Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mad Men Returns... in 2012, as AMC, Lionsgate and Matt Weiner Finalize New Deal

By Michael Schneider/TV Guide Magazine

Pour an Old-Fashioned and celebrate: After much delay and plenty of down-to-the-wire drama, Mad Men is a firm go for two, and possibly three, more seasons.

While AMC and creator Matt Weiner engaged in a public war of words on Tuesday, negotiators for Weiner, the cable network and Lionsgate (which produces the show) were busy behind closed doors getting the deal done.

The deal keeps Weiner on board for seasons five and six, while his new long-term deal with Lionsgate allows for a potential season seven,

"I want to thank all of our wonderful fans for their support," said Weiner. "I also want to thank AMC and Lionsgate for agreeing to support the artistic freedom of myself, the cast and the crew so that we can continue to make the show exactly as we have from the beginning.  I'm excited to get started on the next chapter of our story.”

It wasn't an easy negotiation. Although a deal to keep Weiner and the show on AMC came close to fruition last week, a handful of sticking points slowed things down – and things got ugly Monday, after those issues were revealed.

Among Weiner's objections: AMC's move to trim the show from 47 minutes and episode to 45 minutes (which is still above the now-industry standard 43 minutes). The executive producer also wasn't pleased with AMC's move to cut costs by trimming the number of series regulars (particularly actors who don't appear in every episode) or the network's request to highlight more product placement.

But under the deal announced Thursday, insiders confirmed that AMC will air a full 47-minute season opener and season finale of Mad Men. Weiner will also be given the leeway to produce all 13 episodes at 47 minutes – but AMC will have the option of trimming those episodes down to 45 minutes. (Full 47-minute episodes will still be available on other platforms, such as VOD, and on home video.)

Insiders also said that there is "no mandate" to cut cast members (all series regulars will be returning for season five) and that that product integration will simply be more "transparent" and under Weiner's advisement.

AMC and Lionsgate had been locked in a battle for months over the two additional seasons. At issue: Although a critical hit and the show that put AMC on the map, Mad Men is not a huge ratings draw – and boasts a hefty production cost (as much as $2.5 million). Weiner also doesn't come cheap: The executive producer, who's synonymous with the show, will bank around $10 million per season.

Complicating matters further: Rainbow Media, AMC's parent, is preparing to be spun off from owner Cablevision into a separate entity.

"This is a giant corporation fight between Lionsgate and Rainbow/AMC," one source familiar with the negotiations said prior to the deal.

AMC added to the fire on Tuesday by issuing a release confirming the season five pickup – even though it had already been announced – and telling reporters that Mad Men wouldn't return until 2012 (believed to be in March). Despite AMC's decision to push Mad Men into next year, while sources close to Weiner (who wanted to stick to a 2011 timetable) said the exec producer still had every intention of delivering episodes by late summer or early fall.

But that would have been too late for AMC, which has other programs already on the Sunday docket for fall – including season two of The Walking Dead (which is now AMC's top-rated series). Unfortunately for Mad Men fans, AMC is holding to that early 2012 date.

With AMC paying Lionsgate for the show, it was up to the network to find a way to make a deal work. That's why insiders on AMC's side believed the demands weren't outrageous, such as bringing the show's length in line with other dramas and finding ways to be more open about the kind of product integration that the show already does.

Weiner spoke to the fan site Basket of Kisses on Wednesday, telling the blog that "I had nothing to do with this delay and it is not about money. I am fighting for the cast and for the show."

Weiner said negotiations didn't begin in earnest until three weeks ago, and dismissed the reported $10 million-per-season figure. "I've brought the show in on budget. I’ve been a good producer," he told the blog.

Reaction was mixed in the creative community. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, in his typical brash style, disagreed with Weiner's objections: "You can't ask a network for 10 million, then bitch when they want to expand their ad revenue source. Whore or saint, pick one."

But Tim Goodman, the TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter, was firmly planted on Team Weiner: "AMC was a second rate movie channel (and that's being generous) until Mad Men put it on the map… Pay the man."

"AMC’s original programming began with a mission to create bold storytelling of the highest quality, and 'Mad Men' was the perfect expression of that commitment," said AMC president Charlie Collier. "We've been proud to support this show from the day we read Matt's ground-breaking pilot script and have loved building it with Matt and Lionsgate into the cultural phenomenon it has become. For everyone involved in the show and its passionate fans, we are thrilled to announce that the series will continue on AMC under the exceptional vision of Matt Weiner."

Added Lionsgate TV president Kevin Beggs: "We are proud to continue our successful relationships with AMC and the brilliantly talented Matt Weiner, whose vision has created one of the most distinguished series on television. We also appreciate the passion and patience of 'Mad Men' fans around the world who have been awaiting this good news, and we believe they will be rewarded with many more seasons of this extraordinary and groundbreaking series." 

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