Today is August 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you seek permission to move forward?” Award winning actor Peter Dinklage was stuck in a job he did not like, living a life he disliked even more. He was waiting for permission. At 29 years of age he decided that acting would be his life’s work. He did not ask for permission. He just put himself out there and one role lead to another, that lead to another. In his 2012 speech to Bennington College graduates Dinklage said:
“The world might say you are not allowed to yet. Please, don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it. Trust me, a rhythm sets in. Raise the rest of your life to meet you. Don’t search for defining moments because they will never come. The moments that have defined you have already happened. Don’t wait until they tell you, you are ready. Get in there. I waited a long time out there before I gave myself permission to fail.” This waiting for permission happens far too frequently with one’s career. All too often people wait for permission from their boss, colleague, or even themselves, to do what it is they want to do.
In Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, American author, historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel observed “I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly-line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.” Once such person who had a job too small for his spirit was writer, director, and producer Matthew Weiner.
Weiner described the start of his career as a "dark time. Show business looked so impenetrable that I eventually stopped writing." During this time, his wife financially supported them with her work as an architect. Eventually, he would begin his screenwriting career writing for Party Girl, The Naked Truth and Andy Richter Controls the Universe. In 1999, while working as a producer for Becker, the sitcom series starring Ted Danson as John Becker, a cantankerous doctor, Weiner wrote a speculative script for the pilot of a series that would eventually be known as Mad Men.
A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned and unsolicited screenplay. It is usually written by a screenwriter who hopes to have the script optioned and eventually purchased by a producer, production company, or studio. In other words, Weiner did not ask permission to write his Mad Men spec script. He went ahead and did it without knowing if a studio would even pick it up as a series. If you are waiting to give yourself permission to move forward until you get a guarantee that you will see the fruits of your labor, you may need to rethink if that is a viable strategy to navigate the chaos and translate your dreams into reality.
Television producer David Chase recruited Weiner to work as a writer on his HBO series The Sopranos after reading the pilot script in 2002. "It was lively, and it had something new to say," Chase said. "Here was someone [Weiner] who had written a story about advertising in the 1960s, and, was looking at recent American history through that prism."
Weiner would eventually go on to work as a supervising producer for the fifth season of The Sopranos (2004), a co-executive producer for the first part of the sixth season (2006), and an executive producer for the second part of the sixth season (2007).
Weiner and his representatives at Industry Entertainment and ICM tried to sell the pilot script for Mad Men to HBO, which expressed an interest, but insisted that David Chase be named executive producer. Chase declined, despite his enthusiasm for Weiner's writing and the pilot script. In addition to HBO, Showtime and FX also passed on Weiner’s project about the advertising industry in the 1960s.
Lacking a suitable network buyer, they tabled sales efforts until years later, when a talent manager on Weiner's team, Ira Liss, pitched the series to AMC's Vice President of Development, Christina Wayne. The Sopranos was completing its final season then, and the cable network happened to be getting into the market for new series programming. "The network was looking for distinction in launching its first original series," according to AMC Networks president Ed Carroll, "and we took a bet that quality would win out over formulaic mass appeal."
AMC picked up the show, ordering a full 13-episode season. Mad Men premiered on July 19, 2007, six weeks after The Sopranos concluded. Weiner served as showrunner, an executive producer, and head writer of Mad Men throughout its seven seasons.
Mad Men received widespread critical acclaim for its writing, acting, directing, visual style, and historical authenticity; it won many awards, including 16 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes. The show was also the first basic cable series to receive the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, winning the award each year of its first four seasons (2008–2011). It is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time.
HBO CEO Richard Plepler later became a fan of the show and congratulated AMC on their success with it. In 2017 Richard Plepler, HBO CEO, named passing on Mad Men as his biggest regret from his time at HBO, calling it "inexcusable" and attributing the decision to "hubris."
Weiner did not ask permission to write his spec script for Mad Men. Years went by before anyone took enough interest in it to translate his vision into reality. If you are waiting for permission to do something, perhaps today’s reflection offers you an opportunity to better understand why that is.