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Matthew Weiner has written a lot of iconic television scenes. But a specific one has come to my mind frequently in the last year, while the media roiled with tales of women standing up to the powerful men they worked for. Its from Season Four of Mad Men, when young superstar-in-training Peggy Olson confronts Don Draper in his office, angry that hes accepted an award for an idea that she believes was hers.

“Its your job: I give you money, you give me ideas!” he says.

“And you never say thank you!” a wounded Peggy replies.

“Thats what the money is for!” he shouts.

“Ive been both of those people,” Weiner tells me, sitting in his production office, nestled in an Art Deco landmark in Hollywood. Dressed in a pale-blue seersucker shirt and khakis, the 53-year-old show-runner is putting the finishing touches on his new anthology series for Amazon, The Romanoffs, which premieres this month. Made for around $50 million, it features a cavalcade of high-end actors (Isabelle Huppert, Diane Lane, Griffin Dunne, Aaron Eckhart, Mad Mens Christina Hendricks and John Slattery) and was filmed in eight countries. Its the kind of television show that only the highest level of show-runner gets to do, and it should be the victory lap of Weiners career, following the massive cultural success of Mad Men.

Weiner is eager to talk to me about the inspiration and process behind his new show. But in arranging this interview, I made clear Id have to ask about an accusation of misconduct that surfaced last November from Kater Gordon. A former Weiner assistant and later a staff writer on Mad Men, who won an Emmy in 2009 for co-writing the Season Two episode “Meditations in an Emergency” with Weiner, Gordon alleges that, while the two were working late one night on that series, Weiner declared that she owed it to him to let him see her naked.

As Weiner sits before me, I realize he is palpably nervous, his conversation a tangle of sentence fragments and digressions. Until last November, Weiner seemed to have an enviable career. Obsessively embraced by pop-culture cognoscenti for its chic portrait of the fraudulence and rot beneath the 60s, Mad Men had already ascended to the top of the TV canon by the end of its first season on AMC. It was the first show he ever created, following two seasons as a writer on The Sopranos. Yet as an inexperienced show-runner, he says, he was often fighting with Mad Mens studio and network, “trying to convince them that the show was a success, either financially or with an audience.” While it looked to the world like he was a master of the prestige-television universe, he says he was trying to hide his panic from his writing staff.

It wasnt just the glamour of Mad Men people responded to, though. It was the gender warfare. Workplace power scuffles were live wires crackling through its fictional Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, where men loudly assess womens bodies in the corridors and secretaries cry in the bathrooms. Peggy rises within the agency only because Don realizes she can help him harness female consumers desires. Mad Men often functioned as a Brueghel-esque horrorscape of dashing male dominance and wily female compromise, a stylized dissection of patriarchal malaise.

“I wish that I had been more sensitive and less defensive.”

At one point while talking to Weiner, I flash back to my own first workplace encounter: an assignment meeting at a music publication. I was just 19, a wannabe freelance rock critic brimming with chutzpah and ideas. As I left the office, an assignment thrillingly in hand, I heard the male editor comment to his colleague, “Nice tits!” I think about how much that stray comment undermined my confidence and shaped my behavior for years—how I was never sure if I was hired for my work or my body; how it made me want to fit in as one of the guys. I have never forgotten that comment, but Im certain that editor has no memory of it, doubtless one of many demeaning utterances. Casual thoughtlessness is just one of the perks of male privilege.

Its the kind of subterranean, warped exchange that the creator of Mad Men might appreciate. “The show was about my interest, to the exclusion of plot sometimes, in what it is like to be powerless,” Weiner says now, seated at a big white table in the empty Romanoffs writers room. “Part of it was me saying, Look how much everythings changed . . . Part of me was saying, It just got worse, actually, since then. Thats why this is such a big deal; thats why its so strange to find myself being accused of being on the other side of it.”

The “other side” hes talking about is Gordons accusation. In the account she gave a reporter for the Information last November, Gordon says that, after Weiner told her she owed it to him to let him see her naked, she tried to brush the comment off because it seemed like a “lose-lose.” She continued to work on the series for another season, after which she was not invited back (along with other writers, according to Weiner). She has since left the TV industry.

Weiner says he has not spoken to Gordon since she first made the allegation. “I really dont remember saying that,” he says. “Im not hedging to say its not impossible that I said that, but I really dont remember saying it.” I realize as hes saying this that I had expected Weiner, a consummate storyteller, to present me with a more coherent narrative. I call him several days later and ask him to clarify this sentence. If its not impossible that he said it, under what circumstances might he have uttered this? Weiner questions the words Ive quoted back to him. “I know this seems weird, but I cant imagine that I used the word hedging,” he insists. I double-check; he did.

“I cant see a scenario where I would say that,” he continues, returning to Gordons allegation. “What I can see is, it was 10 years ago and I dont remember saying it. When someone says you said something, like the experience we just had right now—I dont remember saying that.”

