When AMC took a chance on writer and creator Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” in 2008, it was unfathomable to predict the significance the series would have on modern-day television and the impact it would have on the way viewers watch their shows.
“Breaking Bad” is the story of a Chemistry teacher, Walter White, from Albuquerque, New Mexico who is diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer and given about 2 years to live who then finds himself turning to a career in drugs and crime to ensure the financial safety of his family.
What makes “Breaking Bad” groundbreaking goes beyond the nature of the content on the show itself.
Not many average TV viewers were tuning into AMC to watch the original airings of the show. Netflix took “Breaking Bad” to new heights as word on the show got around to new audiences and slowly but surely turned the show from a cult hit to a nationwide phenomenon.
“Breaking Bad” was able to do something that most shows today struggle to do and that’s having your shows audience grow as seasons go on. A lot of shows today find themselves fresh out of ideas and peaking so early that viewership begins to dwindle down in later seasons due to dragging storylines and a lack of fresh content.
Netflix was at the head of the table when it came to why the show developed a larger audience. Netflix helped the shows viewership leap from 1-2 million to 5-6 million viewers an episode by the time the show reached its final season.
Due largely in part to the success of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, other shows have followed the same plan and put their shows on Netflix or other streaming services in hopes that their shows will garner more attention and draw higher viewership just as “Breaking Bad” was able to do.
AMC took a chance on “Breaking Bad” and it paid dividends for both the network and show. AMC now offers premium programming on basic cable when you consider the high success of shows like “Breaking Bad” “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead.”
“Breaking Bad” did more than simply change the way people view their shows or how networks choose to make their shows available to its audiences today. The show changed the way we look at television shows by bringing what felt like live theatre to our living rooms and by becoming a leader in the triumphant resurgence of powerful television programming.
The show seemed to have shortened the gap between television and film and brought forth an undeniable new found respect for television dramas and its actors and show-runners. It shined a light over Hollywood during a period where cinema was thought to be stagnant and repetitive. It was a breath of fresh air.
Sir Anthony Hopkins, acclaimed actor and of Hannibal Lecter fame, went so far as to write an open letter to Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on the show, in which he called the show “Shakespearean” or like a “Greek Tragedy.”
Hopkins goes on to say that “That kind of work and artistry is rare, and when, once in a while, it occurs, as in this epic work, it restores confidence.”
The show captivated audiences and brought back confidence in the idea that powerful and creative storytelling was still an accessible feat in film making.
The 5 season long epic showed the kind of plot and character development reminiscent of The Odyssey or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. “Breaking Bad” found a fine line that turned protagonists into antagonists and vice versa.
Never before had the television viewer struggled with their internal morals as to understand the difference between good and evil or right and wrong like they had with the character development of Walter White.
Walter’s reckless abandonment of his own morals and values in order to do what he deemed necessary in order to provide a safe future for his loved ones only put them at more risk. We as viewers could not turn away and take our eyes off the clear obliviousness Walter had to the fact that he was breaking bad for the betterment of his own personal satisfaction and not for the family values he began his journey with.
Walter White was a groundbreaking character because we as viewers found ourselves divided on a man who had so clearly abandoned the light for darkness. The character and plot development was so compelling that a national debate on whether you were team Walt or not would find debaters questioning their stance after every episode.
A true roller coaster of a character as Vince Gilligan himself liked to think of Walt’s transformation as “from Mr. Chips to Scarface” an unprecedented change in character never before seen on television.
Walter’s story culminated in the self-realization that somewhere along the line, it was indeed no longer about his family, but about himself and his personal battle for self-fulfillment. Walter, in the series finale, finally tells his wife Skylar what audiences had known for years
I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really—I was alive.
This was a groundbreaking moment in television because we as an audience now had no doubts about the mindset of the man we had all been divided on for so long. Walter’s story itself may not be relatable, but his self-righteous journey for personal joy and fulfillment is one that we all know too well, and it is for reasons like this that Walter White and the entire “Breaking Bad” series were so compelling and groundbreaking.
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
How can you not be Romantic about Breaking Bad?