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'Mad Men' cast starts the goodbyes and other PaleyFest highlights

Television IndustryAMC (tv network)Vincent KartheiserBreaking Bad (tv program)Christina HendricksElisabeth MossKiernan Shipka

There once existed an era in which cable network AMC was not synonymous with prestige dramas. a time that could be categorized as B.M.M. — Before “Mad Men.”

And that’s what Jon Hamm, the man at the center of the drama that would usher in a new age for AMC, bears in mind as the show’s farewell tour gets underway.

Hamm was on hand Friday night at the show’s PaleyFest panel in Hollywood — alongside costars Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Robert Morse, Jessica Pare, and Kiernan Shipka — where reflection was an overriding theme, particularly since it’s not easy talking about the future of the vigilantly guarded series. 

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Pointing to his introductory moments on the set of the pilot, better remembered as “the knee-trembling abject of terror,” Hamm underscored just how much risk rested in those initial scenes.

“Again, this was a pilot that we did for a network that had never produced anything original,” Hamm, who portrays troubled ad executive Don Draper, told the crowd of fans assembled at the Dolby Theatre. “They just ran old movies. It was a big gamble. We all knew that part of it, we also found in this material something special. “

Like a carefully crafted advertisement, the Matt Weiner drama debuted in July 2007 and caught the attention of an audience, albeit a relatively small one. But critics praised it and the series steadily ingratiated itself into the zeitgeist and pioneered the way for the likes of “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.”  

In a few weeks, it begins its procession into the network’s graduating class (joining the celebrated “Breaking Bad”). The ‘60s-set drama will commence the first half of its seventh and final season on April 13.

“We’re in some phase of grief,” Hamm said at the top of the panel. “We’re starting to realize that the end is coming rather faster than we thought it was. There’s nothing you can do to prepare for it. So I think that’s going to be at least my agenda, to have as much fun as we always have making the show until we can’t make it anymore. That will be emotional. But it’s inevitable.”

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Costar Moss, who plays glass ceiling-breaker Peggy Olson, was slightly less pragmatic about the looming end.

“I was texting Matt and I said I was starting to feel the boulder in my chest,” she said. “It’s starting to sink in that we’re going to have to say goodbye to not only this work and the characters, but this sort of family. “

A beat.

“Because I don’t plan to see any of these people ever again.”

Hendricks, who plays the pen necklace-wearing, strong-willed junior partner Joan Harris, is taking inventory of the final moments between now and the series finale.

“I think about [the end] a lot,” she said. “It’s going to be hard for me, I’m already grieving. You try to prepare yourself, but you have no idea because I have never had an experience like this. I’m just bracing myself … and savoring every last second.”

And that’s likely how fans will approach their viewing of the final episodes.

But this isn’t “The Walking Dead,” so let’s not grieve the undead just yet. The following were some slight insights into the upcoming season. 

—Has Don hit bottom? “We’ve obviously seen Don have personal struggles in parts of his life over the course of the show,” Hamm said. “He’s had his marriage fall apart. He’s had trouble with his kids and his ex-wife. But the one constant that I think has always been there for Don is that work has always been the one thing he could go back to … he could always go to work. That was always still good … now work is not there. That’s going to be a big hurdle for him to have to get over.”

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—Could Don and Betty (January Jones) possibly rekindle their fraught relationship?  “… Probably not,” Hamm said with drawn-out sense of assurance.

—Vincent Kartheiser, the man behind the GIF-able Pete Campbell, shaves his head to achieve Pete’s renowned receding hairline. But will Pete lose more of his incredibly shellacked hair? “I don’t know how far we’re going to take it. I do know we can’t take it much further,” Kartheiser deadpanned.  “My hair regimen has gone from, eh, 15 minutes to an hour 45. It was an idea of Matt’s. And I like it. It’s a physical thing and it plays into [Pete’s] psyche, his aging process. It’s fun just to do it every day because I really feel like I’m transforming. Just having a bald head is kind of fun.”

—Will we see Sal Romano (Bryan Batt)? If you'll remember, the closeted ad director got fired in Season 3 after rebuffing client Lee Garner Jr.  “Well, he’s not dead,’ Hamm said. Not exactly confirming or denying, Hamm emphasized the advertising world is a small one: "They all still work in New York, and you run into people.”

Bonus moment: Kartheiser said he once had a dream that Pete Campbell was looking through a window at him. Let’s all stop and imagine what that would look like.

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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Television IndustryAMC (tv network)Vincent KartheiserBreaking Bad (tv program)Christina HendricksElisabeth MossKiernan Shipka
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