Why Mad Men Should Bring Back Sal Romano

Bryan Batt as Sal Romano

Wait . . . what?

You’re probably thinking that whatever link or feed you used to get here is totally screwed up, because I write about HR and workplace issues, not television shows. I don’t even watch television. Except Mad Men. And that just started, because I watched the first 4 seasons on DVD, not on television.

So what’s this all about, Joanie?

Hopefully you know a little bit about Mad Men, that highly stylistic and realistically detailed look at the business and personal life of an ensemble of characters who work together at a New York ad agency in the 1960’s. There was no separation of work and personal back then, either. But because the show takes place in the 60’s, we tend to be forgiving of all of the negative workplace behavior that does take place at the ad agency of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  After all, it’s the 60’s, and everything has changed for the better, right?

Well, maybe not everything.

One of the earlier characters on the show was Salvatore Romano, a deeply closeted homosexual man. When Mad Men started he was the agency art director, who later showed talent directing television commercials. He married, as closeted gays of the 60’s did, and laughed with his co-workers as they disparaged another openly gay male who briefly worked at the agency. He joined in demeaning sexual conversations about women with his co-workers. He did what the culture of the times demanded he do to keep his true self a secret.

But in the 3rd season, Sal is forced to rebuff the drunken sexual advances of the firm’s largest client. Sal is then fired by Don, the main character in the show, who has recently witnessed an encounter between Sal and a male bell boy during a business trip. At the end of the episode where Sal is fired, we see him calling his wife from a Central Park pay phone, gay men cruising in the background. He tells her he will be home late.

Sal hasn’t appeared on Mad Men since.

So why do I want Sal Romano to come back?

Because sexual orientation remains a common source of workplace discrimination, and it still is not a federally protected class that enjoys the same anti-discrimination rights as gender, national origin, race or color, and religion. I would like to see Matthew Weiner, series creator, use his considerable influence to take a stand against sexual discrimination in the workplace.

That same influence would also send a message of hope to the current working  population that bad things happen at work, but sometimes those bad things can be overcome through perseverance, hard work, a positive attitude, and not being afraid to fail. Career and workplace writers trumpet those messages all of the time, particularly in the last few years when so many workers lost their jobs. It would be nice to see some examples in popular culture of how things can get better. In fact, Sal could return as a successful television director, while we view his setbacks and struggles through flashbacks or dreams. Matthew Weiner likes to use dreams and flashbacks, and this could be done without any compromise to the authenticity and artistic quality of the show.

After all, sometimes there really is a happy ending.