AMC to 'Mad Man' creator Matthew Weiner: We need more product placement!
If this were April's Fool's Day, I'd be spoofing the high stakes battle between AMC and "Mad Men's" Matthew Weiner by saying that AMC was bringing in Wisconsin's hard-nosed Gov. Scott Walker to handle the contract negotiations, figuring Walker, who has stripped public worker unions of their ability to collectively bargain, would be the perfect guy to tighten the screws on Weiner.
Of course, labor negotiations work differently in Hollywood, where if you've created a buzzy TV show and won seven Emmys, as Weiner has, no one would dare ask you to take a pay cut or surrender your right to have a team of CAA agents in the room, indefatigably bargaining on your behalf. As it turns out, AMC and Lionsgate, the show's production company, aren't trying to get Weiner to take less money to deliver more shows.
In fact, Weiner is telling people that he's offered to take less money in order to save the jobs of some cast members and allow the show to keep its current running time. Even though Lionsgate could eventually rake in $100 million in "Mad Men" DVD sales alone, it wants to make even more money from the show, which has a relatively small but fervently devoted audience and huge critical acclaim. So AMC and Lionsgate are attempting to get Weiner to cut two minutes out of every script so they can sell more commercial time and, on top of that, allow the network to insert even more product placement plugs, which has become one of the key areas of revenue growth in TV.
Like so many writer-producers before him, Weiner is fighting for creative autonomy, not just more money. It's the network that's tossing cash his way. As Weiner told a website: "The harder that I've fought for the show, the more money that they've offered me." Just a guess, but when Steven Bochco, David Chase and Chuck Lorre read that, I'll bet they all said -- Hey, that's just what the network said to me too!
Contract negotiations are all about power. In baseball, where the major league players' association is perhaps the most powerful union in the sports world, the money keeps heading steadily skyward, since the most talented baseball players hold all the cards, especially because of their scarcity value. The same goes in Hollywood: There are only so many top writers like Matthew Weiner and Aaron Sorkin, just as there are only so many A-list stars like Derek Jeter, Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee.
In Wisconsin, after the Republicans won control of both the governorship and the state legislature, it was only a matter of time before Gov. Walker, eager to balance his budget and limit the union's ability to fund any future Democratic adversaries, set about rolling back the unions' hard-won bargaining rights. In Hollywood, the studios rarely act in such a unified manner -- after all, someone might claim collusion.
But when the networks have a hit show, an increasingly rare occurrence, they've made it clear that they want to maximize their profits. And in the new era of TV, the bargaining isn't over salary -- it's over amping up product placement and selling some more ads. Of course, Weiner has a better hand to play than any of Wisconsin's union workers. He can walk away from the poker table anytime he wants and keep all of his winnings. When you create a phenomenon like "Mad Man," you don't need to go on strike to survive.
-- Patrick Goldstein
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Photo: Matthew Weiner posing with his Emmy for outstanding drama series for "Mad Men" at the 2009 Emmy Awards. Credit: Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency