"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner has been asked to cut six cast members from the AMC drama over the next three years -- not just two actors, as has been previously reported, a person familiar with Weiner's position tells TheWrap.
The individual also said Weiner was eager to get the show back on the air this year, and could do it if an agreement with AMC and production company Lionsgate comes soon. (In an interview late Tuesday, Weiner himself said he has been asked to cut six characters.)
Also read: 'Mad Men' Negotiations: Who Wants What
AMC announced Tuesday that the show will be delayed until early 2012 because of ongoing negotiations between the network, Lionsgate, and Weiner.
Weiner has refused AMC's demands that he trim each show by two minutes to make room for more ads, include more product placements, and eliminate six cast members -- two per season -- over its next three seasons, the person said.
Another person, familiar with AMC's thinking, told TheWrap that Weiner has been asked to be judicious about signing actors if their characters might have only one or two lines all season. But no edict has been issued to cut entire characters or to fire actors, this person said.
Under the network and Lionsgate's proposals, Weiner would receive $30 million over the next three years, making him the highest-paid show runner in basic cable. But Weiner isn't amenable to the other proposals.
"His artistic silence isn’t for sale," the person familiar with his position told TheWrap.
AMC said in a statement Tuesday that the show would return for its fifth season next year. "While we are getting a later start than in years past due to ongoing, key non-cast negotiations, 'Mad Men' will be back for a fifth season in early 2012," AMC said.
The "non-cast" refers to Weiner.
"Mad Men," which has won three consecutive Emmys for best drama, has been AMC's flagship series since its debut, and was one of the first shows in AMC's highly successful return to scripted television in 2007. It provided a model for the later success of "Breaking Bad" and "The Walking Dead," the network's highest-rated series.
One reason "Mad Men" may not be able to return this year is that AMC may not have an open time slot: The network runs all of its shows on Sundays at 10 p.m., and already has "The Killing" (which debuts Sunday), "Breaking Bad," and "The Walking Dead" set to air this year.
In an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday, Weiner confirmed that AMC has asked him to cut his cast and slightly cut the length of each episode. Weiner told The Times that the cuts would make “Mad Men” a “different show.”
“I don’t understand why, with all of the success of the show, they suddenly need to change it,” Weiner said.
Joel Stillerman, AMC's senior vice president of original programming, said in January that the show would definitely be back for a fifth season, but that he didn't know when. The push until next year means viewers will be without it for a calendar year for the first time since its debut.
The length of AMC and Lionsgate's current negotiations with Weiner -- the parties also underwent lengthy contract talks two years ago -- has made some fans start to worry about whether the show would return at all. AMC's announcement Tuesday was designed to assuage those fears.
Weiner's two consecutive rounds of arduous contract talks reflect a downside, for AMC, of the power it allows its show runners. While the show runner-as-auteur model has led to such creative successes as "Breaking Bad," "The Walking Dead," "Mad Men" and the upcoming "The Killing" -- which debuts Sunday -- it also places Weiner in a stronger bargaining position.
As "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm said during the last round of negotiatons, "We can’t do the show without Matthew. Of course, you ‘can’ do it, but you know you can’t.”
The show won the best drama Emmy for each of its first three years, and is eligible to extend the streak in its fourth season. Because the eligibility period runs from June 1 to May 31, it would also be eligible for its fifth season, so long as it airs, as planned, early next year.
Two other prominent show runners, meanwhile, weighed in on Twitter Tuesday to say Weiner seems to have little to complain about.
"You can't ask a network for 10 million, then bitch when they want to expand their ad revenue source," said "Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter. "Whore or saint, pick one."
Added "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof: "Not that I'm sour grapes, but TEN MILLION DOLLARS a year for 13 episodes of a single show seems pretty fair, no?" He added: "#SOURGRAPES."