As I mentioned yesterday, all of the “Mad Men” hype made it seem like the entire world could not wait for the series to return. (This is obviously subjective, and it depends a lot on the people with whom you interact and the sites you visit.) This overshadowed the very real fact that relatively few people actually watch the show.
The ratings for the season premiere are in, and they once again remind us that if we watch “Mad Men” we are part of a very, very small minority: 3.5 million people watched the premiere. That’s quite a few people! That is actually the most-watched episode in the show’s history! It’s also very small by many television metrics. Last October, the second season of “The Walking Dead” debuted to 7.3 million viewers; the season finale reached 9 million people last week. (These are all numbers showing only the initial viewings, of course; plenty of additional people will watch reruns, DVR’d episodes or catch up via streaming/DVDs.) “Mad Men” outperformed itself and fellow All-Time Great Series Currently Airing on AMC, “Breaking Bad” (which premiered to 2.6 million people last year). But it doesn’t begin to approach big shows on the major networks, or even the almost-majors: As Vulture’s Joe Adalian points out, the numbers barely beat last week’s episode of “30 Rock.”
Anyway, it’s back!
I’m sure you already know that “Mad Men” is back tonight because duh, everybody knows that “Mad Men” is back tonight. The fifth season, which begins with a two-hour premiere, was delayed by the very public negotiations involving Matthew Weiner. He ultimately signed a deal that will carry him on through the eventual series finale, but it still helped keep the show off the air for 525 days.
I was going to do a roundup of the best “Mad Men”-related errata that has popped up recently, but this Kottke post covers that nicely. Also, it’s important to remember that while it might seem like everyone is aware of and excited for the return of “Mad Men” — because people who are fans of the show talk about it in real life all the time and because it’s all over the Internet and many media outlets — the fourth season finale was seen by just 2.44 million people when it aired. That is a very small number of people (even if the episode was seen by more people in reruns, on DVD/streaming and whatnot). So don’t be too surprised if you ask people what they thought of the premiere and they didn’t see it.
Anyway, “Mad Men.” Whee! Very exciting.
So it turns out “Mad Men” IS coming back this summer. Kinda. Netflix just acquired the rights to stream every episode of “Mad Men,” with the first four seasons available beginning July 27. The other seasons will be added down the line. Netfilx is paying Lionsgate nearly $1 million per episode, which essentially means that streaming the final three seasons will finance Matthew Weiner’s massive salary.
After the “Mad Men” negotiations became public and acrimonious, the show’s fans had to wait and see if the show would be very different when it finally returned to the air. It turns out that was all for naught. Matthew Weiner has signed a deal for the show’s fifth and sixth seasons, as well as extending his deal so that if there’s a seventh season of the show, he’ll still be around.
And what of those sticking points that caused so much public friction? You know, added commercials, extra product placement and cast cuts? They somehow found a way to compromise on things like 120 seconds of airtime so that everyone involved could continue making a lot of money:
A compromise of sorts was reached on the commercials. The first and last episodes of the upcoming fifth season will run at 47 minutes and the rest of the episodes will run at 45 minutes. Weiner will have the option to make those other episodes at 47 minutes for other platforms including video on demand, DVD and iTunes.
There will be no change in the show’s use of product placement. And the new deal covers the entire current cast for the next two seasons, meaning that if any cast members are fired during the fifth and sixth seasons, it will be because Weiner wrote them out rather than the network.
Weiner made the rounds doing interviews, claiming again and again that it wasn’t about the money, which almost makes you think he knows his reputation took a hit in the last few days. Interestingly, in his mini-press tour after the announcement on Thursday, Weiner kept returning to the show’s delayed premiere date. It seems he remains miffed that the show was pushed back to next year, as opposed to the usual summer premiere, and that he was blamed for this. Things don’t exactly seem warm and cuddly between Weiner and the network, do they? But that doesn’t really matter. He’s signed, it’s renewed, everybody is going to make a lot of money and move forward.
“Mad Men,” the endlessly acclaimed AMC series, should be gearing up for production on its fifth season. Instead, the show is sitting in a weird limbo while very public and acrimonious contract negotiations play out in the press. Let’s sift through this with a lengthy and rambling attempt to round up the relevant information, shall we?
First things first: “Mad Men” will return in early 2012. That much is certain. Will it look any different? Will it still be run by Matthew Weiner? That’s where things start to get murky.
The contract negotiations between AMC and Weiner have hit some snags. Weiner has been offered a three-season deal worth $30 million, so his salary isn’t the issue this time around. He said so himself, perhaps worried that it appeared he was banking $30 million and refusing to budge an inch. (Which is good, lest he open himself up for more mockery from his fellow show creators.) The network has three demands that have become sticking points:
1. More product integration (which the show already incorporates, but they want more of it).
2. Two minutes trimmed off of the running time (it runs longer than most other dramas, but they want two minutes for more ads).
3. The big one: Two regulars cut from the cast (this doesn’t mean the roles would be eliminated, but it just means that two actors could be demoted to recurring and would therefore only be paid for the episodes in which they appear). However, that number is unclear. Do they want two regulars cut per season? Does it mean cut two regulars out of the cast before each season for the rest of the contract, or does it mean cut two now and keep it at that number from now on? (That’s where this “up to six cast members” number came from, I guess?) Some clarity on that would help, because this is actually the only issue worth focusing on here. Weiner has his money, and product integration and two minutes of airtime are not serious issues. Cutting cast members is a different story.
This impulse might be worth indulging (briefly), but the problem with Mad Men is that it suffers from a hypocrisy of its own. As the camera glides over Joan’s gigantic bust and hourglass hips, as it languorously follows the swirls of cigarette smoke toward the ceiling, as the clinking of ice in the glass of someone’s midday Canadian Club is lovingly enhanced, you can’t help thinking that the creators of this show are indulging in a kind of dramatic having your cake and eating it, too: even as it invites us to be shocked by what it’s showing us (a scene people love to talk about is one in which a hugely pregnant Betty lights up a cigarette in a car), it keeps eroticizing what it’s showing us, too. For a drama (or book, or whatever) to invite an audience to feel superior to a less enlightened era even as it teases the regressive urges behind the behaviors associated with that era strikes me as the worst possible offense that can be committed in a creative work set in the past: it’s simultaneously contemptuous and pandering. Here, it cripples the show’s ability to tell us anything of real substance about the world it depicts.
— Daniel Mendelsohn doesn’t mind being the first person to write a negative review of “Mad Men.” (Okay, not quite, but seemingly.) While this might not change a lot of opinions on the show, it really is quite a well-articulated, artfully composed argument, and I highly recommend it.