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Astonishing detail in a time gone 'Mad'

By Douglas Hyde, CNN
  • "Mad Men's" set a perfect simulation of an early '60s New York ad agency
  • AMC show has been named top drama two years at Emmys
  • Production designer, set dresser find many period props
  • Show now in 1963, but wait until it moves into future, say staffers

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Want to go back in time?

Here's how: Fire up the 21st-century GPS in your car and head down the freeway to Los Angeles. Get off at one of the downtown exits and drive a few blocks to Los Angeles Center Studios.

A twist and turn around the soundstages and before you know it, you've stepped onto a very special set. It's a tiny glorious sliver of the early 1960s, perfectly brought to life.

The show is "Mad Men," and the set is of Sterling Cooper, the fictitious advertising agency where Don Draper, Peggy Olson and the rest of the show's ad wizards work.

Video: Inside 'Mad Men'

Looking out onto the big main room of the set, with its long rows of desks, you're struck at the phenomenal level of detail. The phones, the typewriters, even the candy bars are vintage. In the break room, a bulletin board contains small things the camera never picks up: recipes, cartoons, memos.

And then there are the individual offices themselves, each reflecting the personality and character of the person in it. Lane Pryce's has a suit of armor and a model of a British sailing vessel, Pete Campbell's features a small green vinyl record player, while Peggy Olson's boasts an impressive wooden bar with scores of glasses.

Then there's the main "Mad Man" himself -- Don Draper.

Next to his desk, you notice the shelves with artwork of the various campaigns he's working on. A small bar with liquor bottles from the era stands at the ready.

But what really catches your eye is the coat rack. Draper's signature hat rests on it, as does an overcoat. The effect is uncanny. It's as if he just walked out of the office a second ago.

One of the minds behind this time warp, production designer Dan Bishop, says the look of Sterling Cooper was inspired by real life ad agencies, BBD&O and McCann Erickson, with a dollop of classic buildings like Lever House and the headquarters of Union Carbide thrown in for good measure.

What really makes Sterling Cooper come alive are the props and period details, the job of set dresser Amy Wells. She pores over '60s magazines and old Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs for ideas, and then the really hard work begins -- finding the stuff. Wells scours old office supply and Salvation Army stores and antique shops. Sometimes even friends and relatives with vintage stuff in the closet or attic will yield a few items.

All that "sterling" work has paid off. Standing on the set it really feels like 1963. But just wait until the show gets into the mid- and late-'60s. Wells says that's when the fun will really begin.

"We both talk about getting more colors and using different things," she said. "There's a lot of fun things that came out, you know, chairs and pieces of furniture and all kinds of stuff that we can't use yet."

"It'll be nice to make that leap when it comes," Bishop said with a smile.