Often imitated the Beatles and their music could never be duplicated. But is use of one of their songs worth a quarter of a million dollars? Plenty would surely argue that it is, and Mad Men creator Matt Weiner would probably be among them. If you caught last Sunday night's episode of Mad Men ("Lady Lazarus"), you may have heard the Beatles tune playing at the end. Use of the song reportedly cost the series a pretty penny.
Is Don Draper the kind of guy who can lay down all thoughts and surrender to the void? He might have been trying to do just that when he attempted to listen to the last track on the Beatle's "Revolver" at the end of "Lady Lazarus." His inability to connect with the band may be just another example of the changing times. The Beatles relevance to the '60's has not gone unrecognized on Mad Men. It would be a big thing to ignore, given the setting of the series. It's one thing to reference the Beatles, however, it's another to actually play an original recording of one of their songs on the show.
According to the NY Times, gaining the rights to "Tomorrow Never Knows" cost Lionsgate (the studio that produces Mad Men) a hefty $250,000 (or somewhere in that area), according to unnamed sources "briefed on the deal." As the Times notes, you might hear covers of Beatles songs in various media, but it's far less common to hear actual recordings by the band on TV and in movies.
Given that we live in an age when pop songs might be used (and eventually played out) in TV commercials, it seems fitting to the point of necessary that the Beatles music be highly priced and loaned sparingly. As Weiner notes in the Times' article, "Whatever people think, this is not about money. It never is. They are concerned about their legacy and their artistic impact."
If ever a Beatles song were going to be used in a TV show, it probably should be one like Mad Men, not only because the song fits the age in which the series is set, but because of the likelihood that Mad Men would find a fitting place to put the song. Apparently, part of obtaining the rights involved presenting the episode's story to Apple Corps and getting their approval.
“It was hard,” Mr. Weiner said, “because I had to, writing-wise, commit to the story that I thought was worthy of this incredible opportunity. The thing about that song in particular was, the Beatles are, throughout their intense existence, constantly pushing the envelope, and I really wanted to show how far ahead of the culture they were. That song to me is revolutionary, as is that album.”
Given the hefty price tag on the song, it might be safe to assume this is this is the last time we hear the Beatles on Mad Men, at least this season.