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They like us and we like them. They are the core cast and the creator of Mad Men, and we are the Television Critics.

The series, which will have its final batch of episodes air on AMC in April, helped make television the defining cultural medium of the first part of the 21st century. Critics adored it, for the most part, and helped make it iconic and much discussed.

So when they came to talk us for the final time at the TV Critics press tour here, there was a palpable air of sadness. We will miss writing about the show, they will miss doing it and talking to us about it.

"This is the definition of a bittersweet moment," AMC's executive Charlie Collier said introducing the presentation. "For the people in this room and for so many around the world, Mad Men is a show that needs no introduction, and you all know this history because, frankly, you helped shape it."

Gathered to talk to us were creator Matthew Weiner and actors Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and January Jones.

Asked about leaving Don Draper and the Mad Men world behind, Hamm said with obvious sincerity, "This experience has been unequivocally wonderful and I'll miss it."

Weiner said that when the conclusion is reached, Mad Men will have been 92 hours in length. He and the cast were asked about the show's conclusion but no secrets were spilled. It is a notoriously secretive show. But a core thematic element has been the life journeys of the characters, and the cast was asked what surprised them about the journeys.

Moss, who plays Peggy Olson, a woman who went from office junior to a senior creative advertising executive said, "I think Peggy has retained a lot of the qualities that she's had since the beginning. People do change, but in a lot of ways they don't."

Hendricks, who plays Joan, a character who was at first the lust-object in the ad office, said she was surprised the show was able to maintain the story of Joan at work while bringing viewers into Joan's home life and enriching her as a character.

Weiner was asked about the inevitable arguments that will ensue about how the show ends. He worked as a writer on The Sopranos, which concluded in a manner that frustrated many viewers. Is he planning to satisfy only himself as the creator or is he planning to satisfy viewers?

"I'm flattered by the concept you might think I'm not in the entertainment business," Weiner joked. "I'm extremely interested in what the audience thinks." He acknowledged that on occasion Mad Men had frustrated its loyal audience but he said, "it was unintentional." At the same time, he said of audience expectations, "You can't give them everything they want. I don't want them to walk away angry. And I don't want to pander to them." He also said that each of the final seven episodes "feels like a finale."

Mind you there was a possible hint in how Mad Men ends buried in Weiner's response to a question about the show's careful documentation if the 1960s. "Well, I only know the time I live in, and I'm not an historian," he said. "So I am often channelling what the national mood is right now because that's all I know. And I'm looking for similarities. Really, I start with the story and the people's lives, and I think one of the lessons of the show and for me also is that like your life is so independent of history that it's a rare occurrence that history can interfere with your life other than for a few moments."

"We did 1968 in season six, and that was the time where I thought, "This is what people talk about when they think about this era. This is where history is impacting on people's lives every single day." And then to see the turning away at the end of 1968, the defeat of whatever revolutionary impetus there was, all of these movements for change, people being assassinated, all of that happening, you end up saying, 'Enough already. I can't do anything about the world. It's time to turn inward.'"

Thus its possible that Mad Men concludes with key characters turning inward, each influenced by some variation on the me-generation self-help fads of the 1970s. Or it's possible Weiner is giving nothing away.

Certainly the TV critics turned inward a bit, to wistfully wave goodbye to a series that stood up to our ceaseless scrutiny and rewarded the viewers and us.

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