Drama Behind 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner's Contract Talks

Matthew Weiner - 62nd Annual EMMY Awards - 2010
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Sources say Lionsgate TV presented the showrunner with an offer of $30 million over three years, but the dispute -- which caused the show's fifth season to be pushed back to March 2012 -- ultimately was not about compensation.

With Mad Men's fifth season officially pushed back to March 2012, the show that helped establish AMC as a home for A-list scripted drama will have been off the air for more than 17 months.

The delay again involves negotiations between series creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner and studio Lionsgate TV and AMC. Weiner is balking at what he characterizes as cost-cutting measures, including more product placement, ditching as many as six regular cast members over three years and shaving two minutes off each episode to squeeze in more commercials.

One source who reps talent on the three-time drama series Emmy winner notes that The Sopranos went off the air for a year and a half at one point. "When it came back, it hurt, but it wasn't fatal," this person says. "Matt grew up on The Sopranos, so he feels like he can follow the same path."

Sources say the studio made Weiner an offer of $30 million over three years, which would take Mad Men through its seventh season and make Weiner one of the highest-paid showrunners in ad-supported cable.

But a source close to Weiner says the dispute is not about his compensation and that he was ready to negotiate for Season 5 months ago but AMC presented its first offer only two weeks ago.

"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," Weiner told the New York Times.

The Mad Men negotiations grew heated over more commercial time two years ago, but the parties ultimately agreed to let the show, which airs in the 10 p.m. hour, run into the 11 p.m. hour. Even with a two-minute cut, AMC sources point out, Mad Men would be longer than most cable dramas including TNT's Southland and FX's Justified.

The network is not asking for more product integration, just that the placements be more transparent, allowing advertisers to be included in the process and publicize their involvement, according to industry sources.

If Mad Men cuts series regulars, it would reflect the "continuing erosion of the middle class" in the TV business, one talent rep says. "There's basically enough to pay stars and the key writers," he says. Midlevel series regulars take the brunt of cost cutting.

Mad Men has never been an enormous ad-revenue generator for AMC, which pays nearly $3 million an episode to license the show. For its third season in 2009, Mad Men took in a relatively paltry $2 million in ad revenue over 13 episodes, according to Kantar Media. AMC pocketed $2.8 million the year before and about $2.25 million in 2007.

But the show repeats well and generates strong DVD sales. And it has been the linchpin of AMC's branding as a purveyor of quality dramas, helping the network launch the hits Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

A source estimates that AMC probably loses money on the show. But he observes, the show "put AMC on the map."