Remember 'Mad Men'? AMC Hopes So

A long absence begs the question: will audiences reappear when the Jon Hamm-fronted series returns after an 18-month hiatus?

Mad Men has never been a ratings giant, but the big question is whether its dedicated audience will reappear when the series returns March 25 after an 18-month hiatus.

AMC's Emmy-winning drama posted its most-watched season yet in 2010, averaging 2.3 million viewers. But the network has been forced to essentially reintroduce the show thanks to a delay due in part to contract talks among the network, producer Lionsgate and creator Matthew Weiner, who will make $30 million over the show's final three seasons.

"The ratings will probably be a little lower because as shows get on in years, ratings go down," says media consultant Shari Anne Brill. "But it has a very loyal following. So people who loved that show will be back."

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The higher cost for the show adds ratings pressure, though Mad Men still delivers one of TV's most affluent audiences. AMC is hoping to replicate The Sopranos, which was off HBO for 16 months between the third and fourth seasons and returned in 2002 to 13 million viewers, HBO's largest audience ever.

Plus, says author and former TV executive Tim Brooks, many viewing options keep viewers interested. "On-demand, reruns, DVDs, mentions in the press -- you read about Jon Hamm's doings all the time," says Brooks.