March 26, 2012 at 3:19 PM ET
NEW YORK -- AMC's season five premiere of "Mad Men" scored the show's biggest audience yet, as 3.5 million viewers tuned in after the show's 17-month absence.
The show's two-hour premiere, beginning at 9 p.m., was the first in the history of "Mad Men." In the 18-49 demographic most coveted by advertisers, it had 1.6 million viewers, up 30 percent from the season four premiere. Among 25-54 year-olds, it was up 17 percent to 1.7 million.
The show took twice as long as usual to return between seasons, in part because of grueling contract negotiations between "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, AMC, and Lionsgate, which produces the show. In a statement Monday, AMC president Charlie Collier suggested the contentious days were far in the past.
"For each of the five 'Mad Men' seasons, Matthew Weiner and his team have crafted a beautifully told story and each season a larger audience has responded; a rare accomplishment," he said. "We couldn't be more proud of this program, the brilliant writers, cast and crew, and the entire team on each side of the camera."
Weiner's deal to return to the series -- the only one to win four consecutive Emmys for best drama -- will carry it through its seventh and final season.