Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Other Difficult Men on TV

Monday, July 15, 2013

Brett Martin discusses the transformation of the television landscape in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, he documents how channels like HBO, FX, and AMC helped television become a significant and influential part of our culture and how writer-show runners created shows with not-always-likable characters, plots that didn’t wrap up neatly every episode, or subjects deemed safe and appropriate.


Brett Martin

Comments [14]


"Becker" was almost a comedic predecessor to "House". a bit of a stretch I know,but hey..

Jul. 16 2013 03:07 AM

Very interesting, james andrea. Thanks for that link.

Jul. 15 2013 06:59 PM
james andrea from Brick, NJ

Jul. 15 2013 02:54 PM
Andrea from Philadelphia

There are certainly female anti-heroes along these lines on tv now (and in recent past)--Nancy Botwin on Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Glenn Close character on Damages, even the female characters on The Good Wife lean that way. (in addition to Claire Danes' character on Homeland). There's a book to be written about those as well. One interesting difference is that several of them were packaged as half-hour comedies, albeit dark ones. But while the bad behavior of the male characters discussed here are extreme versions of traditional masculinity (breadwinner, highly sexual), the female characters grow out of the "having it all" debate and represent what happens when women become the breadwinners (Weeds, Good Wife), put work ahead of family or are simply better at their professions than at caretaking (Damages and Nurse Jackie, but the others to a lesser extent)

Jul. 15 2013 02:10 PM
Nick from UWS

"Mad Men" is unwatchable for me, for the simple reason that no one on the show has a 1960s New York accent. Therefore it has zero realism for me, no matter how much Mid Century Modern furniture they load it with.

Jul. 15 2013 01:58 PM

Sorry, James from Brick...I don't see it. It is clear that that pivotal characters in The Sopranos are not typical Italians. They are, are connected to and mostly know other criminals. The stereotypes in 'Jersey Shore' a reality series are harder not to regard as 'typical'. Self-obsessed, narcissistic goofballs.

Jul. 15 2013 01:58 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

If Netflix can just get one viable original hit - like a "Game of the thrones" - it will be a game-changer.

Jul. 15 2013 01:56 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Having a show on network television is ironically now a liability. I wonder if Mad Men or Breaking Bad would have been as critically acclaimed, or taken seriously, if they were on network television.

Jul. 15 2013 01:54 PM
james andrea from Brick, NJ

"The Sopranos" did as much harm, if not more, than "Jersey Shore" depicting Italian-Americans in a negative stereotype; "humanizing" via going to a therapist admittedly made the character more attractive, an "everyman" who by extension translates into every Italian-American is Mob-connected. David Chase changed his name from an Italian-American one; why? Camile Paglia may be over the top on some other issues, but she's got Chase's number.
The "Godfather" showed the older "ethic" of not dealing drugs (to one's own community) and the reluctance to have the next generation go into the dealings, though "Michael" does get drawn in. "Goodfellas" showed the ridiculous theft of parking meters for "chump change" as a cash-flow, etc. and the perps were not glorified. None of the other shows mentioned has this ethnic dynamic, and no one talks about it - the new, new normal - OK to depict Italian-Americans as they were without qualification.

Jul. 15 2013 01:52 PM

HBO certainly can't call them all...They curtailed 'Deadwood' - big mistake - and threw the money at 'Rome'. For an American view, Deadwood was far more relevant than Rome. Milch misfired with 'John from Cincinnati' and 'Luck' had no luck at all...

Nearly as big a mistake as Fox axing Firefly...

Jul. 15 2013 01:50 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The best show of the last decade was "Monk." It had everything I could possibly want in a TV series. The writing and acting was absolutely top notch. I have personally seen every episode about ten times.

Jul. 15 2013 01:47 PM
Stephen from Prospect Heights

How about the over-looked and forgotten 'Deadwood'? Was that revolutionary? Seems to me the prototype of 'Breaking Bad' concerning moral relativism.

Jul. 15 2013 01:46 PM

Perhaps you will ask the author the following question: Where are the difficult men or women who will provide us with great female characters? Writers in Hollywood used to write interesting female characters in the 1930s/1940s. Now this doesn't seem to be the case. Either they're not capable of this or they don't care.

Jul. 15 2013 12:25 PM

errr...Y'mean Soprano, right?

Jul. 15 2013 12:06 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.