Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TV coverage

AMC’s EVP original programming Joel Stillerman claimed not to be concerned that Mad Men will have been off the air in originals for some 17 months by the time it finally returns for its fifth season on March 25. Speaking this afternoon at an HRTS Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton billed as a Cable Programming Summit, Stillerman said that Mad Men’s audience has proven to be among the most loyal in all of television, adding, “So while it’s never easy to make scheduling decisions that keep a show off the air longer than perhaps you’d like, I think it’s going to benefit the show in the long run, I really do.” Mad Men Jon Hamm had a slightly different view of the situation when appeared on Late Show with David Letterman last week. “When billionaires fight, it takes a lot longer to settle,” he said. “So we had some very wealthy people determining how long we would be off the air.”

The event, moderated by Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush, also featured Turner programming chief Michael Wright, MTV programming head David Janollari, ABC Family programming/development EVP Kate Juergens, and Starz managing director Carmi Zlotnik. All of the panelists agreed that non-scripted programming needs to be an increasing part of their overall original slates. “We should have been in the non-scripted space two years ago,” Wright admitted, “so we’re moving there very quickly now.” Wright also took the opportunity on the day the new version of the iPad was announced to praise the Apple model. “The thing I’ve always admitted about that company,” he said, “is it seems to have such a finger on what people want. They seem to have built a business based on products the user actually wants. For television, we should (also) create things the viewer actually wants. We really need to stay better attuned to that.”

A  lighter moment came at the end of the discussion, when Bush asked the panelists if they ever wake up in the middle of the night, grab their Blackberry, and start to answer emails. “Yes,” Zlotnik admitted, “and my wife says, ‘Put it down’.” Quipped Bush: “We’re talking about your Blackberry, I assume?”