Will Summer Be The Same Without ‘Mad Men’?

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men (AMC)

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men (AMC)

After four years as a summer staple, the premiere of the next “Mad Men” season – the series’ fifth – won’t likely take place ’til approximately a year from now as AMC and the show’s creator fight it out over money and creative control.

What in the world are we supposed to watch this summer? “The Marriage Ref”? Well, more on that later. For now, though, we can all bemoan the “business” part of show business, which once again has intervened to potentially undermine the most universally acclaimed TV show ever made in America.

Here’s the latest: AMC (more specifically its parent company, Lionsgate) is reportedly tussling with “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner over the terms for producing a fifth season. Ordinarily, they would have already agreed on the conditions for bringing the show back and would be in the midst of producing it with an eye toward a midsummer premiere date. Three out of four previous seasons started in July; the third season started on Aug. 16.

But this time around, the negotiations are taking so long that they’ve gone way beyond the date the series would have had to start production in time for a summer premiere, according to Deadline.

The story suggests that the proposed fifth-season start date for “Mad Men” in 2012 — possibly as late as March — may have been inevitable because AMC has more original series to accommodate than it did when “Mad Men” began in 2007. Now, instead of “Mad Men” this summer, we’re getting the fourth season of “Breaking Bad.” Some time after that, we’ll see the second season of “The Walking Dead,” now AMC’s biggest hit with ratings higher than “Mad Men.” And, of course, there’s AMC’s latest original, “The Killing,” starting this Sunday night (April 3) at 9/8c.

According to reports, AMC wants concessions from Weiner that are aimed at lowering costs and increasing revenue. To lower costs, Lionsgate reportedly asked Weiner to dump at least two characters. To increase revenue, the company asked him to be more flexible on product placements within the shows. They also asked him to shave two minutes off each episode in order to accommodate more commercials. He reportedly refused because he felt the concessions would weaken the show’s quality.

Turmoil Surrounds The Future Of ‘Mad Men’

For his part, he’s reportedly asking for a compensation package worth an estimated $30 million over three years (which would make him the highest-paid show runner in basic cable).

In a statement, AMC said it intends to move forward with production on Season Five, although it won’t start up for a while. And whether Weiner will be a part of it remains an open question. “AMC has officially authorized production of Season 5 of ‘Mad Men’,” the statement said. “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.”

On Wednesday, Weiner made a few statements of his own, via a “Mad Men” fan site. Among other things, he said the $30 million figure “is not true,” the negotiations have not been protracted (he claimed they just started three weeks ago), and the “two” cast members he would be required to cut would actually amount to “six” because the agreement would have called for two to be dropped in each of the next three seasons.

“There’s been a lot of speculation and misinformation in the press about what is going on,” he said. “I want the fans to know directly from me 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.”

Whoever’s at fault, the end result is this huge time gap between seasons. Season Four of “Mad Men” ended in October 2010. And now we have to wait ’til 2012 to see it again? Simply put: That’s too long. And if two or more characters have to go, who would they be and how would you explain their absence? They were all in the same carpool and the car crashed? Subway accident? Mass drowning? Layoffs?

So what happens to our summer viewing? The summer will feel different without the joy of “Mad Men” to look forward to. Sure, we’re likely to have “Breaking Bad,” which we all love, plus HBO will have “True Blood” ready to return. And other series such as “The Closer” and “Rizzoli & Isles” will be back on TNT. As for the rest of the summer schedule, the dog days are more often a time for light-hearted fare such as “America’s Got Talent” and, for the first time, “The Marriage Ref” on NBC.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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