Although it is unlikely that this news will be met with anything but contempt and opposition, let’s try and put a positive spin on AMC’s recent Mad Men announcement. First the good news: The final season of Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed and influential period drama will now be 14 episodes long, rather than the usual 13. That’s one additional hour of Don Draper’s boozy existential angst, Roger Sterling’s boozy wit and one last chance to have yet another child actor assume the role Bobby Draper. The bad news: The final episodes won’t air until the spring of 2015.
That’s right, AMC has announced that it will be giving Mad Men the ol’ Breaking Bad treatment by splitting up its final season into two 7-episode airings, which the network has playfully referred to as serving up a “Seven and Seven” – although they probably should have simply acknowledged the show’s ubiquitous theme of duality. According to a press release from AMC, the seventh season premiere will still take place in the spring of 2014 and is being referred to as “The Beginning,” while the second batch, currently known as “The End of an Era,” will begin airing in the spring of 2015.
Clever cocktail references aside, the news doesn’t come as a complete surprise, as the network is merely taking a page out of its own recently developed playbook after the aforementioned return of Walter White and company netted Breaking Bad its highest ratings ever. And considering the recent announcement that it would be spinning off The Walking Dead with a companion series not hosted by Chris Hardwick, AMC is clearly eager to try and make the most out of what’s working best.
In fact, AMC President Charlie Collier put the ratings spin on the announcement by referencing that recent uptick in viewers for the final season of Breaking Bad, but he also suggested that the split was simultaneously intended to ensure that the network’s flagship series would be given the send-off it deserves – i.e., with all eyes (that means you Emmy awards) on Mad Men and Mad Men alone when it drunkenly hails the cab that will take it off the airwaves for good.
“This approach has worked well for many programs across multiple networks, and, most recently for us with Breaking Bad which attracted nearly double the number of viewers to its second half premiere than had watched any previous episode. We are determined to bring Mad Men a similar showcase. In an era where high-end content is savored and analyzed, and catch-up time is used well to drive back to live events, we believe this is the best way to release the now 14 episodes than remain of this iconic series.”
While the move suggests that AMC is parting fitfully with a beloved program that has brought it a great deal of attention and acclaim (and some grief), the real issue may be a question of what the network has at the ready to replace awards-friendly programs such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. At the moment, there is the Revolutionary War drama Turn, and Halt & Catch Fire, a program about the computer boom of the 1980s. Both could be considered buzz-worthy, but the plain and simple fact is that AMC wants a culturally relevant, zeitgeist-y show as much as any other television network. And until something on its development slate becomes that unexpected hit, it will be inclined to hold onto Mad Men for as long as it can.
Still, the concern for fans is how the split will affect the storyline. Unlike Breaking Bad, there is no clearly defined plot or central mystery to Mad Men, its narrative doesn’t run in a manner that will necessarily generate a great deal of buzz by having the story go on hiatus for a year at the halfway point. But series creator Matthew Weiner is quick to assuage such worry by suggesting the extra time will allow for the audience to process the events a bit more, and, certainly, that time off between the first and second seven episodes will grant Weiner and his team of writers an opportunity to develop the strongest conclusion to their story as possible.
“We plan to take advantage of this chance to have a more elaborate story told in two parts, which can resonate a little bit longer in the minds of our audience. The writers, cast and other artists welcome this unique manner of ending this unique experience.”
While that “unique manner” definitely takes some of the urgency and anticipation out of what would have been the final season of one of television’s finest dramas ever, the split schedule will likely do very little to affect the outcome of Matthew Weiner’s story (aside from offering him the opportunity to refine it and craft something incredible and special). And besides, even if it’s just an additional episode one year later, more Mad Men always sounds like a pretty good idea.
The first half of Mad Men season 7 will air sometime in the spring of 2014 on AMC.