A few weeks ago, Kater Gordon was living the Hollywood dream: standing jubilantly at a podium, live on national TV, clutching an Emmy for her screenwriting work on the award-winning series Mad Men.

Today, she is picking up the pieces of an abruptly shattered career, after being fired in circumstances that seem every bit as mysterious and convoluted as an episode of the multi-layered 1960s period drama.

News of Ms Gordon's sacking, apparently at the behest of the Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, came on Sunday, as cast and crew wrapped up the third series that follows the fictional New York advertising agency, Sterling Cooper.

The series has inspired gossip about life imitating art - Ms Gordon's compelling rise from obscurity to prominence was until recently said to have mirrored that of one of the show's leading characters, Peggy Olson.

In Mad Men, Sterling Cooper's forward-thinking boss, Donald Draper, defies the sexist protocol of his era to pluck Ms Olson from the office typing pool and turn her into his firm's first female advertising copyrighter.

In real life, Mr Weiner hired Ms Gordon as his personal assistant but he swiftly decided that she had creative skills, turning her into a writer's assistant on the show's second series, and a full-time staff writer on the third, which is being aired in the US and hits BBC Four in the New Year.

The Emmy recognised her co-writing credits with Mr Weiner on the last season finale, Meditations in an Emergency, which won the "Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series" gong at last month's awards.

It was one of four separate Mad Men episodes short-listed in the category.

Since Ms Gordon was so recently elevated to prominence, a slew of competing rumours - from the mundane to the unrepeatably exotic - has been doing the rounds over the so-far-unexplained circumstances of her sudden departure.

Some Hollywood pundits linked the departure to the sort of white-collar power-struggle that might be more at home in the Sterling Cooper office, speculating that Mr Weiner was angered that Ms Gordon stole his limelight at the Emmys.

They noted that (despite it being a joint prize) Mr Weiner gave the acceptance speech at the event, and was later photographed keeping a tight grip on the trophy backstage.

Others wondered if Ms Gordon had simply been underqualified for the position of staff writer, pointing out that - in a break from convention - she was not required to produce solo material of her own before being elevated to the lofty position.

No reason has yet been offered by AMC, the channel which broadcasts Mad Men, or Lionsgate, which produces it. Both Mr Weiner and Ms Gordon have also remained silent.

However Nikki Finke, the entertainment industry blogger who broke the news of the sacking, carried a quote from an "insider" on the show that attempted to dampen down rumours of behind-the-scenes scandal.

"We think [Kater's] done a great job, particularly for someone whose career has progressed so quickly. Now, however, Matt has reluctantly decided that their relationship has reached its full potential," it read.

"She'll be missed, but the series has consistently benefited from the influx of new writer talent ... She leaves Mad Men with our love and respect and a well-deserved Emmy."

Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: to Mr Weiner's employers at AMC, nothing matters so much as keeping him happy.

In January he sealed a pay rise from US$2m (NZ$2.7m) to US$4.5m (NZ$6.1m) a year.