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Matt Weiner is no Don Draper

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If Don Draper were Matt Weiner’s boss, he’d can him on the spot.

‘It’s about selling, kid,’ we can hear the cool creative director lecturing the self-important, idealistic writer, grinding his cigarette in the ashtray, exasperated at the obviousness of the wisdom he was trying to impart. ‘And selling puts the vegetables on the table. You don’t like to eat?’

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That’s how we imagine it.

In fact, Weiner, the creative force behind AMC’s ‘Mad Men,’ which follows the lives of ad man Don Draper and his cronies at Sterling Cooper in the Swinging Sixties, won a battle this week with the cable network over the amount of commercials in the program. AMC wanted to shoehorn two more minutes of commercial time to the show, which would have meant cutting some of the dramatic narrative from each episode.

Although that sounds bad (who wants more commercials?), keep in mind that ‘Mad Men’ has fewer commercials than just about any other hour-long show on TV. The show usually runs 12 minutes of commercials and promos, compared with the 14 to 16 minutes on other cable shows and 18 minutes on broadcast shows. In other words, Weiner has it pretty good at AMC.

Weiner didn’t see it that way. A very hands-on creator, he fought back and got AMC to instead let the show run longer than an hour with the additional commercials so that he wouldn’t have to trim dialogue and scenes from the show. Of course, AMC and cable operators will have to find a way to insure that the show’s post-11 p.m. end time doesn’t screw with our TiVos and DVRs. Often when a show runs over, the very end is cut off by the recording devices (at least this is our experience).

Fans of the show are no doubt cheering Weiner on and we get that. But AMC wasn’t being greedy when it wanted to insert a few more commercials spots to the show. Critical raves and awards do not automatically translate into viewers and dollars. In its second season, ‘Mad Men’ averaged 1.5 million viewers, a great number for AMC, but paltry compared with other dramas on cable such as TNT’s ‘The Closer,’ which drew more than 7 million viewers in its premiere last week.

In terms of ad revenue, our Madison Avenue source tells us a 30-second spot on ‘Mad Men’ can go as low as $10,000, while a show like USA’s ‘Burn Notice’ gets $21,000. In other words, ‘Mad Men,’ a show about advertising, doesn’t generate a lot of ad dollars for AMC. In fact, it’s a loss leader (we can almost see on Roger Sterling’s face a look of disgust bordering on revulsion upon hearing the words ‘loss leader’).

And the show has become even more costly since it premiered a few years ago. Lions Gate, which makes ‘Mad Men’ for AMC, signed a two-year deal with Weiner (after an ugly negotiation that had the studio thinking it might have to find a new show runner) worth $9 million, according to Variety’s Cynthia Littleton. Some of those costs were passed on to AMC in the form of a higher license fee.

It’s real easy to beat up on the network anytime there’s an issue with a creator, but in our humble opinion Weiner should stick to creating and let the Don Drapers of the world do their part to make sure the show does indeed go on. Got it, kid?

-- Joe Flint

Top photo: Jon Hamm as ‘Mad Men’s’ Donald Draper. Credit: Associated Press


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