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Breaking Down 'Breaking Bad'

An inside look at the roundtable with Cranston, creator Vince Gilligan, and the show’s creative team on EW’s new Sundance Channel series, ”The Writers’ Room”

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On pitching the show to Sony, the studio that would produce Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan (creator) I went to Sony first, because I knew [studio executives] Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht at Sony Television and had worked with them in the past. And they signed on, inexplicably, because when they pitched it to their boss, Michael Lynton — who, to his credit, freely quotes this — he said, ”That is the single worst idea for a television show I have ever heard in my life, but I believe in you guys, so go with God.”

On what would have happened if Breaking Bad had aired on network television

Bryan Cranston (star/producer) I think if we went on a broadcast network, as Vince and the staff had envisioned it, we’d have one episode, and we’d be done…. The masses who watch broadcast television, they need a more palatable entertainment foundation. Our fans of Breaking Bad are very specific. These are people who like challenge and something that’s pungent, which we are. We are not Brie cheese — we are something that you know most people are not going to like. And there’s value to that. We’re Limburger.

On Walt proving tyo be an unusual protagonist early on

Thomas Schnauz (writer/coexec producer) What I love about the series is right away in the first season, you see Walter White does this desperate thing to earn money for his family, but he is offered money by his friends and he rejects it, which is to me unlike any other TV show.

Peter Gould (writer/coexec producer) In the beginning I thought he was going to change in response to his circumstances: It’s a story of an ordinary man put into amazing or difficult circumstances; he makes this rash decision, and then that causes him to change. What I think we all realized as we went along is that this guy was surprising us: He wasn’t just responding to circumstances, there was something in him — maybe it would have lay dormant forever if he hadn’t made that decision, and that was the struggle. It’s about a guy who keeps changing. For all of us, when we were breaking the story: Where is he now? That’s always the question.

Sam Catlin (writer/coexec producer) For a while there it felt like we were ahead of the audience, where we’d be like, ”Oh my God, Walt, he’s such a bastard.” And then you’d talk to people, and they’d be like, ”Well, that Walt, he’s really up against it, and gosh darn it, he had to make some hard choices.” But eventually it just got to be like, ”Oh, man.” Like, finally they caught up and they saw the Heisenberg underneath. By then we think we sort of had them.

On how the writers approach each season

Moira Walley-Beckett (writer/coexec producer) We talk globally at the beginning of every season for a long time, because it’s not like we ever knew at the beginning where we were ultimately going to go at the very end of the entire series. We spent a lot of time trying to get a road map for ourselves, and try to hit some points, especially in a season like season 2, where we had the plane crash, and we wanted to front-load little pieces along the way — which actually became quite a Rubik’s Cube.

On the pivotal season 2 scene in which Walt watches as Jane (Krysten Ritter) dies of a drug overdose

Gennifer Hutchison (writer/exec story editor) Originally the idea was that he was going to shoot her up for an overdose, or he was going to actually kill her, as opposed to just allow her to die. And this was a big argument in the room because the balance on the show is always taking him just far enough, without taking him too far too fast. So that was a big question, and I think it may have made it to the board, that he shot her up, and then it was ”No, no, no, we can’t do that. Does she accidentally die, and he just misses it?” He has to have some responsibility, and I think it ended up being the perfect balance, and especially the way Bryan played it. I almost believed that if it had taken just a second longer for her to die, he might have stopped it.

Gilligan To the credit of the studio and the network, they called with the concern, but they didn’t say, ”Don’t do this.” They said, ”Let’s talk about this. Because we are fully invested, we’re fully on board with the journey of Mr. Chips into Scarface; it’s just we’re in season 2. How soon should we make this guy this dark?” Which is a very damn valid question, and we were nervous too.

On filming the final episode

Gilligan I was banging my head a lot. I wrote and directed the last one, which we all broke together, as we always do — and you know what? It still hasn’t quite sunk in. That last day, [there were] a lot of tears, and I was wondering why I wasn’t tearing up myself, and it’s because I was in shock…. It’s still slowly dawning on me that it’s coming to an end.

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