Just as it looked as though Madison Avenue's most fractious advertising agency could become an episode of television history, its US broadcaster confirmed yesterday that Mad Men will be returning for a fifth series after all.
Negotiations over the return of the award-winning drama, set in the glamorous world of New York's 1960s advertising industry, were said to be close to collapse this week following a bitter commercial dispute between Matthew Weiner, the Mad Men creator, and AMC, the US cable network that broadcasts the show. Now even the fictional Don Draper himself might be proud of Mr Weiner's negotiations – he looks set to make $30m (£19m) over two years, making him the highest-paid "showrunner" on cable television.
AMC yesterday confirmed the show would return to screens – though not until 2012. "AMC has officially authorised production of season five of Mad Men, triggering our option with [producer] Lionsgate," the channel said in a statement. "Mad Men will be back for a fifth series in early 2012."
The news gives producers some breathing space amid reports of increasing tension between Mr Weiner and executives at AMC who are still in the midst of thrashing out terms.
AMC, together with Lionsgate Television, initially wanted to cut costs and squeeze more profit out of the drama, introducing more product placement and cutting two minutes from the 45-minute running time of each episode to make way, aptly enough, for more prime-time advertising. AMC and Lionsgate were also demanding the elimination of two characters from the ensemble cast.
Product placement is already a regular feature with Heineken, Cadillac, US Airways, London Fog, Smirnoff and Stolichnaya vodka among the brands which have featured prominently in episodes. However, creating entire storylines around brands could prove a step too far for Weiner.
Yesterday, Weiner told The New York Times: "I don't understand why, with all of the success of the show, they suddenly need to change it. All I want to do is continue to make my show, and make it in the way I want to, with the people I want to make it with."
Hours before an agreement had been reached yesterday, an insider said: "They want it shorter and cheaper, with fewer actors and more product integration. The negotiations are about to collapse as a result."
Weiner made no response following the AMC statement, which indicated the broadcaster's intent to press ahead with the show despite Weiner's reported opposition to the proposed changes.
The delay in the production schedule has caused Mad Men to miss its target launch date this summer, a blow in the UK to BSkyB, which outbid the BBC for Mad Men and has already advertised the "summer premiere" of series five on its Sky Atlantic channel.
The delay has also cost fans one of the most popular characters – while Jon Hamm, who earns $100,000 per episode for his lead role as Don Draper, will return, along with other favourites such as John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, Christina Hendricks, who plays the curvaceous office manager Joan Holloway, has signed up instead for Seconds of Pleasure, the next film by Neil LaBute, amid the uncertainty.
Weiner and AMC clashed two years ago when the writer fended off a demand to slice two minutes from the running time but did agree to cut two regular characters.
Weiner – the $30m man
Matthew Weiner has closed in on a two-year deal worth $30m (£19m) which stands to make him the highest-paid "showrunner" on cable television. It comes after intense objection by the writer of Mad Men after AMC and Lionsgate wanted to add further product placement, cut each episode by two minutes, and axe cast members to save money.Reuse content