RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Next month, AMC's hit zombie drama "The Walking Dead" is back for a third season. Last season's finale broke ratings records - but it looks like repeating those ratings could be a challenge. That's because cable company DISH Network's 14 million subscribers aren't getting AMC right now, because two companies can't agree on a contract.

NPR's Lauren Silverman reports that the AMC blackout has gone on so long, it might break some records of its own.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Mark Worth is a grad student and doesn't have a lot of time for TV. But when he can turn on the tube, there are two shows he always wants to watch.

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MARK WORTH: "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men."

SILVERMAN: So in July, when Worth sat down in front of his 52-inch screen and found a movie playing instead of "Mad Men," that was the end of his relationship with DISH.

WORTH: All the movie channels in the world to me aren't going to replace that.

SILVERMAN: Worth is one of about 14 million customers caught in the middle of this feud between DISH and AMC. AMC Network's COO Ed Carroll says cable networks and providers disagree all the time.

ED CARROLL: You're hunkered down in a room and there's the bid and the ask, and you're going back and forth sometimes there's an extension period, an additional 24 hours, an additional 36 hours, and you come to an agreement.

SILVERMAN: When things don't go so smoothly, say the provider isn't willing to pay what the network's demanding for its channels, those channels might disappear for a day or two. Not long ago this happened when Viacom and DirecTV had a spat. About 20 million viewers lost channels like MTV and Comedy Central for more than a week. DISH subscribers, they've been without any AMC channels for more than two months. And that's unusual.

CARROLL: Yeah.

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CARROLL: It's not happened in my experience.

SILVERMAN: And how long have you been at AMC?

CARROLL: Twenty years.

SILVERMAN: AMC says DISH dropped its programming because it wants to gain leverage in an unrelated lawsuit. DISH, on the other hand, says the face-off is over a practice called bundling. Cable providers hate bundling. It's when big networks like AMC try to sell several of their channels, both high and low rated, to providers in a bundle to get a better price. In this case, AMC wants DISH to buy Sundance, IFC and We tv, even if DISH only wants "Mad Men."

DISH's senior vice president of programming, Dave Shull, says this is a bad deal.

DAVE SHULL: The problem is they're asking me to pay for four channels for really what is the price of three shows.

SILVERMAN: So DISH isn't paying for any AMC shows. But AMC isn't giving up. It's turned to social media in a quest to get channels back on DISH.

Last month, it launched a YouTube video contest for angry DISH subscribers.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What's this I hear about DISH taking away AMC?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Now the evenings I once looked forward to are gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: AMC is 100 percent irreplaceable.

SAM THIELMAN: If you look on Twitter you can see people mostly yelling at DISH network saying hey, where's our "Breaking Bad?"

SILVERMAN: Sam Thielman covers television for AdWeek and has been closely following the dispute. He says since AMC was cut, DISH has lost some subscribers...

THIELMAN: It's not quite a mass exodus.

SILVERMAN: Still, DISH fans of AMC's "The Walking Dead" are definitely getting nervous about how they're going to watch the season premiere. AMC might stream it online, but there's no way the zombie apocalypse is going to be as jaw-dropping on a laptop.

Lauren Silverman, NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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