The end is coming. See it — over there? No? Well, it’s coming. Take Weiner’s word for it, just as you did Gilligan’s.
So Mad Men, AMC’s first and most decorated original drama, is taking a cue from Breaking Bad, ratings juggernaut (but small-fry to The Walking Dead), in splitting the final season across two years. With b-squad shows like Low Winter Sun being as terrible as they are (ugh), The Killing being canceled again, and a Breaking Bad spin-off the one surefire hit on the horizon, the shining era for AMC seems to have lit up an encompassing dusk as it slowly fades to black. Not a good time for two of their three biggest shows to hit town.
It’s standard practice to use a popular show to launch a fresh new one, and while the Breaking Bad/Low Winter Sun matchup didn’t set off fireworks like Showtime’s recent Dexter/Homeland pairing, they’ll have a few more chances now, in 2014 and 2015.
The Mad Men episodes will be shot all fourteen, straight-through, but released over two years as two half-seasons.
The question is — does it matter? Will this give a boost not only to Mad Men ratings, but AMC’s image? It’s a strange time for media, where quality content is what selling. Say what you might about The Walking Dead, whose showrunners are killed faster than the zombies — it does better than most network shows both critically and commercially. The sentiment that appealing to the broadest audience, thereby stretching a show out to an ungainly, amorphous but vaguely Law & Order-y shaped piece of plastic, is slowly losing favor, and AMC has had a hand in that.
The move to split seasons is proven, but unpopular. Like in The Social Network, when Zuckerburg refuses ads on his site because it isn’t ‘cool,’ AMC’s gotta do some serious image reevaluation. There doesn’t seem to be a killer app on the horizon, and AMC has a reputation for being stingy come pilot season.
When Mad Men comes back, will it be the unheralded event that this last year of Breaking Bad has been? Breaking Bad is unique — heavily serialized, it’s like the final installment of a movie trilogy. The last Harry Potter outgrossed each predecessor because maybe people had time to catch up, and you had to get the ending. Mad Men has an ‘ending,’ but its story didn’t have much of a beginning. It opens on Don Draper carrying out an average day. It’s an interesting one, but arbitrarily chosen along his fictional timeline. Not like Walter White’s, whose story had a clear beginning.
If AMC executives don’t recognize that critical difference between those two shows, one must wonder about how they’ll do beyond 2015. And for Mad Men, here’s the man himself discussing the end of the show he previously worked on, The Sopranos. This might give you some clues as to the ending of his current show, but… you might not like what he has to say…