Mad Men: the new Sopranos

It's back to the unreconstructed 1960s for the latest US TV import

Farewell to the "made men"; hello to the Mad Men. Television has found a successor to The Sopranos – a chronicle of the psychotic yet strangely sympathetic members of a New York crime family – and it's coming here.

Tonight British viewers will be introduced to Don Draper, and if the reaction to him in America is anything to go by, they will quickly form a new love-hate relationship with the all-man, misogynistic hero.

Draper, played by Jon Hamm, is the central character in the award-winning Mad Men, written by Matthew Weiner, a former Sopranos scriptwriter, and set in a 1960s New York advertising agency.

Unlike recent US imports such as Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, or The Sopranos, which had strong female characters, Mad Men harks back to when guys were guys and women were doormats. Draper asks one colleague: "What do women want?" The reply is terse: "Who cares?"

Part of the appeal of the drama, which has already won two Golden Globe awards for its first series, is its setting in the 1960s when social and political change transformed America. The characters smoke. A woman asking for the contraceptive pill is warned by her gynaecologist: "Even in our modern times, easy women don't get husbands."

The commercial and critical success of Mad Men has given hope to many who despaired of US television after the trauma of the Writers Guild strike. Produced by the small cable station American Movie Classics, Mad Men started life as a pilot script by Weiner in 2000. He sent it on spec to David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos. It was enough to see Weiner hired on The Sopranos although Mad Men was shelved.

When The Sopranos ended in the US last year after eight years, HBO turned down the Mad Men script, despite Chase championing it, a mistake recently acknowledged by the channel's executives. "I loved The Sopranos. But not every problem can be solved by killing someone," Weiner told The New York Times. "When you take that out of the mix, talking is kind of what you have left, although a lot of problems on this show are solved by sleeping with people."

Chase said of the script: "It was lively and it had something new to say. Here was someone who had written a story about advertising in the 1960s, and was looking at recent American history through that prism."

'Mad Men' is on BBC4 tonight at 10pm

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