It’s kind of a kneejerk reaction that any 20th century period drama is considered a remake of “Mad Men.”
“Comparisons have been made,” says Derek Wax, executive producer of the handsome drama “The Hour.”
But, he adds, the writers of the drama, debuting tonight on BBC America, weren’t “in any way really inspired by that show.”
Speaking at a panel at the TV Critics Association’s summer press tour last month in Beverly Hills, Wax called “Mad Men” “a brilliant show in itself. But we think and felt that postwar Britain and this sort of extraordinary year of 1956 was rich and resonant enough to have its own dramatic sort of flavor.”
The drama, starring Dominic West of “The Wire” fame, depicting the beginnings of a new approach to broadcast news at the dawn of TV “ was quite different from 1960 in the advertising world.
“We do open in quite a drab, postwar world of rationings that just finished, and it’s although there is a transition to something a bit more bright and colorful and vivid as we move from the old world to the newsreels and Alexander Palace to the new current affairs show that’s been launched,” he says, “it is, I think, completely different in terms of characters and the flavor from ‘Mad Men.’”
Writer Abi Morgan puts it more bluntly: “We’re looking at a political thriller.”
“You get that pretty quickly in episode one that that’s what the show is,” she says, “so I think it just has a completely different pace to “Mad Men,” although I am completely in awe of that show.”
It was the idea of depicting the early days of BBC News that attracted her to the project – “and how many parallels I felt there were with our modern times.
“What was key to that was the Suez Crisis, which was really a moment in British history when the government actually pulled us into a phony war,” Morgan says. “I just thought there was an immediate comparison with what’s been happening in the world today. So that was very exciting.”
West, who stars in the show as a dashing anchor, says “what’s interesting about the show is it was an extraordinary time, probably the best time for BBC news in its history in that the independent channel had just started, so it was shaking off its rather staid wartime or immediately postwar traditions and was becoming something thrusting and new and interesting.”
As far as any comparisons to anything else, he said it was more in line with the William Hurt-Holly Hunter drama “Broadcast News.”
And in that way, in that way it tied in with one of the things that was suggested to me, it was partly based on “Broadcast News,” which is a film I really love, and in that way, I felt there was a connection between sort of America of the ’70s and London of the late ’50s.
And yet he was his own icon as well.
“My character in a way sort of embodied that transition between the guys who fought in the war and were part of the establishment, and the ruling class who were in government at that time and how they were being replaced or being displaced by a new generation of people who were less deferential to the old ways,” West says.
“And my character sort of bridges those two worlds, and that’s what was interesting about it in that he has the wit to make the transition, and I think of all the characters, he’s a guy who has to make a transition from something deferential and wartime to what became, I suppose, the swinging ’60s.”
And Don Draper can thank him for that.
“The Hour” begins tonight on BBC America at 10 p.m.