Here’s a simple little message for AMC: Are you completely insane? Playing chicken with your show creators and/or showrunners has historically over ever led to bad things. Announcing a date for the next season of Mad Men while not having an agreement with Matthew Weiner strikes me as a very dangerous idea indeed.
Admittedly, AMC’s announcement that Mad Men will return in March 2012 serves a couple of purposes that are undoubtedly important in the middle of the suddenly-public contract negotiations with the show’s creator: It signals to fans and, more importantly, advertisers that the channel is committed to the show at a time when some were wondering whether they’d ever see a fifth season, and also puts a firm deadline on the ongoing negotiations they’re in with Weiner. Both of which seem like they’re taken straight from the Jack Donaghy Book Of Negotiation Tactics and, let’s be honest, both look as likely to backfire with potentially disastrous results.
Here’s the thing: AMC needs Weiner to do Mad Men more than Weiner necessarily needs to do Mad Men, period. Putting aside the very off-putting examples of The West Wing post-Aaron Sorkin or Gilmore Girls without Amy Sherman Palladino (You can mock, but people who watched the show know exactly what I mean), putting aside the fact that what makes Mad Men so enjoyable is the personal tone that clearly comes from Weiner rather than any type of writer’s room – Other writers, I’d suggest, could do a show about all of the characters in the series except for Don, but on the show as in the show, it’s all about Don Draper… and that, I am convinced, is all Weiner – there’s the fact that Jon Hamm is on the record as saying that he wouldn’t continue with the series without Weiner, which would leave the show without its central character. Which might be a problem.
To make matters more awkward for the channel, everything that is apparently a problem for Weiner – Making the episodes two minutes shorter to add in more advertisements, increasing the amount of product placement and cutting the cast by anywhere between two and six characters, according to reports – is very clearly a negative when it comes to the show’s quality. It underlines the idea that AMC doesn’t care about the show as anything more than a moneymaker, which – while not really a problem in and of itself (Should AMC care about the show as anything more than a moneymaker, after all?) – nonetheless gives Weiner some kind of upper hand when it comes to outsiders viewing the conflict.
With all of that in mind, it makes sense for AMC to not only try and say “Hey, there’ll definitely be a new season! And here’s when!” but also try to force an end to the whole thing by setting a deadline. But that’s pretty much where the common sense ends for AMC, because now they have less than a year to not only make a deal with Weiner and/or find a replacement for him, but also make the fifth season of the show. Which isn’t really a lot of time, all told, considering all of the steps necessary to make that second part happen. Don’t get me wrong, there’s every possibility that AMC hasn’t learned from history and is already considering Life After Weiner, but somehow I think that’d be a worse case scenario for all involved. Maybe it’s time to for everyone to learn from the show’s characters and accept compromise and bitterness as a way of life, so that everything can meet its new deadline.
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