It’s been a trying couple of weeks for Mad Men fans, what with intimations that the show might continue without creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner in a fashion where two cast members were written off every season, until the only two remaining were an endlessly sozzled Don Draper and the corpse of Miss Blankenship, but Deadline and Variety have good news for those who love the AMC drama: The network and Weiner have agreed to a deal that will keep the show on the air for at least two more seasons (through season six) and will likely lead to a third additional season, since AMC will already have Weiner under contract anyway. The deal is specifically for two more seasons of the show, but AMC has signed Weiner through a potential seventh season. His deal is reportedly worth $25-$30 million. Cast salary negotiations, then, would seem to be the only thing getting in the way of that potential seventh year.
The terms of the deal, according to Deadline, will see Mad Men episodes that hit the air run two minutes shorter (down to a 45-minute running time from a 47-minute one), with the longer versions going up on video on-demand services. The fifth season premiere and finale will also run the 47 minutes the previous four seasons had been scheduled at. The fifth season also won’t feature any of the much-feared potential cast cuts, so fans of Kiernan Shipka’s Sally Draper can rejoice. (The children are always the first to go!) There was no news on product integration, but whether that was a part of the deal or not will likely become immediately obvious in the season five premiere when Don picks up a Budweiser, downs it in one gulp, then says, “Smooth.” (“And so filling!” adds Peggy. WELL, THIS MAD MEN FAN FICTION WON’T WRITE ITSELF.)
AMC recently confirmed that the fifth season will begin in 2012. The deal would likely peg the premiere date as landing sometime in the first four months of the year.
Update: Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall has more information on the product integration issue: It will continue to be a part of the show (as it has been in the past) but may become more… obvious. On the other hand, Sepinwall's source says the use of it will continue to be "organic," whatever that means. Sepinwall's source also says there will be a one-time budget reduction before season six begins, which could presumably be solved by cutting cast members down to recurring players (or eliminating them entirely) but could also be solved in other ways, perhaps including Weiner making all of the costumes himself in his spare time.
Second update: Matt Weiner's interview with fan site Basket Of Kisses says that the seventh season of the show will be its final one (assuming 13 episodes per season, that would mean the show ended with 91 episodes, just five more than The Sopranos, where Weiner got his big break), and he also says season five will start in March of 2012, which would, indeed, be AMC's next open Sunday night slot (with The Killing starting Sunday, Breaking Bad in July, and The Walking Dead in the fall).