AMC released a statement Tuesday that “Mad Men” will return for a fifth season, but not until 2012. So why is this critically adored series — some proclaim it’s one of the best series of all time –taking a hiatus of more than a year and a half?
Two reasons: Money, and ratings.
The creator of “Mad Men,” Matthew Wiener is a fifteen-time Emmy winner, 13 from “Mad Men,” and two from “The Sopranos” where he was a lead writer and producer. And now that Weiner’s deal with “Mad Men” is done, he wants more money.
How much more money? Word came in Tuesday that he declined a three-year $30 million deal to maintain his position as the showrunner. That would make him by-far the richest cable showrunner, and one of the most-paid in all of television.
Which is where ratings come in.
“Mad Men” may be a critically adored show, but it’s not watched by many more than the zealous fans its already developed. And in the fifth season of a show, it isn’t likely to gain viewers.
How well watched is the show? It generally averages between 1.5 million and 2.5 million viewers, and typically a 0.8 in the adults 18-49 demo.
That’s weak by network standards, and fairly weak by cable standards. But AMC was a budding network when “Mad Men” (and equally low-rated drama “Breaking Bad”) debuted to massive critical acclaim, so its kept the show going.
That’s all changed now that “The Walking Dead” debuted to both critical acclaim and truly massive ratings: It averaged more than 4 million viewers and greater than a 2.5 in the adults 18-49 demo. Now AMC has seen the potential it has for luring viewers.
So all parties involved have engaged in a game of cat and mouse. “Mad Men” is as advertised, one of the most critically acclaimed shows in the history of the medium, and AMC wants it to keep going. Despite not having a deal with Wiener, they have greenlit the fifth season and contracted the cast to return.
So why not get rid of Weiner, who has turned down a deal that is one of the richest ever awarded to a showrunner, and keep it going?
This is where Weiner knows he has negotiating power. Weiner is directly credited with writing 38 of the shows 52 episodes, including all the premieres, finales, and most of the shows most pivotal moments. But beyond that, as the cast and other writers have attested to in interviews, Weiner is the ingenue of the entire series.
Though he has not written each episode of the series, Weiner is credited with creating the arc each season follows, and coming up with the pivotal plots each character will endure throughout the time. For the episodes he does not write, as the head writer, he edits and molds each screenplay.
The show’s costume designer Janie Bryant has said Weiner is intricately involved with the look of the show, as have set designers, directors, and most others involved in the show.
Weiner believes he should be compensated greatly for his role in the series, and is willing to hold out.
Sources involved in negotiations have said a deal is close, and AMC announcing the show will return in early 2012, so a deal is likely imminent, one that will pay Weiner richly and ensure three more (and hopefully three final) season of “Mad Men.”
But more than a year will have elapsed since Don went off with his new bride, and it seems like money was the reason.