He continues more definitively, “I never felt that way and I never acted that way towards Kater.”

In a recent e-mail, Gordon told me, “That was not an isolated incident, but it was the most affecting.” She has created Modern Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting sexual harassment. “Bullies with unchecked power create environments of fear,” Gordon wrote.

Shortly after Gordon originally spoke out, Marti Noxon—a consulting producer on Mad Men who has gone on to show-run Sharp Objects and UnREAL—tweeted that Weiner “is devilishly clever and witty, but he is also, in the words of one of his colleagues, an emotional terrorist who will badger, seduce and even tantrum in an attempt to get his needs met.” He created, Noxon said, “the kind of atmosphere where a comment like you owe it to me to show me your naked body may—or may not—be a joke. And it may—or may not—lead to a demotion or even the end of a career.”

Noxon finished with an unequivocal kicker: “I believe Kater Gordon.”

Amanda Peet and John Slattery in an episode of Weiners new series, The Romanoffs.

Photograph by Sarah Shatz/Amazon Studios.

Weiner says that he was taken aback by Noxons tweetstorm. He recalls her helpfully advising him back in the day to make use of the more inexperienced members of his writing staff rather than just rewriting everything and fuming in frustration. “You cant keep acting like Nobodys helping me,” he remembers her saying. “And thats where it comes from, is because you feel like youre alone in it.” Weiner maintained a writers room that sometimes had a female majority; he regularly boosted the careers of fledgling writers, and then, as Noxon pointed out, struggled to manage them. “I would tell people, You can write or you wouldnt have gotten here, but I dont think you can write the show,” he recalls. Women who won awards for scripts co-authored with Weiner were described in the press as real-life Peggys to his Don—a dynamic freighted with tension.

Noxons tweets forced Weiner to rethink his behavior as a boss, he says. “What you dont realize . . . I think this goes with all of it,” he says. “It goes with sexist language, it goes with jokes, it goes with everything about what I believe I have examined in my own behavior—is just that you dont know that you have any power.”

Several expressions flicker across his face, which reminds me of something Mad Men conveyed so well: people are strange and contradictory. Someone can be capable of, on the one hand, producing nuanced accounts of power structures in an imaginary workplace and, on the other hand, perpetuate some of those imbalances in a real one.

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Our cultures long-running romance with the myth of male genius has only fed that tendency, bolstering the idea that being a “difficult man” or a tempestuous boss is an intrinsic part of the creative process. Not only that, but so many of our most worshipped movies and TV shows revolve around the angst and fury of troubled dudes. There is no equivalent myth of female genius. For women in Hollywood, the “difficult” label has long been a ticking time bomb tossed around as a reason not to hire them. As Designing Women creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason recently claimed, even huge ratings success did not insulate her from the whims of a misogynist network president who disdained her brand of funny feminism.

Weiner spent years as an unemployed writer before getting a foot on the TV ladder with the short-lived 1995 sitcom Party Girl and then Living in Captivity, a comedy by Murphy Brown creator Diane English that never made it to air (but on which he met several writers who would later work on Mad Men). Even when he got his dream gig on The Sopranos, Weiner says, David Chase “would say no to me about 300 times a day. And he, as far as I know, never took one of my ideas.” Weiner says he used to invite frustrated Mad Men writers to think of their favorite Sopranos episode credited to him: “Tell me what you liked about it, and I will show you that it was David.”

He points to Mad Men character Pete Campbell, who spends the series resenting the easy charm and brilliance of the worlds Don Drapers. “What is it like to lean against a door your entire life and have it open? Are you just gonna walk through? You think youre just gonna be different?” Weiner asks. “I had anger issues, and they got me where I was.”

Weiner says that the events of the last year made him re-examine things and reach out to some former colleagues to see if their memories squared with his, and to apologize if necessary. When I speak to him on the phone several days later, it is the week before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, and I ask him to talk more about his approach to making amends. “Some of it was talking about what it was like to work there and what I was like as a boss, unrelated to the allegation,” he says. “Those things felt like separate experiences for me last fall. I was a really tough boss.”

The world of the TV writers room is a place of permeable boundaries, where sharing intimate secrets with the boss can be part of the gig. “If youre going to have people in a room who are getting that vulnerable and digging into their emotional shit,” a former Mad Men writer, who asked for anonymity out of professional concerns, told me, “as a manager you have to be really careful with the situation youve created and not take advantage of the fact that you can make people feel bad.” Sopranos director Tim Van Patten once told Vanity Fair of Chase, “If David finds your Achilles heel, he will go for it, at war or at play”—something echoed in another former Mad Men writers description of Weiner as someone eerily good at zooming in on and exploiting colleagues vulnerabilities.

