The push to make a fifth season of Mad Men—which everyone from its actors to its fans is bent on willing into being—has slowly unraveled into its own soap operatic off-screen drama, as negotiations between AMC and creator Matthew Weiner continue to argue over the terms of his return. Earlier this morning, Deadline posted a report that put the blame mostly on AMC for pushing Weiner to agree to integrating product placement, cutting two minutes from each episode to make room for more commercials, and scrapping two regular cast members, all in order to save and/or generate more money. That report obviously set off plenty of fan outrage: Obviously, no one wants to lose another member of the Mad Men family when many are still pining for Paul Kinsey, and is there a greater symbol for insidious corporate influence on artistic integrity than product placement?
However, Vulture has now posted a slightly more tempered response to Deadline’s report, pointing out that product placement is already a major part of Mad Men’s world—even if it’s done with a slight satirical edge—and the network is likely simply asking for that to continue, or worst case scenario, that Weiner consider structuring even more of the firm’s fictional accounts around its actual sponsors. Yes, it’s still sort of tacky, but given that Mad Men is all about advertising, it’s hardly as egregious as, say, the characters on Heroes mentioning the words “Nissan Versa” every five minutes. Vulture also confirms that all of Mad Men’s principal cast members are signed on for season five, meaning any cuts would likely come from outside the “core cast.” We’re not sure where Ken Cosgrove (from accounts) falls on that spectrum, but so far it doesn’t seem as though anyone key to the show’s storyline is in danger.
But while Vulture’s sources say that AMC has made every effort to appease Weiner—and in fact, has offered him $30 million to return, making him one of the highest-paid showrunners on television—Weiner has basically broken off talks, and is “currently on a ski holiday,” pushing the negotiations well past the reasonable deadline to return to creating new episodes. And unfortunately, it’s looking increasingly like AMC is willing to move on without him: The network has just issued a statement reading, “AMC has officially authorized production of season 5 of Mad Men, triggering our option with Lionsgate (Mad Men's production company). While we are getting a later start than in years past due to ongoing, key non-cast negotiations, Mad Men will be back for a fifth season in early 2012.” You’ll notice there’s no mention of Weiner anywhere in there, with the implication being that the show will return with or without him—and you can probably expect to hear a definitive answer on that just as soon as Weiner gets off the slopes.