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AMC has repeatedly been in the news in recent months over troubles at all four of its big dramas: Mad Men took forever to conclude negotiations for its fifth season; The Walking Dead parted ways with showrunner Frank Darabont (leading, oddly, to a claim from Kurt Sutter, who runs Sons Of Anarchy over at FX, that "greed" from the people at Mad Men was to blame); The Killing took a massive drubbing over its loss of narrative momentum in the back half of its first season and particularly for the nature of its finale; and reports emerged that Breaking Bad was being shopped around elsewhere after AMC tried to negotiate a final season of only six or eight episodes.
For a network that once looked like the biggest breakout success since HBO when it came to scripted television, things seemed to be getting very sticky very quickly.
So AMC must have been relieved to be able to break the news yesterday that it had wrapped up the Breaking Bad situation by agreeing to a final set of 16 episodes that may air as a single final season or as two smaller seasons.
As Alan Sepinwall explains over at Hitfix, creator Vince Gilligan had always envisioned the show having a limited lifespan (which is, of course, a much more common model in cable than in broadcast), so it's seemingly not a matter of the showrunner wanting to go on and the network mercilessly pulling the plug. In fact, Gilligan issued a supportive statement calling the agreement "a great gift" to the show's writers.
But it's interesting to note what feels like the increasing frequency of cancellation-slash-renewals, where the delicate matter of ending a beloved show is softened by settling the matter when there's still a season left. That's what NBC is doing with Chuck, which has held on tenaciously in spite of poor ratings, and which is so beloved by its fans that its inevitable conclusion was destined to create hair-tearing agony. By bringing it back for 13 final-and-we-really-mean-it episodes, NBC probably lessened the blow a bit and reduced the likelihood that it would be subjected to some kind of massive anger campaign.
It doesn't only apply to blockbusters or internet cult favorites, either: USA spun the cancellation of In Plain Sight last week as one final fifth-season renewal, even though that fifth season had been picked up along with the fourth season a year ago, so it was really more of a flat-out cancellation. Add to that the widely praised openness with which FX president John Landgraf reluctantly canceled the well-regarded Terriers and Lights Out, and it certainly feels like networks are thinking harder about how they present the end of a show's run. Obviously, plenty of cancellations are still done entirely without fanfare, and you'll see plenty of that when the roadkill begins to accumulate in the fall. But it's becoming clear that on television — as on Breaking Bad, actually — there are a lot of different ways to die.