“Mad Men” fans may have reason to worry this week. A rush of news has appeared with certain aspects of the show’s future in doubt. (First, the bad news: It won’t be claiming to its traditional end of July/early August start date. But “Mad Men” will definitely return in 2012.)
There are a few sticking points that have yet to be ironed out between series creator Matthew Weiner and cable channel AMC, which runs the show. Among them: AMC has asked to cut six characters over the course of three more seasons, feature more product placement and take two minutes off the run time. In return, AMC will pay Weiner $30 million over those three years.
Since this decision involves creative control and business management, let’s take a look at the issue to see what each side could argue via a SWOT analysis.
Weiner can easily use the fact that he single-handedly brought AMC back on the broadcasting radar as leverage. “Hey, remember when my show won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series three years in a row? Good times.”
He can also argue on the cultural impact it’s made. From Barbie dolls to “Sterling’s Gold,” the show has generated revenue beyond DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s influenced fashion and interior design trends. In observing media trends, there’s been much ink (mostly positive) spilled over the show.
If each instance of influence was quantified into a monetary sum, the total would be, uh, pretty large.
AMC could pull the “we took you in when HBO didn’t” card, essentially saying they could make the show with or without Weiner.
Reports are that Weiner has been off hitting the slopes instead of continuing negotiations with AMC. The fact that he’s gone during such a crucial juncture makes it look like he’s a little overconfident in getting what he wants. This could spell trouble for him in later negotiations.
AMC has apparently overlooked the fact that “Mad Men” is an award-winning, highly-acclaimed show. So why is now the right time to step in and mess with a successful formula?
This is similar to a parent letting a child’s bad behavior slide for awhile, and then attempting to discipline. Except that “Mad Men” has been, by all accounts, an outstanding child of AMC: raising its profile and status, bringing in revenue and awards. There seems to be no good (or even) real reason to change that which makes the show so successful. It doesn’t look like AMC has a strong argument.
AMC reportedly wants to add in more product placement. Since it’s a show about advertising, would that mean more blatantly doing so or just more of the same, featuring products at the centers of campaigns?
Some obvious products featured thus far include Utz chips, American Airlines and Lucky Strike cigarettes. And those were just a few of multi-arc candidates. But as the show moves forward in time (and presumably into the ’70s), Weiner could take the opportunity to show some not-so-traditional products. It’d be keeping right in line with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s self-positioning as a “young and hip” agency.
Since it’ll be a few months before the new season begins airing, viewers may forget about the show or even lose interest when it airs again.
AMC could air the entire series to date in the months leading up to the new season. This would help refresh viewers who were previously familiar with the show, as well as lure in potential new viewers. It would also boost DVD and Blu-Ray sales of the four previous seasons. Then, when the fifth season begins, previous events (that will no doubt be referenced later) will still be relatively fresh in fans’ minds.
Obviously, if AMC’s demands are implemented, “Mad Men” will become a much different show. Wiener has differentiated his show with strict attention to detail in all aspects of production. If Wiener agrees to any of the demands, it would end up as a very different show, and it might lose loyal viewers. Consequently, the show’s overall value would drop, and that would reflect poorly on AMC.
The show might lose the buzz it’s been steadily generating since the first season. Until now, fans had been able to nearly set their calendars by each season’s return date. But now, they’ll have to wait another five months or longer to see the gang back in action.
And those five months could prove detrimental to the show’s audience. Attention spans move quickly, and a show that isn’t airing might be “out of sight, out of mind” for some. So in the meantime, AMC would need to find a way to keep “Mad Men” prominently in their fans’ minds.