HBO has long been the undisputed champ of premiere cable channels, but some of the hottest reviews this year are going to an original show on basic-cable channel American Movie Classics. AMC’s new show Mad Men, about Madison Avenue advertising executives in 1960, is written and executive produced by Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner. HBO had a chance to produce the series, but turned it down. With the recent exit of The Sopranos and the cancellation of John From Cincinnati, some critics say HBO’s run as the king of original cable shows has come to an end.

Weiner made a smart move by going with AMC, said Bill Carter on “At HBO, Mad Men would have been one of many dramas. If it didn’t explode out of the gate, it could have easily been canceled.” But the “bar is lower” with AMC, which is “willing to stake money and prestige on the show to brand itself.” Even if the show gets modest ratings, AMC is likely to keep it on for years and let Weiner run it the way he wants to. “That’s as close to a creative blank check as you can get.”

Mad Men never would have even came close to filling the shoes of a show like The Sopranos, said Sacha Zimmerman on “Mad Men is ultimately as self-indulgent and annoying as its terminally repressed characters.” As authentic as the props on the show are, they’re treated as “mini-characters that become the center of attention by screaming, Look how authentic I am!”

Losing out on Mad Men won’t kill HBO, said Mark Dawidziak at, and neither will saying goodbye to The Sopranos. “While depleted, HBO certainly isn’t bankrupt in the series department.” Curb Your Enthusiasm is coming back for a sixth season this fall; The Wire, “one of the best dramas on television,” is returning for a fith season in early 2008; and the September 9th premiere of their sexually graphic new show Tell Me You Love Me is “sure to kick up more controversy” for the network.