Mad Men: Say Goodbye to Your Favorite Cast Member?

What’s worse than hearing that one of your favorite shows is delayed for a year because of money squabbles between the “suits” that run the studio, the show creator, and the network? Well, how about the mind-boggling reasons behind the squabbles. It’s one thing to think the cause is some amorphous, “We think the show is great, now we want to figure out who gets what cut of the profit” reason. We expect this kind of behind-the-scenes dealings. And we’re willing to put up with it, since we know Hollywood is a grubby little greed-field full of hungry muskrats. But when the reasons bleed into the integrity of the show…well, that’s a whole other bag of bad.

Reports reveal that the continuing standoff between show creator Matt Weiner, AMC, and Lionsgate Television, is centered on a few main points. AMC/Lionsgate is asking for: integrating more product placement into the series, cutting 2 minutes from each episode’s running time in favor of more commercials and eliminating/reducing two regular cast members to save money. To which Weiner has basically said, “That’s some crazy shit that I’ll never agree to.” Considering what’s on the table if the deal goes through, this is an interesting position to take. He stands to make $30 million over two years and become the highest-paid showrunner on basic cable. Is he really this altruistic? Is he really putting the integrity of the show above his own desires for economic success? Well, for now it would seem that way.

And it’s not any wonder. We can tell that the show is a labor of love for Weiner. Granted the series is expensive to produce and the ratings still wouldn’t classify the show as a bonafide hit in the sense that Two and a Half Men is a bonafide hit (And I say this to make a point. Watch Mad Men folks). Invariably, the show struggles every season. But, the reason why it’s critically acclaimed and an award-winning program is the authenticity, the keen attention to detail, and the well-crafted artistic vision and workmanship Weiner has strived for. He knows that he has something worth its salt, and selling it out for cheap…well, that’s not in the cards for him at this moment. But it does make one wonder what AMC is thinking about their flagship series.

“This is their storied franchise, and they want it shorter and cheaper, with fewer actors and more product integration,” an insider said. “The negotiations are about to collapse as a result.”

Reps claim the negotiations are still underway, and Tuesday, in a bold move, AMC announced that the fifth season is slated to premiere in March of 2012 despite not having a deal with Weiner. This would be a clear deviation from the approach taken two years ago when similar negotiations occurred. AMC wanted 2 minutes of extra commercial load for the show. The two sides were able to reach a compromise and agreed to let the episodes run into the 11 PM hour so ad time could be added without having to shorten the scripts, but it looks bleak that a similar situation will unfold without some flexibility from the networks. This new deal would basically rescind the former arrangement, but would still leave Mad Men‘s running time 90% longer than most other basic cable shows. Which begs the question if basic cable is really the right place for a show like Mad Men, a show that has a sweeping storyline and relies heavily on the subtle evolving of its characters and their environment.

Personally, as a fan, I’d take two more minutes of commercials instead of haggling over more product placement, since in my opinion products can be worked into the show more seamlessly, so why negotiate? The whole fooking show is about advertising! The idea that the studio wants more advertising on a show about advertising when they do nothing but product placement in most every episode is just too meta for comprehension. What do they think stories that center around ads for Samsonite, London Fog, Honda, or Utz are? But the idea of cutting out beloved characters sounds ludicrous and empirically asinine. Who would they get rid of? Well, obviously Betty can go for a long walk off a short pier, but other than scowl-face, who else would we be willing to lose for the sake of saving a few bucks and making this show into a shilling pile of jokes between just Don and Roger like some sort of Martin and Lewis routine, eh? Yeah, I’m thinking what you’ll lose is the entire viewing audience.

Reports as of last night indicate that AMC may be walking back some of those original statements about cutting characters.

“They’re not asking Matt Weiner to change the show’s DNA, and they are not asking him to fire or cut two actors. That was part of a list of suggestions that they gave to him or to his people to monitor the budget on the show.”

Addressing the question of product integration, the source said, “[Product] integrations have been happening from season one. It’s not additional product placement, it’s basically being able to talk about the product placement in the show, it’s an issue of transparency about the product placement that has gone on since season one, so their partners can talk about it.”

However, Weiner’s camp maintains that AMC has indeed put cutting talent on the table.

Matthew Weiner told The Huffington Post that the issues of actor cuts, episode time cut and product integration were not merely suggestions, as indicated by a previous source, but instead were definite AMC demands.

“The casting is a hard and fast thing,” the source said. “They’re not making a suggestion, that’s not how these things work, that you cut your budget after you cut your deal. They said cut $1.5 million in cash expenses per year, which is the equivalent of two actors. They give you a number they want you to hit, and you have to hit it.”

The source added that the budget cut each year would require cutting two actors every year for three years, and not bit players. “Series regulars,” was how the source described the type of role that would have to be cut.

Apparently life is imitating art. Can’t you just see Campbell, Cosgrove, and Harry Crane, looking furtively at Don’s closed door hoping they don’t get called in? And since AMC has utilized their option with Lionsgate they’ve intimated that they can move forward with season 5 with or without Weiner…and that would be horrible. What would Mad Men then become? [Insert awful NBC show here.]

I just don’t know. Who do you believe? Hey, Weiner, maybe you better start answering some email from HBO!

[Top image via AMC]

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