“I gave Bob Evans my screenplay, and he invited me over for lunch,” she recalls, stifling a laugh at how surreal the experience felt to her 28-year-old self. “And I show up at his house, this legendary house, and we’re sitting outside by the pool with the fountains and his butler, Alan, who wears, like, a different-patterned tie every day. And he’s like, ‘Ya know, kiddo,’”—she mimics Evans’s Humphrey Bogart–esque accent—“‘I think you can write.’”
In addition to making Tart, Wayne took on an Evans-produced screenwriting project at Paramount, which led to a chain of other writing jobs. Four years ago she moved back to New York, where she intended to continue writing, but the showbiz gods had other plans for her. “I got a call from a friend saying that AMC was looking to start doing scripted programming and would I come in and meet,” she recalls, adding that working in programming “was something I never envisioned doing. But they said they didn’t want to hire a traditional network executive. I had been a huge fan of a lot of the HBO shows—The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under—and I thought, Wow, this is a way to be like HBO 15 years ago. It was really starting something from the ground up.”
By the time Wayne—who lives once again on the Upper East Side, now with her husband of six months, a Swedish advertising executive—saw the script for Mad Men, the show about admen in 1960s New York had already been rejected by HBO and by Showtime. But she claims she immediately knew it was the perfect first series for AMC. “We were launching something new; we had no standards of failure or success,” she says. “We were ripe to take risks. Plus, our audience is used to watching ‘period’ on our channel.”
It was similarly a perfect fit for the show’s creators, who found in Wayne a creative collaborator, a real writer’s editor—not a typical network honcho prone to sending back vague notes of disapproval on a script. “Her experience and her strength as a writer give her the ability to talk to a show’s writers and creators in a unique way,” says AMC’s executive vice president, Charlie Collier.
“She never wants to water it down, never says, ‘Regular people won’t get this,’” says Weiner. “She has the perspective of the audience in mind—but the ideal audience members, the smartest, most emotionally invested ones.”
It’s not surprising, then, that the AMC offices are crawling with big-name talent who come to pitch new shows. On the day of our interview, Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci mill around the reception area waiting for their meeting. “That’s a normal day now at AMC,” says Wayne. “Susan Sarandon was here the other week, and Dermot Mulroney…. Initially we had to go through a bit of a song and dance with people, like, ‘Yes, really, we do want to make great programming!’” she admits. “But it’s shifted. Now people come to us with their passion projects, projects for which they’d be willing to give up much bigger paydays somewhere else.”