visual style of the show, sets meaning in the advertisements Don travels through that coincide with Don’s life, and takes the viewer to the ultimate conclusion that Don always lands on his feet.

There is something visually stunning about the title sequence to Mad Men. The office is seen in an art deco style, with black bold lines outlining objects on Don’s desk and windows. The character of Don is represented by a black silhouette in a suit. It is highly stylized, very much like the show. It gives the viewer the same modern feel that encompassed the 1960s. The entire series is built upon perfecting every set piece, wardrobe and prop. Unsurprisingly, the opening is no exception to Weiner’s obsessive perfection, and has the look and feel of the times.

Don falls through a series of advertisements, that in some part represent the American dream: a family with kids, wedding ring, and an attractive female. Additionally there are ads of liquor and sex. Visibly noticeable is an ad for a Kentucky Bourbon called “Old Taylor 86” which comes with the tag line “Enjoy the best America has to offer.” Don specifically falls through these advertisements for a reason. His main motivation in the series involves finding that American dream. He wants a perfect family with children and a perfect smiling wife. However, Don is tempted by a darker side of booze and mistresses.

If the viewer pays close attention, one can see that when he falls over the glass of whiskey, the liquid ripples and when he falls over the woman’s naked leg it moves up and down. This could be symbolic of how he will continually give into liquor and affairs with other women, and how powerful their impact is on Don’s life.  These distractions cause his life to crumble and fall out from beneath him, just as in the first ten-seconds of the title sequence when the office falls apart.

At the very end of the sequence we have the iconic image of Don sitting in a chair with a cigarette in one hand (and what I like to imagine a drink in the other hand). This image of Don has come to represent the entire series. It depicts the buoyancy that Don is capable of and the reason viewers come back each week to watch. No matter how crazy things in Don’s life become-Betty divorcing him, the agency being bought out, the death of Anna-he continually bounces back gracefully. Even in the show’s fourth season, as everything is becoming the most intense, the viewer is still there with Don fully aware that he is capable of beating the odds.

Born and raised in Indiana, Millicent Evans comes from the heart and soul of the Midwest. An avid couch potato all her life, she dropped out of a real college after three years to pursue a degree in television writing from Columbia College. Ironically, Millicent grew up in a household where cable television was banned because her mother believed it to be impure and vulgar. As a result, she was forced to watch PBS where programs such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Are You Being Served? heavily shaped and molded the British television lover she is today. She will tell you the best television you are not watching comes from Great Britain. She thoroughly believes that beneath the scummy surface of reality television and Fox News rests a colossal land of intelligent television. The Don Drapers, Fran Fines, and David Brents of the television world make better friends than any real human could.

In her spare time she enjoys the rodeo, drinking and listening to Steely Dan records. Occasionally she reads books, but only if she suspended her Netflix account because of lack of funds. Her ultimate goal is to become the next Jack Donaghy. Or at least create and write the Night Court of her generation.

MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Joseph Riedel

Don Draper strives to live the American dream.  On the surface everything looks perfect.  He has the perfect wife.  He has perfect kids.  He has a perfect dog that lives with them in his perfect house in the suburbs.  This all sounds fantastic on paper.  However, when diving further into Don Draper’s mind one will find that this is all an elaborate decoration.  Don has designed it to cover up the structure of his life, like the facade of a building covers up the framing.  He has to balance his “American Dream” life and his other “Ad Man” life.  It is a difficult balance to maintain, and it can fall apart at any moment.  This brings me to the start of the Mad Men title credits.

At the top of the credits, a “Shadow Don” enters into an artist representation of his office.  His office represents his perfect job, and extends to his perfect life.  The way that the artist has created the office is essential to the credits.  Most, or all of the lines within the drawing seem to be connected.  Then suddenly, a line is tugged and everything starts to unravel.  This represents the fear Don has that one tiny mess up, one tugging of the string, can unravel his entire life.  Once his office falls apart, Don falls.

He falls through a jungle of advertisements.  These images that Don and his team design to convince the American public to buy certain products, are also meant to convince Don to buy into the reality that he has created for himself.  The adds contain a barrage of beautiful women.  Don has strived to surround himself with beautiful women.  I would argue that one of the points Mad Men attempts to promote is the amazing power that some women can wield.  Mad Men follows the struggles of Peggy Olson.  The viewer watches her start off as Don’s secretary.  As the series progresses she fights her way up the ladder.  She fights and manipulates.  Don keeps a series of beautiful women involved in his life other than just his wife Betty.  They all seem to have a certain power over him.

