(*For some reason, television writers decided it was cool to call Matthew Weiner "Matt" in their reports about the negotiations. Who thought that was a good idea? Nothing like faux-intimacy with a show-runner that you aren't friends with to endear yourself to readers.) (That's sarcasm.)
Here's the thing: Mad Men is one of my favorite television shows, and probably one of the "best ever"; it resides in the same rarefied air as The Sopranos, The Wire, Arrested Development and Friday Night Lights, and proves that Matthew Weiner is one of the best show-runners around. The fact that he'll be allowed to wrap the story up in 39 more episodes is a good thing, and it means he can finally start planning for the end-game — whatever that may be. And, yet! 39 more episodes? That seems slightly excessive. No one wants to see Mad Men hit the '70s, and unless he slows time down to a crawl (something that he has previously be loath to do), that's exactly what will happen. Also: 39 more episodes? Wouldn't 26 be a little more focused and productive? Just sayin'.
Of course, the amount of episodes is ultimately meaningless — having more episodes of Mad Men to watch is automatically a good thing, since even stand-alone episodes are still better than 90 percent of other television shows — but the length of them is not.
One of the sticking points on Weiner's deal was the commercial time allocated to Mad Men episodes. AMC wanted 45-minute episodes; Weiner wanted 47-minute episodes. The compromise? Well, in the past it was that AMC — a network with barely enough original programming to count on one hand — would push episodes of Mad Men past 11 p.m., thus allowing for extra commercials without cutting content. That made sense for everyone — AMC could still charge the same ad rates, and Mad Men fans would still get full episodes — but apparently it made too much sense. Because in the new contract, Weiner will still produce 47-minute episodes, but with the exception of the premiere and finale, AMC will only air the 45-minute edits. Where do those two-minutes go? Well, to a digitally delivered "producer's cut" episode, which will be available eight days after the airdate for a nominal fee.
That's right: Weiner and AMC/Lionsgate are basically fleecing the fans for two-minutes of additional content. You haven't read this anywhere because no one is actually saying it. Per the New York Times piece on the Mad Men negotiations:
In a compromise of sorts, the length of the show may change, but only on television. Mr. Weiner’s new contract specifies that the first and last episode of each season will remain 47 minutes long, the same length as the episodes in previous seasons. For the episodes in between, Mr. Weiner said he will create a 45-minute version for AMC to televise, and a 47-minute “final cut” that will be available in digital formats, like in Apple’s iTunes store.
Translation: Considering AMC doesn't offer Mad Men episodes online — and neither does Hulu — the only way to watch the "final cut" will be with an iTunes purchase. (Or later on DVD.) It is possible that the network might allow the 47-minute episodes to stream for free, but knowing what you know about reality — plus about the bank accounts of the "average" Mad Men viewer (think: Don Draper) — that seems unlikely.
The worst part? Not the $1.99 charge for the non-HD Weiner cut (just $1 per extra minute!), but the fact that those two minutes will most likely be utterly meaningless. Do you really think AMC would allow Weiner to place something relevant and important in those two minutes? Do you think Roger will find out Joan didn't have an abortion in those two minutes? Do you think Don will cheat on Megan in those two minutes? If AMC thinks I'm going to pay for that, they're sadly mistaken. It's just an added revenue stream for a non-pay-cable network, and a transparent and insulting one at that.
When the deal was finally struck, Weiner was quick to praise the loyal Mad Men audience. "I’m overwhelmed by the expressions of support from the fans and friends of the show," he said. "It’s been an incredible experience." No truth to the rumor he was on the way to the bank at the time.