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8 revelations from inside the Breaking Bad writers' room
A new Sundance Channel series offers fascinating insights into the critically acclaimed AMC drama
 
Breaking Bad is really just "the story of a guy having the world's worst midlife crisis." — Vince Gilligan, creator/writer/executive producer.
Breaking Bad is really just "the story of a guy having the world's worst midlife crisis." — Vince Gilligan, creator/writer/executive producer. Facebook.com/BreakingBad

Sundance Channel's new series The Writers' Room premiered last night, offering TV viewers unprecedented access to the behind-the-scenes stories from some of the most popular and acclaimed series on television. Monday night's premiere episode got off to a strong start by taking on AMC's Breaking Bad. (The episode can be watched in full on Sundance Channel's website.) What unique insights can the writing team behind Breaking Bad offer about the series? Here, eight revelations about Breaking Bad from The Writers' Room:

1. The original concept for Breaking Bad came from a New York Times article
"There was an article in the New York Times about a guy who was cooking meth in an apartment building and the meth cook got these little children sick. It was two angry old men talking, 'Ugh, this son of a bitch. Did you hear what he did to these kids?' And somehow that clicked in Vince's brain. He called me a week later and said, 'You remember what we were talking about? That guy cooking meth?' And I said, 'No, I have no recollection at all.'" — Thomas Schnauz, writer/executive producer

2. HBO, TNT, Showtime, and FX all passed on Breaking Bad before AMC picked it up
"I had a pitch — and I'm not going to say which network — but the pitch always was, 'We're going to take Mr. Chips and we're going to turn him into Scarface.' I really enjoyed the folks I was talking with, they really liked the pitch. I pitched them the first episode, and they were on the edge of their seats, and they really dug it. And they said at the end of it, in the nicest possible way, 'We love this story. And if we buy it, we will be fired.'" — Vince Gilligan, creator/writer/executive producer

3. Bryan Cranston did everything he could to position himself to play Walter White
"I got my agents to move the meeting up in the week, to be one of the first. Because I knew that any other actor would smell the meat, and want to chomp down on it. And I wanted to get in there and lift my leg on the material and mark it with my scent." — Bryan Cranston, actor/producer

4. Jesse was originally supposed to die at the end of the first season — and Aaron Paul remained paranoid about the character's death for a long time after
"I said, 'Hey, Aaron, I've got a funny story to tell you. We were going to kill you off at the end of the season.' And his face just went pale. I thought I was doing him a solid. I said, 'No, no, you're missing my bigger point. My bigger point is, you are so very good… " — Vince Gilligan

5. While acting in Jane's death scene, Bryan Cranston briefly pictured his own daughter dying
"I was going through the turmoil that Walt was going through. 'She's a girl, she could be my daughter.' And then at one point — involuntarily — I saw my daughter's face instead of Jane, and she was choking to death. And that just… I didn't want that. I wasn't trying to conjure that. It just happened, and it just… it just caught me." — Bryan Cranston

6. The writers sometimes wrote cliffhangers without any idea how they'd resolve them
"What Bryan said earlier, about reading the script and not knowing where it's going… A lot of times, we've felt that too. We'd get Walt and Jesse into an RV together with Hank outside, and we had no idea how Walt was going to get out of it." — Thomas Schnauz

7. Vince Gilligan never intended Breaking Bad to be political
"We get a lot of credit for giving this kind of criticism or social commentary. For me, personally, I think it's a story of this one guy, and the story of a guy having the world's worst midlife crisis. At that point I was about to turn 40, and I was already thinking, 'God, I'm going to have a hellacious midlife crisis. So what about doing a story about a guy who's having an end-of-life crisis? But I studiously avoid putting politics into anything I work on, because it doesn't matter what your politics are, you're instantly going to polarize half your viewers." — Vince Gilligan

8. Bryan Cranston got a tattoo to commemorate the end of the series
"I even got a tattoo on the very last day. There were a bunch of guys on the set who were going to get tattoos. Crew guys. 'I'm going to get BrBa, or I'm going to get 'No half measures', or something like that.' But I'm an actor. Where do I get a tattoo? I don't want anything to show. Where do I get a tattoo that not even my wife will see? So I did get one right there. [On the side of his right ring finger] It's 'BrBa,' our logo. And it's for me. Someone said, 'If you put it right there, no one's going to see it,' and I said, 'I'll see it. It'll catch my eye. It's the greatest role I've ever had in my life, and this reminds me of it. It's my own little talisman." — Bryan Cranston

 
Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor and film and television critic for TheWeek.com. He has written about film and television at publications including The AtlanticPOLITICO Magazine, and Vulture.

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