Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mad Men

I started watching the 1960s period drama Mad Men this past August. I got hooked. Of course, at the time, all I had seen was the start of the fourth season. While Mad Men is not one of those serialized programs like Lost, it is good to know the backstory. As such, after catching up on the previous three seasons within a one month period, I started watching the rest of the fourth season on the DVR.

Throughout the contract negotiations between Matthew Weiner and AMC, I have never blamed Weiner for wanting a better deal. He deserves it. After all, Mad Men is the show that really put AMC on the map for original programming.

AMC wants the show to drop two cast members, integrate product placement and lose two minutes.

As of now, AMC has greenlit production but instead of the late summer slot, it won't be back until March 2012.

The Hollywood Reporter says not to blame Weiner.
But whatever the price tag Weiner's asking for, whatever the changes he's being asked to make -- more commercial time or reduction of characters allegedly among them -- it's all beside the point now. AMC and Lionsgate balked two years ago at Weiner's salary demands and here we are again. Apparently there's been too much distance -- and too much success --- at AMC to remember where they were before making Mad Men.

They were nowhere.

AMC was a second rate movie channel (and that's being generous) until Mad Men put it on the map. No Mad Men, then probably no Breaking Bad (which itself was partly a free gift from FX). So any discussion of Mad Men's worth goes far, far beyond the value of the actual show as it relates to the money it brings in.[...]

What has happened since the last contract? Well, Breaking Bad has given AMC a one-two punch (in any order) of the best two series on television. As great as Breaking Bad is, it doesn't generate the same hype as Mad Men, despite its healthy ratings. AMC has had some misses, to be sure -- the remake of The Prisoner didn't work and Rubicon didn't catch fire. But Breaking Bad and then the massive hit that was The Walking Dead really established the channel. The Killing, AMC's next effort, is fantastic (but nobody knows yet what the ratings will be like). Regardless, it's pretty clear that AMC is a major player in high quality scripted drama.

And yet the niche channel is clearly forgetting that none of this would be possible without Mad Men. I don't begrudge Weiner anything he's asking for because in all likelihood, this is his biggest ticket. The former Sopranos writer is extremely talented and will no doubt go on to other successes. But like David Simon, the creator of The Wire who moved on to Treme, it's not about how brilliant one person is. It's about catching lightning in a bottle and cracking that bottle over the head of the culture in a way that essentially lives on in history books forever. Now that is hard to repeat. So don't begrudge Weiner whatever it is he's getting for four brilliant seasons of Mad Men.

The key here is not to blame him. AMC is already making it look like it's all Weiner's fault. People who don't care about negotiations or the minutia involved will only be upset that they won't get to see Don Draper and company until sometime in 2012. They'll be looking for blame. Perhaps Weiner should, as AMC has already done, release a statement giving some insight to his side. He's already going to have enough pressure -- as there is each season -- to make Season 5 as brilliant as the four previous. And if he doesn't, what will people say about his pay raise? That's a lot of pressure, especially for a man who doesn't like to delegate and whose fingerprints are all over everything in the show.
AMC, pay the man.

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