Mad Men's fourth season.
This photo and caption reveal nothing about Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) state of mind at the end of
This photo and caption reveal nothing about Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) state of mind at the end of Mad Men's fourth season. AMC
The news broke last night that after much-publicized negotiations, AMC had reached a deal with Lionsgate Television and executive producer Matthew Weiner to produce two more seasons of the award-soaked Mad Men, with the option for a possible third additional season. That would take the series to seven seasons total, which Weiner is suggesting — for all that such proclamations are worth three years in advance — is all there's going to be.
The most interesting part of the deal is the compromise that was reached on AMC's demand that the show be cut from 47 minutes to 45, to allow an additional two minutes of commercials. (Even 45 minutes is significantly longer than you'd get for a commercial-supported hour on broadcast TV.) There was a similar scuffle at the last contract negotiation, in which it was finally decided that the show could continue to be longer, but it would run until 11:02 p.m. instead of straight-up eleven o'clock. Weiner resisted, saying that cutting two minutes from each episode would fundamentally change the show.
In the ultimate deal, what they decided is that aside from the premiere and the finale, which will remain 47 minutes just like Weiner wants, AMC will air the show at 45 minutes, leaving two extra minutes for commercials. However, Weiner will submit what he's calling a "final cut" at 47 minutes, and that cut will be digitally available, according to some reports beginning eight days after the original broadcast date.
It remains to be seen exactly how this is going to play out, but it looks like what will happen is that the show will be 45 minutes when it airs on a given Sunday, but eight days later — the Monday morning after the following episode airs — viewers can watch the 47-minute cut, either by buying the episode on iTunes or Amazon or some other service, or by viewing it through their cable system's On Demand service. (Remember, these details are still a bit sketchy.) Presumably, it's the 47-minute versions that will make it to DVD as well.
There's been just about unanimous relief that the show is coming back, but what's amusingly horrifying to contemplate is what a gigantic, enormous problem this is going to create in the small but very passionate world of online Mad Men discussions.
People take apart Mad Men like no other show currently on television. It's the new Lost, in that regard. It's the new show where every camera angle, everything seen in the background, every glance, every ice cube potentially has meaning. It's also a show about which a significant population of viewers is meticulous about avoiding spoilers. They don't want to know a single thing about what's going to happen until it airs.
Let's throw out some questions.
How many fans will declare all discussions of the 45-minute episode taking place in the week when it's the only version available to be inherently pointless, since we "haven't seen the whole episode yet"?
How many fans will declare on the tenth day, when they've seen the "final cut," that all opinions by people who watched the 45-minute version are invalid, because they haven't seen the whole thing?
How many fans will watch the 45-minute episode, say they don't have it On Demand and can't afford to buy it on iTunes, but declare they're waiting for the DVD and until the DVD is available, any discussion of anything taking place in the "extra" two minutes is a spoiler?
Is a review of the 45-minute episode a reviewer's final review, or does he have to wait for the "final cut"?
Who's going to want to be starting the real analysis of each episode after the first AMC airing of the NEXT week's episode, which is when the extra two minutes shows up?
Is it in Weiner's interests to make the extra two minutes (1) really critical, encouraging DVD/iTunes purchases, but making live viewing seem pointless, (2) really not that important, making the "final cut" seem pretentious and fussy, or (3) unpredictable as far as significance, meaning that people will sometimes say that purchasing it was a waste of money?
Do you need two entire discussions for the two different versions, if indeed, cutting those two minutes makes it a "different show"?
It's certainly good to see a very good show coming back — even if it won't be back until next spring — but wow, this is going to confound the heck out of the online analysis business.