May 20, 2013

Breaking Bad: Creator Vince Gilligan Sings Praises Of Netflix Binge-Watching, And More

Over on Vulture, they have a Q&A with “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan. It’s quite an extensive and wide-ranging interview. If you’re a fan of AMC’s Breaking Bad you might want to check it out, although I should warn you that there could be spoilers. I say “could” because I skimmed it for just that reason, looking for interesting bits of information without finding out too much. I should also mention that my motivation to avoid spoilers is fueled additionally by the fact that I have not seen the first half of season 5 yet. More on that in a moment.

Breaking Bad will return with the remaining 8 episodes of its 5th and final season starting in August on AMC. We find out in the Vulture Q&A that shooting wrapped in early April and Gilligan is in the middle of editing the final season.

Walt & Jesse - Breaking Bad - Photo by Frank Ockenfels / AMC

In the second to last interview question, Gilligan says, “I am grateful as hell for binge-watching,” referring to the practice of watching many episodes of a television show in one sitting (sometimes an entire season), often via the Netflix streaming service.

I’ll tell you, I am grateful as hell for binge-watching. I am grateful that AMC and Sony took a gamble on us in the first place to put us on the air. But I’m just as grateful for an entirely different company that I have no stake in whatsoever: Netflix. I don’t think you’d be sitting here interviewing me if it weren’t for Netflix. In its third season, Breaking Bad got this amazing nitrous-oxide boost of energy and general public awareness because of Netflix. Before binge-watching, someone who identified him- or herself as a fan of a show probably only saw 25 percent of the episodes. X-Files fans would say to me, “I love that show. I’m a big fan.” I’d say, “Well, did you see this episode?” “No. I didn’t see that one. Which ones did you write?” And every episode they’d mention would be one I didn’t write. But it’s a different world now.

I completely agree, and I’m one of those binge-watching fans of Breaking Bad. I never watched Breaking Bad until this past January when I started watching on Netflix. I think it took me about two or three weeks to watch all 46 episodes (the first 4 seasons) available on the streaming service. For some, that might not qualify as “binge-watching” but close enough in my book. Unfortunately Netflix does not have the first half of season 5 that aired last summer, and I’m not sure when they plan to make those episodes available. It worries me that those episodes may not become available until months after the rest of season 5 airs this summer. And yes, I know there are alternative methods to watch the series.

Gilligan also explains why he believes television has been so good over the past decade. “The difference now is that writers are allowed to get away with more. We’re allowed to go darker,” said Gilligan. “Thank God we don’t have what they had in the fifties, which was a sponsor reading all the scripts and saying, ‘I don’t think this character should be black.'” But he warns that day could return. “But we could very easily have that situation again, because TV commercials get skipped over on TiVo. Ad agencies could once again take over sponsorship of individual series, and suddenly writers will be answering to them all over again.” I think that’s probably unlikely, but product placement has definitely crept back into many shows in a big way. So maybe he is right to worry.

“But the best thing about cable TV is not the ability to say the F-word or show boobs or extreme violence. It’s the idea that a series lasts for thirteen episodes a season rather than 24,” said Gilligan. As viewers, we might bemoan short seasons followed by extremely long gaps, but I think Gilligan is correct. Short seasons allow for a bright and hot burn. There’s no room for filler episodes. This is why I think the 12-episode reboot of Fox’s 24 with Kiefer Sutherland has potential to be extremely satisfying for viewers — we shall see. I also agree that cable is better because it gives writers more freedom. A cable series is not better because of profanity or nudity, it is better because of fewer artificial limits to good storytelling.

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