By Jeff Labrecque
Updated March 29, 2011 at 11:04 PM EDT

Mad Men

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There’s trouble brewing at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and AMC are at loggerheads over his next contract, and the cable station announced today that season 5 of the Emmy-winning series, once hoped to arrive this summer, will be delayed to 2012. The two parties remain at odds over creative issues related to monetizing the revered but modestly-rated series, and some reports claim that AMC asked Weiner to ditch two characters in a cost-saving measure. Everyone in last year’s cast is under contract for season 5, but after that, who knows?

If true, I’m immediately in Weiner’s corner — no matter that he refuses to take a reported $30 million offer that would make him the highest-paid showrunner on cable television. If there was ever a series that made the most of a deep cast, it’s Mad Men. Take, for example, affable Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton). He was missed when he was left behind after the break-up of the original ad agency, making his return in the middle of season 4 like greeting an old college chum.

Of course, there are minor characters that don’t drive the story, but if the network is asking for cast cuts, it’s not going to be Secretary #3 who gets pink-slipped. It’s going to be someone at the top of the payroll. Clearly, our flawed hero, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), is not going anywhere, but looking far into the future, which other characters are most essential to completing the journey? Who’s non-negotiable? I can’t imagine a Mad Men without Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Don’s protege and moral conscience. Self-righteous Pete Campbell (Vincent Cartheiser) is indispensable as Don’s sometimes-foil, and I can’t imagine the series without Christina Hendricks’ Joan, with her Sphinx-like smile and weary worldliness. They all need to be there at the end — whenever and wherever that leads.

Who are your non-negotiables? Who needs to be there at the bitter(?) sweet(?) end?

Read more:

‘Mad Men’: Season 5 airing in 2012

‘Mad Men’: Season 5 likely to be delayed

January Jones on ‘Mad Men’ future: Relax, people!

‘Mad Men’ returning for season 5, says AMC

Matthew Weiner on his expired ‘Mad Men’ contract: ‘I am not looking for a new job’

Episode Recaps

Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama
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