Matthew Weiner Spent $250,000 to Use The Beatles on Mad Men Because He Cares

When you watched Don Draper drop the needle on The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” during Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men, was your immediate reaction, “Holy crap, how much did that cost to license?” You were not alone. As you may recall, when Conan’s band played “Lovely Rita” on air during the last days of his Tonight Show run, a lot of people assumed it was a calculated budget-hit middle-finger to NBC. According to Questlove, who knows some stuff about playing walk-on music for late-night talk shows, the price tag for that blip of Beatles would be $500,000. He turned out to be wrong in that particular instance, because NBC had a blanket license with Apple Corps that made usage cheaper. But, obviously, getting The Beatles is never cheap. So what kind of cash are we talking about? Satiating inside-baseball curiosity, ArtsBeat dug around and got the numbers for Mad Men’s Beatles placement: For that bit of sitar magic, the show doled out a cool quarter of a million dollars. Nuts, right?

According to Matthew Weiner, this was the first time a master recording of a Beatles song has ever been used in a television show. (A rep from the band’s label couldn’t confirm that was true, although he did admit that usage was pretty rare.) Weiner told ArtsBeat, “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing. Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.” Bold declaration, Mr. Weiner. Fine Young Cannibals might have a thing or two to say about that!

Getting the track wasn’t as easy as dropping off suitcases and suitcases of cash, though. As Weiner explains, “I had to do a couple things that I don’t like doing, which is share my story line and share my pages … Asked what he would have done if Apple Corps had … said no, Mr. Weiner replied: “I don’t know. I would have changed the story.”

It’s no surprise that Matthew Weiner is particular about the production of his show. We’re not so far removed from the epic contract renegotiations between Weiner and AMC that, early last year, made the fate of a fifth season seem precarious at best. Ultimately, Weiner won most of the battles he was waging: He fought against product integration, maintained his entire cast, and reached a compromise on shortening the show by two minutes so as to provide more ad time (it runs 45 minutes live, then 47 minutes digitally). Outside of the conference room arguments, some claimed Weiner’s stubbornness damaged the rest of the network’s lineup. Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter (whose show airs on FX) tweeted that Weiner “held AMC hostage, broke their bank, budgets were slashed, shit rolled down hill … No one else wants to fucking say it, but the greed of Mad Men is killing the other two best shows on TV — Breaking Bad and Walking Dead.” Weiner denied those claims altogether, saying, “They were trying to cut the budget on The Walking Dead before they were even negotiating with me.”

But Weiner did get to keep his budget. Which, in part, means he got to use “Tomorrow Never Knows.” As he says, “I never, ever think about that — ‘Oh, let’s not have a song here so I can save some money.’” Mad Men–iacs (is that real, or did I just make that up?), you may not have been happy about the delay between Seasons 4 and 5. But seeing Weiner so clearly continuing to make exactly the show he wants to make must soothe that pain a bit. Or maybe you would feel better if he’d have gone with some “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” instead?

Which brings me to my real point. Why all the fuss about The Beatles when you have Renaissance Man Jon Hamm already on staff, willing and able to make nonsense songs about the cast of Taxi? “Hilarity abounds, at the Taxi garage / uh-oh, who showed up? / Reverend Jim / Okey doke! / That’s Reverend Jim / came along in the later seasons / lot of people thought they jumped the shark / I thought the show got better / funny, touching, emotional, real / these are the things that make Taxi.” Am I crazy, or is this clip below — a preview of IFC’s upcoming talk show Comedy Bang! Bang! — totally brilliant?

Filed Under: Amc, Jon Hamm, Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, The Beatles

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Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ AmosBarshad