Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

AMC declared they’re moving forward with Mad Men — with or without creator Matthew Weiner.

“AMC has officially authorized production of season 5 of Mad Men, triggering our option with Lionsgate (Mad Men‘s production company),” the network said in a statement. “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.”

Sources confirm the network has offered Weiner a whopping $30 million to continue as showrunner on the acclaimed series. Yet Weiner has been holding out, with reports saying he objects to network demands to cut costs and further monetize the show. AMC’s reportedly hoping to add a couple more minutes of commercials and product placement, and is considering ditching two series regulars.

But an insider countered that Weiner’s $30 million pricetag (and the show’s relatively modest ratings compared to, say, AMC’s The Walking Dead) makes some kind of concession necessary: Weiner’s salary would make him the highest-paid showrunner in basic cable history. And even after cutting two minutes from the show, Mad Men would still have a longer weekly running time than most other basic cable dramas, like USA’s Burn Notice, FX’s Justified, and TNT’s Southland. As for product placement, an insider points out the show has had “organic and seamless” integrated ads on the show since season 1, as well as denied that Weiner was ordered to cut two cast members, noting the whole on-camera team is signed to return next season (though after that, things are obviously less certain).

“The show cannot be held hostage,” one insider tells EW.

One executive at a rival network seemed to side with AMC: “Are we supposed to feel bad for his $30 million dollar payday? Don’t forget Mad Men will make about a dime in it’s afterlife.”

Weiner told EW in January that he has no intention of leaving the show he created and is eager to get back to work, but “they are fighting over a very lucrative property, and who is going to pay for it to get made; it’s one of the biggest perils of success — everyone wants a piece of it now and they are fighting over who is gonna get the biggest chunk. Then they will come to me because talent is last. It would be heartbreaking for me if they don’t work it out, horrifying really. It would be a shame for fans to never get to see what great stuff we have planned for Don and company.”

What do you think? It’s tough to imagine a writer walking away from such a lucrative payday on a series that he created and thereby handing the creative reins to somebody else — especially if the trade offs are as relatively common as these. It’s not like the network is trying to stunt cast Charlie Sheen or asking for a crossover episode with Breaking Bad. There are few dramas that get to indulge artistic expression more than Mad Men and everybody has a strong vested interest in the show continuing with the current team intact …

Additional reporting by Lynette Rice

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