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LOS ANGELES — After almost losing one of its signature shows, cable network AMC has signed a new deal for 16 episodes to keep its critically acclaimed “Breaking Bad.”


For weeks, AMC and Sony Television, the studio behind the drama about an ailing teacher who turns to producing crystal meth to make ends meet, had been bickering over a new deal for a fifth and final season. Talks got so bad that Sony actually shopped the show to other cable networks, including FX.


One of the issues was costs and how many episodes would be produced for the final season. Sony wanted 13, whereas AMC was hoping to order just half a dozen or so in a cost-saving move.


Although AMC has ordered 16 episodes, it is not likely that the episodes will run as one season. Instead, the cable channel is expected to space the episodes out over the next few years. AMC said production would start next year but declined to comment on when episodes would run. The fourth season is currently under way.


It is not out of the realm of possibility that “Breaking Bad” will not run on AMC at all in 2012 and instead will return in 2013 and wrap up in 2014. AMC did not bring “Mad Men” back this year, choosing instead to start the next season in early 2012.


Part of the reason a network would do that is that typically, the cost of producing the show does not have to be accounted for on the books until the episodes are run. AMC premiered the new series “The Killing” this year and brought back “Breaking Bad.” Keeping “Mad Men” off this year, even though production has just started on the new season, will mean lower programming expenses, according to an executive at a rival cable network that carries a heavy load of original programming, who did not want to comment publicly about a competitor.


The difficulty in sealing a deal on “Breaking Bad,” coupled with budget cuts on AMC’s biggest hit, “The Walking Dead,” which also led to the departure of that drama’s show runner Frank Darabont, has been the subject of much talk in Hollywood. AMC executives have denied that its lucrative deal with “Mad Men” show runner Matt Weiner to stay on that series for a few more seasons is the cause of the financial issues at the other programs. However, AMC, a unit of AMC Networks, declined to elaborate on Darabont’s exit or what the issues were in cutting a new deal for “Breaking Bad.”

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