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'Mad Men' Creator, AMC in Battle Over Show's Future

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Photo: AMC

Fans of Mad Men, you may have disappointment on your TV-viewing horizon. This will be the first summer since the show launched five years ago that it won't air on AMC, thanks to a standoff between show creator Matthew Weiner and cable channel AMC.

Here's the standoff: AMC is offering Weiner $30 million for a two-year commitment, which adds up to more than $1 million per episode. But sources tell me that AMC is demanding that Weiner cut two full-time cast members this season, and for each of the following two seasons. Sources all say that the channel is asking for significant product placement, plus an additional two minutes of ads per episode. A source close to AMC says the cable channel's product placement demands haven't changed. Update: A source close to AMC said that they have not asked Weiner to cut two full-time cast members.

AMC said Tuesday that it will definitely bring Mad Men back, but it's delaying the show's fifth season until early 2012. That means they'll keep the show going even without Weiner, the force behind it, on board.

'Not Quite Sure' About Changes: Matthew Weiner issued a statement saying: "I’m hopeful we can work something out. The first four seasons reflect a show with a cast, story and direction that we all envisioned from the beginning, and I’d like to be able to deliver that to our fans in the coming years. We’ve had so much success together that I’m not quite sure why they want to change the formula so drastically.”

It's certainly in AMC's best interest to work out a deal — Mad Men is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television. Rave reviews don't translate directly to ratings, with total viewers averaging just 2.3 million last year, just a fraction of network TV shows. Ad revenue for Mad Men is similarly meager. Advertising industry sources tell me that while Mad Men can charge the same rate per thousand viewers as a network show, the low viewership keeps the rate for a 30-second spot in the range of just $40,000.

Still, the show has dramatically boosted AMC's profile. Along with other original programming that followed Mad Men's debut, the show has helped the company increase revenue-per-subscriber by 70 cents in the four years since the show's launch, to well above the cable industry average.

And this negotiation comes at a particularly key time for AMC's parent Rainbow Media. Rainbow Media's parent, Cablevision os preparing for a tax-free spin-off of Rainbow Media, called AMC Networks to existing shareholders by mid-year.

The other company with skin in the game is Lionsgate, which produces the show, earning a listening fee, plus revenue from foreign rights, DVD an digital sales. The timing of the next season won't much impact Lionsgate's bottom line, but the show's longevity certainly will. AMC Can easily fill the valuable Sunday night slot this summer with other shows like "Breaking Bad." But over the long run the network will benefit if it can renew the show for many seasons, with Weiner attached.

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