I have always wanted to be an investigative journalist and blow a story wide open. Something on par with Watergate would suffice. Then I really thought I had my own ‘Deep Throat’ in the form of Netflix. This provider of on-demand Internet streaming media distributes content that is an archival treasure trove of pop culture.
This is especially true in the eclectic and never-ending seasons of television shows it offers. As a subscriber you can toggle between Quantum Leap and Knight Rider and Fawlty Towers. Or you can enter the worlds of Dexter, American Dad, Lost, The Rockford Files, and McMillan & Wife. Not to mention Portlandia, Twin Peaks, Charlie’s Angels, and Breaking Bad.
There is even a little show called Mad Men. The charmer of critics and frequent award winner has legions of fans. These acolytes wait for Sunday nights to witness the shagging and drinking shenanigans of Don, Roger, Peggy, Pete, and Joan. Then they gather around the water cooler at work on Mondays to ask, “Did you see it?”
The fervor for this show is tied directly to its originality. Yet you may be surprised to learn that it has been done before. One only has to reach into the Netflix library for a show that ran in the decade that Mad Men creatively depicts. And here I must give credit to my wife who was enamored with a certain television character.
Experiencing some nostalgia for her childhood she forced me to watch a few episodes because “The husband is in advertising. You’ll love it.” So there I found myself watching an early American sitcom called Bewitched that ran from 1964 to 1972. It seems my wife held an early fascination with Samantha Stephens, suburban housewife and witch (insert joke about my wife here).
In the series, Elizabeth Montgomery’s spell casting Samantha, marries a mortal man. Darrin Stephens, played originally by Dick York and copied well by Dick Sargent, is an ad man to be sure. He works on Madison Avenue for the agency “McMann & Tate” and seems to commute from Connecticut. Very Mad Men indeed.
But it is in specific episodes that Bewitches influence on Mad Men is clear. In the first half of the very first season both plot and characters are so, well, so Mad Men. In the episode, “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog”. A client of McMann & Tate called ‘Caldwell Soup’ threatens to leave the agency. The client wants to “make kids soup conscious because anything outside of bubble gum is medicine to them”. Darrin has no idea how to meet the brief so fears he is losing his creativity touch.
Samantha acts as muse like Megan Draper for Don on the Heinz Beans account. She conceptualizes a campaign that saves the day for Darrin. This actually causes some stress in the marriage prompting Darrin to observe, “It is ridiculous to have a can of soup come between us”. That line is an insight for Darrin. He returns to the client and changes the conversation like Don Draper does on most episodes of Mad Men. Instead of the product focusing on kids Darrin convinces Caldwell Soup to go with a campaign geared to adults using the tagline, “The only thing that will ever come between us.”
In a later episode, The Witches Are Out, Bewitched covers bigotry. The client of McCann & Tate in this case is a maker of Halloween candy who insists on a stereotypical witch to adorn their product’s packaging. Samantha and her family protest the shallow and inaccurate representation. It is a thinly disguised metaphor for all forms of bigotry and analogous to the plotlines on Mad Men offering lessons on race, gender, politics, and religion.
In The Girl Reporter, Darrin is the subject for a college newspaper article and the unwanted attention of a young female reporter. He attempts to explain advertising using an analysis curve. It shows that “the public’s taste changes with the times” so people in advertising must discover “what the public wants and needs”. This all goes awry as the girl reporter pours them drinks from Darrin’s office bar in an attempt to ply him with a scotch mixed with root beer (the drink is mature and immature like the characters on both shows).
In the series Darrin is definitely Don Draper and Larry Tate is a silver-haired but more hapless Roger Sterling. Samantha is an interesting amalgam of Betty and Megan. Other similarities abound. It is amazing to see how much drinking is portrayed on a sitcom fifty-year old sitcom. Smoking is also prevalent along with naughty behavior. It takes only four episodes for one of Darrin’s clients to drunkenly and awkwardly hit on his Samantha (she uses magic to turn him into a dog).
Now if only my epiphany and observations were unique. After I recognized the parallels I rushed to record what I thought were original insights. Then I Googled “Mad Men & Bewitched” and up popped pages of results with most being finely written blog posts handily beating my discovery by years (where have I been?!). Heck, even Mad Men made a reference to Bewitched in Episode 3, of Season 4 (it obviously went over my head).