In an interview, series creator Matthew Weiner disputed that figure, but declined to discuss financial details of the deal. The surviving Beatles, along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, signed off on the “Mad Men” usage. Weiner says he had tried “multiple times” to get approval for other Beatles songs over the course of the series. Landing “Tomorrow Never Knows” filled an artistic void that had pained the showrunner, who is famous for summoning the ‘60s in painstaking detail. He says, “This music is so important to the 20th century and beyond. How could I pretend that my characters are not actually listening to it?”
Lionsgate, the studio that produces “Mad Men” for AMC, wouldn’t confirm the amount paid to license “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but a spokeswoman said it was the most expensive music deal the TV studio has made to date. Just as significant, Lionsgate says the episode, titled “Lady Lazarus,” marks the first time a master recording by the Beatles has been licensed for a television show. (Rock historians may quibble. Self-described Beatles expert Bill Stainton cites other shows, including “WKRP in Cincinnati,” which used a few Beatles recordings, including “Come Together.”)
It’s relatively common for Beatles music to play on TV shows and advertisements, but usually you’re not hearing the Beatles themselves. For instance, “American Idol” contestants have performed their hits, a lower cost scenario that gets negotiated by the company that holds the publishing rights to the Beatles catalog, Sony/ATV. Television commercials, such as a Philips ad in which the band Gomez covered “Getting Better All the Time,” typically involve fees over $1 million. In the same price range was the use of the Beatles’ original recording of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” in the closing credits of the Facebook movie “The Social Network.”
The $250,000 licensing fee (split between publisher Sony ATV and the owner of the Beatles’ recorded works, EMI) was based on several factors, including the way the music was built into the storyline of the episode. It featured the ad men sampling Beatles sound-alikes, including Herman’s Hermits, for a client hoping to capitalize on Beatle-mania.
Weiner, who says he once met Paul McCartney at a party but didn’t broach the subject of licensing, zeroed in on “Tomorrow Never Knows” last summer, when he got the idea for a story about “how people think they know what the Beatles are. Of course the Beatles are one step ahead of you at least.” That started a process he’d been through before, of sending “impassioned letters” to the band’s representatives, including primary gatekeeper Jeff Jones, head of Apple Corps.
This time, as Weiner cleared that initial hurdle, he continued to make his case for placing the Beatles “in a new context” by sharing story outlines and script pages with the team—“things I don’t usually do,” he says. Permission was finally granted based on the merit of the show and his plan for the song, not the amount of money on the table, he says. “The idea is that this is a financial arrangement, there is nothing further from the truth. This is completely an artistic collaboration.”
In the episode, Don Draper, who is more accustomed to using jingles, not pop songs, in commercials, complains, “When did the music become so important?” Moments after slipping into his easy chair to sample the eerie, psychedelic sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” he abruptly switches off the record. Then the song comes blasting back over the episode’s closing credits.
Weiner, who took a class on the Beatles during his graduate studies at the University of Southern California, says he wanted viewers to experience the song as his characters would have, from a point of first discovery. “This song and that album is so revolutionary and just paved the way for the idea that you’re in a very popular medium with a huge audience. When you take a risk like that it’s really about the music and not about the audience. You lead them almost kicking and screaming into something new. I just admire that. And I think Don didn’t.”
Whether this episode opens the door to more Beatles in “Mad Men,” Weiner won’t predict. “I’m happy that it’s in the life of the series once. That’s all I ever wanted. We’ll see if I get greedy and try to go back again.”
you can listen to the song for free here: