Its all over. Let it sink in. While it’s unclear who will miss Breaking Bad more: us as viewers or AMC as a top tier network, it’s crystal (blue meth) clear that Breaking Bad is one of the most influential shows in the history of television and not just for its content, but for its presence.
Breaking Bad was a little known show playing second fiddle to AMC’s critical powerhouse Mad Men for its first two and a half seasons or so. I mean Hal from Malcolm in the Middle playing a drug lord? Get right out of town. Cut to: Bryan Cranston winning the first of three straight Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Combine this with consistent and positive word of mouth/social media hype, an easy way for interested viewers to catch up before the new season (borrowing Netflix from your friend who pays for it) and boom: you have a TV drama that’s a pop culture phenomenon by the time season five premieres–the likes of which we hadn’t seen since The Sopranos cut to black in 2007.
Breaking Bad was a serious underdog to become a hit when it premiered but started to gain buzz at the perfect time. Viewers wanted the constant and instant stimulation that has become so common in today’s society from television, and they got it with Netflix and other video on demand options. Binge watching is a huge part of television watching culture, and Breaking Bad is the shining example of how big a show can become because of it. The season 4 finale garnered a (large at the time) 1.9 million viewing audience. Last nights episode? 10.3 million. What?! Cut to: Vince Gilligan thanking Netflix in his Emmy acceptance speech. The difference between Breaking Bad and other great binge watching shows is that it was satisfying as a weekly installment, even after a viewer caught up with Netflix. Watching it live (or a few minutes behind) was still an event every Sunday this season, something that was becoming a thing of the past for dramas, especially ones with commercials. The Wire (widely considered the greatest TV drama of all time) was not nearly as popular until after it was off the air, when it available to be watched in binge form. No one got together with friends on Sundays to watch The Wire in the early to mid 2000s, it just wasn’t a thing to do, it wasn’t an event.
Breaking Bad’s ability to maintain viewer interest as both a binge watching show and as installment came down to its consistency. That’s the main argument Breaking Bad has in the “Greatest TV Drama of All Time” discussion, it was more consistently good than any other show in the history of the medium. Quick: What’s Breaking Bad’s worst season? Weakest episode? Couldn’t tell ya. There was no definitive point that had viewers wondering if the show was on the verge of infamously “jumping the shark.” The Wire had season 5 and The Sopranos had season 4, which both had audiences thinking “is this the same show I’ve been watching this whole time?” Whether or not its better than The Sopranos and The Wire is a debate that will be had for years to come (can we for once breathe for a second before we decide the newest great thing is automatically the best?), but it was consistently episode by episode, season by season better than both.
Breaking Bad ended its run better than most shows do (just ask a Dexter fan) it didn’t take too many chances or leave the ending ambiguous, it was straightforward, gave some needed closure and ended in a way most viewers wanted. I’m not going to say it was perfect (as some have) because it wasn’t, but it kept with its consistent nature, and that alone was enough for a series finale. It brought back scripted event television, if only for one night, in a time when no one watches stuff live anymore and made you forget that Homeland also premiered last night (Whose idea was that by the way?). And with that, we close the book on Breaking Bad and look forward to Aaron Paul continuing to be one of the most like-able celebrities on the planet.
AMC was hoping that their new Detroit based cop drama, Low Winter Sun was going to be hit. They believed in it enough to market it as the next Breaking Bad and used its acclaimed and highly rated methamphetamine drama as a lead in. They tried showing Breaking Bad’s scenes from the next episode after the start of Low Winter Sun, to force viewers to watch for a few minutes. They even gave a summary of the first two episodes hoping that giving audiences the Cliff’s Notes right before the third episode would spark interest. (Spoiler: It didn’t) You’re not fooling us AMC, we can smell your desperation from here.
Despite AMC’s efforts, in just three episodes Low Winter Sun has failed. Ratings have gone from okay to downright laughable. While this may seem like just another bump in the road for the still popular network, AMC has struggled with adding new dramas since The Walking Dead premiered in 2010.
Mad Men and Breaking Bad put AMC on the map as a respected cable network for original television drama. Those two shows are not only two of the greatest dramas of all time, but complement each other nicely, as they are successful in different ways. Mad Men won four straight Outstanding Drama Series Emmys, but has never had an actor/actress from the show win one, and has never had high ratings. Breaking Bad came on slow but has become a cultural phenomenon, has five acting Emmys (3 for Bryan Cranston, 2 for Aaron Paul) but has never won the Outstanding Drama Series (hopefully this will change next month). When the network added The Walking Dead in 2010, it instantly became their highest rated show and is now the highest rated on all of television. Suddenly AMC could do no wrong.
Sure, AMC still has three of the biggest shows in television, however, their recent string of failed dramas (three straight to be exact) is not to be ignored. Especially considering Breaking Bad and Mad Men are on their last seasons. The Killing
was cancelled and brought back so AMC could save face but still no one cares or watches it is headed for another cancellation, Hell on Wheels is an okay fourth or fifth best show on a top cable network but that’s all and now Low Winter Sun looks like the biggest failure out of all of them. If their original series continue to fail to garner interest, AMC’s prowess as a quality cable network will continue to fade, until they decide to just show movies all the time again. Just kidding, but it could happen.