WASHINGTON (AFP) - Pour a large Old Fashioned and pull up an Eames chair: after countless cocktails, numerous infidelities and a litany of sexist jokes, hit US television drama Mad Men is finally drawing to a close.
The mid-century morality tale, admired almost as much for its achingly cool depiction of 1960s fashion and furniture as for its superb writing and acting, enters its seventh and final season on Sunday.
Since it debuted on AMC cable television in 2007, tens of millions worldwide have become devoted followers of the fortunes of tortured New York advertising executive Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, and his colleagues.
Creator Matthew Weiner's show has been crowned Outstanding Drama at the Emmys, television's version of the Oscars, on no fewer than four occasions and has been ranked as one of the most influential shows ever to hit US screens.
It has been bracketed with groundbreaking dramas such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad, part of a golden age of television which coincided with the rise of DVD box set binge-viewing.
According to AMC television's president Charlie Collier, the show has had a transformative effect on what was previously a sleepy basic cable channel dedicated to airing reruns of classic movies.
"This show built a network," Collier told Variety in a recent interview. "You really can't say that in the same way about any other (modern) show I can think of."
It has also become a byword for acting excellence, thanks to the complexity of characters such as Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser).
The success of Mad Men - the first original series commissioned by AMC - is even sweeter for the show's creator Weiner, who saw his pilot rejected by the HBO network and others before it finally found a home.
Weiner, 48, says the final season - which will be screened in the United States in two seven-episode blocks, ending in 2015 - will be broken down into two distinct themes as its philandering protagonist Don Draper grapples with his demons.
"I want to look at the material and immaterial world," Weiner said in an interview on AMC's website.
"Things that are of this world - ambition, success, money, and time to some degree - and the contrast of what we can't see, the spiritual, the internal life.
"When your needs are met, when you have a roof over your head, things that Don Draper doesn't take for granted because of where he's from, and at a certain point those needs are met, what else is there?"
The final episode of season six, watched by 2.6 million viewers in the United States, finished at Thanksgiving 1968, with a gloomy Don surveying the wreckage of his personal and professional life, and pondering a move from Madison Avenue to California after ejection from Sterling Cooper & Partners.
"There are consequences to the last six seasons of what he's done," says Weiner.
"So let's say you want to change, what does that have to do with everybody else?" Hamm, who has been nominated six times for the Emmys Best Actor in a Drama honour but has never won for his portrayal of Draper, says his character faces a challenging final season.
"When we last saw Don, he was not in great shape. He was essentially unemployed, his marriage was not great, his relationship with his daughter in particular was fraught," Hamm told Rolling Stone magazine.
"He's gotta clean up a lot of mess, and take responsibility for it, but also try to do it with as little fallout as he possibly can."
While the backdrop for first six seasons was almost exclusively New York, Weiner says a significant part of the final season's drama will take place in California, where the show is filmed.
Weiner said at the outset, he had wanted "to tell a story that started in 1960, where New York was the focus of not just the United States but the world." The final season would reflect the "the rise of California", which he said "certainly became, by the end of the 60s, the cultural center of the United States".