“I wish that I had been more sensitive and less defensive, and more able to put myself in the place of the people that worked with me sometimes,” Weiner admits. “If I have wronged somebody, yeah, I would like to apologize. In a general sense. I am that kind of person. It makes me sad to cause other people unhappiness or if they even perceive it that way.”

The swiftly moving stream of public opinion has created an evolving context for considering workplace behavior. Powerful men, whether they are accused sexual harassers or garden-variety bullies, wont necessarily get a pass from the public, regardless of the quality of their work. Weiner clearly hopes that The Romanoffs can escape the pall of controversy, that people can focus on the show rather than on him for the sake of the thousands of people who collaborated on the series, which had just finished shooting when Gordon spoke out.

Weiner shows me into a room full of monitors where Romanoffs editor Chris Gay is working on sound mixes for “The End of the Line.” A powerful episode set in a desolate Russian port city, it draws on real experiences of the episodes writers, longtime Weiner colleagues Maria and André Jacquemetton, and stars Kathryn Hahn and Jay R. Ferguson (Mad Mens Stan Rizzo).

Maria Jacquemetton says Weiner has “always been fascinated with this idea of tragedy in the past and how the past affects the future.” So when he first described The Romanoffs to her and her husband, André, she says, he spoke of a collection of tales that “all carried this thread of people in contemporary society who believe themselves to be related to the Romanovs.” The show is packed with morally compromised characters—a racist aristocrat who develops a deep bond with her immigrant caretaker, a married couple caught in an ethical quagmire. And with episodes shot in different countries, executive producer Blake Mc­Cormick says, “those places sort of dictate that it would be different. You might have the same cinematographer, but the rest of the crew, they bring something different no matter what.”

Weiner says it wasnt an easy show to sell, even from the guy who created one of the most acclaimed series of the 21st century. Black Mirror was a useful comparison, at least in terms of conveying that it would encompass multiple genres. Former Amazon Studios president Roy Price green-lighted the series, but by the time it was finished, Price had resigned amid sexual-harassment allegations. His replacement, Jennifer Salke, had launched an initiative to train more female directors while she was president of NBC Entertainment and has stressed inclusivity as part of her mission at Amazon. Weiner credits Salke with supporting his vision, allowing him to break with Amazon tradition by dropping episodes weekly rather than in a bingeable blob.

Although shooting on The Romanoffs was pretty much finished by the time Salke took over at Amazon, she says by phone, she and Weiner “did talk about thematically how to link the episodes. And we certainly talked about that in the marketing of the show—just kind of getting behind this idea of . . . this group of disparate people are all sourced from that same bloodline and event, which we found real­ly compelling.” Asked if she considered dropping the show due to the harassment allegation, she says, “That wasnt really on my radar coming in. Im such a huge fan of Mad Men, and its not a situation that I knew a lot about.”

Salke says Weiner is already asking, “When can we get started on the next installment?” She can imagine extending the series ad infinitum. “Theres Romanov descendants everywhere,” she says.

While the show is an anthology, there will be subtle through lines, “like physical behavior” repeated in different episodes, because Weiner says he has a habit of writing certain gestures. I prod him for an example. “They look up for an answer at the biggest moment,” Weiner says, looking up.

Weiner shows me two objects that were important to him during the Romanoffs shoot: a framed list of rules he made for the new series and a small, weathered brass bell that one of his writers gave him. The rules include resolving stories (each episode is self-contained), banishing coincidence, and avoiding pretension. Having just mentioned Honoré de Balzac, Virginia Woolf, and filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski, he laughs and says that he has already broken his pretension rule.

The bell is part of Weiners recent desire to feel more centered; hes started doing transcendental meditation. He shakes it and pauses as it sends a gentle trill through the room. “We would ring it before we would do a script, and I would ring it at the table read,” he says. “What I wanted to do was have everybody in a really intuitive space. To have gratitude for the fact that we were getting to do this.”

The only person bemused by the bell was Ferguson, Weiner says. “Jay was like, Who are you and what happened to the guy from Mad Men?”

Over the last year, weve begun to reassess artists through the filter of #MeToo. It renders the history of TV, art, movies, and literature — everything, if were being honest—into an ethical and emotional minefield. The current moment is serving as a reckoning with the creative workplace as well as with creatives themselves, opening up untold questions including: How much leeway, if any, are we prepared to give those we consider geniuses? And—a question The Romanoffs itself ponders—how much do we control our own narratives?

Semi Chellas, who worked on Mad Men and serves as executive producer of the show with Weiner, says “Expectation,” the Romanoffs episode she wrote starring Amanda Peet and John Slattery, was partly inspired by Woolfs kaleidoscopic novel, Mrs. Dalloway. It suggests “there isnt one set story that you can tell about your life. That story shifts and changes with every moment, even in a single day.”

This sort of multi-valence works beautifully in art. The muddiness of real life is another story.

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Joy PressJoy Press is a T.V. Correspondent for Vanity Fair. Her book, Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television, was released in February.

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