AMC set off a flurry of good news/bad news discussion when the prestige cable channel opened its press tour session with vice president Joel Stillerman saying, "'Mad Men' is definitely coming back for season 5, but don't ask me when, because we're not sure yet."
The first part was reassuring, because oddly "Mad Men" had yet to be renewed, due to some contractual issues with the cast and creator Matthew Weiner. The second part was more concerning, since it doesn't look like AMC - which won't air "Breaking Bad" season 4 until summer, and will likely try to launch "The Walking Dead" season 2 around Halloween again - may have a Sunday window in which to air a fifth season until perhaps early 2012.
So after the panel for AMC's new long-form mystery "The Killing," I tracked down AMC president Charlie Collier to get a better sense of his thinking - and learned, among other things, that "Mad Men" is still not technically renewed.
"The negotiations are going well," explained a smiling Collier, who was on the verge of leaving the press tour hotel for another meeting with Weiner and the people at the Lionsgate studio, which produces the show. "We'll tell you soon."
He said that waiting for the renewal to be official wasn't slowing down their scheduling plans, and that he and his fellow execs were meeting frequently to map out a strategy for all their veteran and new shows.
"Every year, we've looked at everything" for "Mad Men," he said, reminding me that the series aired on Thursdays at 10 in its first season. "One year we launched in July, one in August. It's like what Matt does when he decides when he's going to set a season: we look for the best place to schedule it for what's going on in the world."
I pointed out the problem that would be created by having "Breaking Bad" end not too long before everyone assumes "Walking Dead" will be back, and he said, "We went from a network with no scripted series to one that has the luxury of having five great series ahead. We'll find room."
He wouldn't confirm or deny any of the possibilities I threw out, from doubling it up with "Breaking Bad" (creating the best night of drama since "Deadwood" aired after "The Sopranos") to trying one of the shows on a different night, to the dreaded possibility of saving "Mad Men" until January or later in 2012.
"Truly, we are evaluating everything. We love the show and want to put it in the best place to succeed."
Of course, things would be less complicated if "Breaking Bad" had aired in its usual spring window, which is now occupied by "The Killing," set to debut April 3. Why move that?
"You look at what we've been able to do in the summer months (with 'Mad Men') in terms of having a cultural phenomenon and making it stand out, and you look at 'Breaking Bad,'" Collier said. "'Breaking Bad' is such a stand-out drama, and we want to put it in the place where it has the best chance to succeed. We think we've found the window. We're going to bring the existing audience and hopefully grow from there."
And though it's surely maddening for "Mad Men" fans to be kept in limbo about when we'll see Don, Peggy and Joan again, for Collier, it's a high-class problem.
"When you have multiple successes, you say, "How do I pair my male (skewing) and my female (skewing)?(*) How do I use the success of a 'Mad Men', a 'Breaking Bad,' a 'Walking Dead,' to support a 'Killing' or (historical drama) 'Hell on Wheels'?"
(*) Speaking of demographics, "Mad Men" skews more female, "Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" more male. If you figure "The Killing" (which has a female lead and is in a genre that traditionally attracts more women) skews female, and that the Western "Hell on Wheels" is going to skew male, it would be frustrating but not entirely shocking to see AMC try to hold back "Mad Men" to pair with "The Killing" a year or so from now, while putting "Hell" with the zombies or Walter White.
"So all of a sudden," he concluded, "it's a new wonderful challenge to schedule them - to use your network's strength to bring them to new levels."
In other words, stay tuned.
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