Other than the images of women, Don passes by a series of advertisements with words in them.  The first one that can be read clearly reads “enjoy the best America has to offer”.  I argue that this once again brings us back to the importance of the “American Dream”.  Don wants his life to be “ best America has to offer”.  The second image reads “it’s the gift that never fails”.  These words belong to an advertisement for a diamond ring.  This is not only a commentary about materialism, but the value of the fake over the real.  The “ring” is the important part, not the shared feelings in a relationship.  This returns to the point that I made earlier about Don’s family being a fake tool used to achieve his desire to have the “American Dream”.

It all concludes with Don sitting calmly on a couch with a cigarette in his hand.  He is cool and collect.  I believe that this is the only part of the title sequence that represents exterior forces at work, unlike the rest of the sequence which internalized all of Don’s experiences.  I say that it is exterior forces because I believe that this last shot is how the rest of the world sees Don.  They do not get a glimpse into Don’s head.  They do not get to see his world unraveling or watch him fall.  They all see Don as the cool, collect, and calm man sitting in his chair with a cigarette.

MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Adam Gasperoni Riddle

The beginning of Mad Men is a culmination of something new and something vintage. With contemporary artist RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine” playing a juxtaposition of new millennium electro with 60s jazz in the background, a silhouetted, mod odyssey of the Man in the Gray (black) Flannel Suit begins. He stands in an already minimalist office, which as he lays down his suitcase, starts to decompose.

Looking around him and finding a place to settle, the suited man’s world immediately starts to bottom out. The corporate office, the little cubicle of capitalism, starts to bottom out. This shows what little chances for advancement working in an office in postwar America offered. When looking at today’s times, it could also represent the current recession, the failing economy, and the complete lack of stability with today’s businesses.

From the grey-washed malaise, we black out into the suited man’s coat, only to pull out and discover he’s falling. Falling down past skyscrapers with a plethora of advertisements around him. His environment is completely detached from him, and vice versa. He drops down past the towering and showy success of Madison Avenue, and it lives on, unfazed by his descent. The ability of corporate America to use a person and move on has always been seen in capitalism throughout the years, and in an advertising world where one needs to thrive on the precipice of what’s happening in the world, the need to prove oneself is that much more crucial. When one fails, the company lives on. The advertisements are like dead souls and the fall like the River Styx. Everything the man has worked on and for will exist idly with or without him, and all he can do is watch everything as it’s taken away from him.

One advertisement reads: Enjoy the Best America Has to Offer.  This sentiment seems as empty as the smiles on the women’s faces that adorn the bikini, beer, and other ads in the city. It’s the fall of the American Dream. The 1960s were all about disillusionment and change, as well as the persistent desire to hold onto values of a promised life. The title sequence strips away everything the 50s built up: new business, happiness, nuclear families, American promises and aspirations. When the world breaks down its infrastructure and tries to redefine itself, what is one left to but oneself?

Thus, the suited man seated in a world of grey. All he has is a chair to rest in and a cigarette dangling between his fingertips. Whether he is happy or unfulfilled is as uncertain as the world he is looking at. Perhaps the only essence to be understood from the ending shot is freedom.  Absent of positive or negative connotations – simply, freedom. The suited man is no longer confined by the cookie-cutter office life; he is no longer surrounded by towering business and pervasive American values; he is no longer falling into a cluttered abyss of everything he worked for. To quote Don Draper, “Change is neither good or bad. It just is.”

The title sequence leaves us filling in what world the suited man is in now, and entices us to see what world he will create for himself.

Mad Women

by Devin Mainville

The road that women have taken though history has been a bumpy one, to say the least. No other show has amplified that more profoundly than Mad Men. Obviously, by the time Mad Men starts up (in 1960) many of the big battles in the women’s movement have been fought. Women have had the right to vote for forty years, are allowed to go to college and even hold jobs outside the home, yet as Mad Men shows us, these opportunities are greatly wasted.

The three main women on Mad Men, Betty, Joan and Peggy, represent the different phases the women’s movement experienced in those changing times. Betty is the housewife, a housewife literally created from the pages of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. She has been raised in the middle-class with no expectations other than to marry and be a mother. She finds the handsome football star and does exactly that, yet her unhappiness is evident everywhere from her shaking hands to her ever-present glass of wine. She blames Don and resents her kids because she doesn’t know where else to direct her anger. Now, into her second marriage and still as unhappy, she is starting to realize the problem may lie in her situation, just as many real housewives in that decade discovered for themselves.

Joan lands on the fringe of the women’s movement. She is certainly far more comfortable with herself than Betty is, yet she isn’t that much better off. She is a working woman, but only as a secretary, a job far below her capability level. She also has been told all her life to desire marriage and children and so she has, but now that she finds herself in a marriage you can see her longing for a better life in the office. She knows that she runs that office and yet she still is not respected because she is a woman in a seemingly less important job.

