The battle of “Mad Men” is coming down to a test of wills over time, budgets and thesps.
As tensions flared and negotiations intensified, AMC on Tuesday confirmed that the fifth upcoming season of “Mad Men” will be delayed until early 2012.
Cabler’s decision came as talks between AMC and reps for creator/exec producer Matt Weiner heated up over creative issues, including AMC’s bid to trim two minutes out of the running time of each episode and a push to scale back the show’s large ensemble by cutting the cast budget.
Negotiations in the hopes of finding a compromise that both sides can live with went into the late evening Tuesday and were expected to pick up again this morning. Talks have been led by attorney Jim Jackoway for AMC and CAA’s Bryan Lourd on Weiner’s behalf.
There was much off the record finger pointing after AMC issued its statement early Tuesday on the season five delay. Insiders close to the cabler cast Weiner’s team as being unreasonable, while sources on the other side of the table said Weiner was fighting for creative issues even as AMC offered him a rich production pact valued at nearly $30 million if the show runs another three seasons.
“AMC has officially authorized production of season 5 of ‘Mad Men,’ triggering our option with Lionsgate. While we are getting a later start than in years past due to ongoing, key non-cast negotiations, ‘Mad Men’ will be back for a fifth season in early 2012,” AMC said in a statement.
AMC has a number of other original series lined up to run this year, including the murder mystery “The Killing,” which bows Sunday, and the fourth season of “Breaking Bad,” pegged for later this year. Once “Mad Men” missed the window of its traditional July start date, AMC execs felt it made more sense to push the fifth season to next year, probably in March, meaning the show will be off the air for at least 14 to 15 months.
AMC and Lionsgate went back and forth for months on a new deal that extended the show’s license term through at least a sixth season (the previous pact ran through season five). As part of that deal, which was settled earlier this month, AMC is on the hook to cover most of the show’s higher expenditures in the forthcoming seasons, which is why AMC is taking the lead in negotiations with Weiner’s team.
Sources close to Weiner said the showrunner is extremely frustrated by the delay because he feels AMC and Lionsgate dragged their heels in cutting a new deal with him after his previous contract expired at the end of the show’s fourth season last fall. That assertion is disputed by insiders at the cabler and studio who note that the situation was complex because AMC and Lionsgate had to sort out their contract on a parallel track.
Among other issues, Weiner has objected to AMC’s push to scale back the running time of the show’s segs by two minutes in order to squeeze in more ads. That would take the show to a running time of 45 minutes rather than the 47-48 minutes that have been the show’s standard. Most broadcast and basic cable dramas run about 42-44 minutes.
The last time Weiner’s contract was up, a tussle over the running time was settled with the compromise of allowing the show to run two to three minutes past the hour. It’s unclear whether that is still an option this time around.
AMC has also reportedly pushed for the pricey period production to trim $1.5 million in cast costs per season — which by some calculations would amount to losing two regular characters from its ensemble. Weiner is also said to be balking at a provision to allow more product integration in the show to generate more revenue upfront.
“I offered to have less money, to save the cast, and to leave the show in the running time that it’s supposed to be,” Weiner told the “Mad Men” fan blog Basket of Kisses on Tuesday night. “The harder that I’ve fought for the show, the more money that they’ve offered me.”
Even with the negotiations delay, Weiner’s camp is said to also have pushed to keep the show on track for a 2011 debut.
“Mad Men” has major pedigree as a critical darling that has captured the best drama series Emmy for the past three years. The series made AMC a player in original programming overnight — something that Weiner’s camp believes should be taken into consideration in evaluating costs and expenditures on the show. But in fact, “Mad Men” is no longer AMC’s most-watched original series — that mantle was claimed last year by “The Walking Dead.”
Another factor weighing on negotiations is the fact that AMC’s parent company, Rainbow Media, a unit of Cablevision, is prepping for a spinoff into a standalone unit comprising cablers AMC, IFC, We and Sundance Channel. The pending spinoff is surely a factor in AMC’s focus on making the most of the upcoming “Mad Men” seasons given the series’ production cost (estimated at around $2.5 million an episode).
AMC insiders counter that the offer on the table for Weiner is very generous by basic cable standards, and that issues like episode running times and product integration should be in the network’s control.