When it was first announced, AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul smelled like a desperate move, a Hail Mary pass to keep one of the network’s most important franchises—and its guiding light, showrunner Vince Gilligan—in the fold. The show’s critical and commercial success seems to have vindicated the spinoff strategy, though, for a network whose prestige and popularity has become largely predicated on a trio of aging TV juggernauts. The second of those, The Walking Dead, has its own spinoff in the works, with a focus on Los Angeles and all the sexy zombies who inhabit it. And now it turns out that not even Mad Men, AMC’s dignified aging statesman, was always immune to the spinoff’s siren call.
As revealed in an extensive oral history published by The Hollywood Reporter in celebration of the show’s upcoming finale, there was a time when AMC pushed Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner to give them a spinoff to his critically lauded drama. The push came during the contentious contract negotiations that delayed the show’s fifth season, when Weiner repeatedly fought with the network over the show’s budget and cast. (In another interesting snippet from the history, Weiner was apparently so stressed by the experience that he consulted fellow sometimes-imperiled showrunners like Aaron Sorkin, David Chase, and Steven Bochco about what to do if his show was taken away.)
According to Lionsgate TV COO Sandra Stern, who helped bring the show to air, several ideas were floated for spinoffs, including ones focused on Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy Olson, or a modern-day series centered on Sally Draper, the only member of the cast likely to be alive in 2015. Apparently there were also plans for something in the vein of Better Call Saul, with a minor character getting sent off to L.A. (Feel free to sigh happily as you imagine Harry Crane getting devoured by all those sexy zombies.) But ultimately, Stern said, “Matt wasn’t comfortable committing to a spinoff.”
That’s a shame, because a show with a cast of characters as deep and nuanced as Mad Men’s is is clearly begging for more focus on the lives of the minor characters. We know we’d tune in for Tech Support With Michael Ginsberg, or Whatever The Hell Happened To Sal?, not to mention a 22-minute program of John Slattery looking into a camera and telling us how nice we look in that dress. But alas, such dreams are only fit for fan fiction now. Mad Men returns for its final, spinoff-free season on April 5.