Peggy is the women’s movement dream. She has worked her way up using her brains, not her body and she now holds a title with power and respect. She is a working woman in every sense of the word, including being single and alone. She sacrificed a family, literally, for her job and while the work satisfies her more than a relationship, she is conscious of the life she gave up.

The predicament Peggy is in echoes the situation women find themselves in today. The daughters of those unhappy 60’s housewives grew up knowing they wanted to put down more than “housewife” in the occupation blank, so they set out to take over the working world. There was a resurgence of women’s rights in the 70’s and women entered the workforce in droves. They fought hard to get equal pay and be respected for their merits, to be held to an equal level as men. And, in many ways, they were.

They left the kitchens, but they couldn’t leave them forever. People still had kids; there just wasn’t anyone around to take care of them. Enter the idea of “having it all”. Now suddenly women are expected to work, to have ambitions and goals for herself, as well as keeping a house and raising a family. We have left behind the dull, listless life of housework not in exchange for a life of high-powered business and fiscal responsibility, but for the idea that we should have both.

Women are still diagnosed steadily with depression, anxiety and emotional disorders. Children are being raised by everything from nannies to television sets and men still, on average, make more than their female counterparts. So, how far have we come? We have gone from one extreme to the other.  Now it’s time to meet in the middle.

Devin Mainville is a writer across many mediums and hopes to cover many more in her career. Her work as been featured in the Columbia Chronicle, PopMatters.com and many other outlets. She began pursuing a career in journalism, but was frustrated by the unbiased views required in that industry. She is now majoring in Television: Writing and Producing at Columbia College Chicago so that someday soon she can force her aesthetics and opinions on the world.

The Ladies Room

by Adam Gasperoni Riddle

For as dated and politically incorrect the time of Mad Men is set in, the show also takes place in the perfect time for change. The 1960s were the time of JFK, MLK, the Vietnam War, Stonewall riots, the formation of the Weathermen, etc. The 60s were a time when change scared many people to hold onto their roots even tighter, while others sought out change as a necessary tool for American survival. Many movements were at the forefront of this notion, and they are dissected in the characters and story lines of Mad Men.

The show is known for its serious and strong depiction of women, and the reasons and reactions of the women’s civil rights movement has always been apparent in the series. From the second episode, “Ladies Room,” Matthew Weiner lets the audience into the world of the women behind the men. Aptly titled, the episode features many instances where the women excuse themselves to the restroom for a break from the outside world. Betty and Mona excuse themselves to the bathroom where Betty completely loses control of her hands and must ask for help to apply lipstick; Joan and Peggy exit to the office restrooms where Peggy is concerned to see a female coworker crying, to which Joan brushes it off; Peggy later returns to the bathroom to possibly cry herself but sees another woman already doing so, and instead regains her composure. (The depressing confines of the ladies room can be seen yet again in “The Suitcase,” where Peggy is no longer able to remain stoic.)

The ladies room is a cage for women. Disguised as a discreet getaway for women from any stressful or convivial situation, it is really a designated place for them to put their emotions. Should they lose grip on any sense of composure, they excuse themselves to the ladies room, and “break down” there, until they are ready to go back out into the world with a smile on their faces. The naturalness and ridiculousness of this is seen in the way Mad Men’s women need so much more in life – so much more happiness, stability, comfort, help, friendship, respect. But they don’t get any of this so they have to find a secluded space to deal with it on their own.

The entire series is a hotbed of reasons why the women’s civil rights movement is so necessary and so important to talk about. One of the most painful but accurate lines of this season is in “The Good News” when Greg seems unfazed by the possibility of going to Vietnam, and while trying to calm Joan, she says to him, “Because it’s not your problem too?” Men were the active gender of their time, and the women were the bearers of burdens. Most recently seen in season four’s “The Beautiful Girls,” the show finally turned the tables and looked at what it means when a woman defines a man. With Peggy’s reaction to Abe when he patronizes her desire for attention on women’s civil rights, or Faye’s testimonial on how it wasn’t a failure to choose a career over children, or Sally’s uneasy growing up into an abrasive womanhood, (even this season’s unapologetic lesbian character, Joyce), the women’s civil rights movement can be seen in every nook and cranny of the show. These women, these beautiful girls, are seen as rebels to the mold of society and force the men around them to do a second take; when in actuality, they simply represent the unending spectrum of what it means to be a woman.

The women of Mad Men are not rebels. They are women.

Adam Gasperoni Riddle is a sophomore film student at Columbia College Chicago. He spends all his free time watching Mad Men and wondering how he can grow up to be Joan Harris.