Take note, Hollywood. You’re being consistently outclassed by that distant cousin you’ve always looked down on: television.
AMC’s Breaking Bad is a perfect example of how and why this is happening.
Breaking Bad ended its 5 year run last night, and from episode 1 to the finale, it never let up, and never let its audience down.
Here are the basic reasons why the show was so popular and successful:
It’s no secret that (cable) television networks and producers seem to value writing and writers far more than movie studios and producers do. Hollywood studios are infamous for buying scripts they tinker with and never actually film, and/or bringing in half a dozen writers to rework the same script over and over. As a general rule, when you see 5 or 6 screenwriters’ names in the opening titles of a movie, it’s probably gonna be lousy.
There are scores of books about writing movie screenplays that teach formulas, including on what pages of your script certain things should happen. This is why most of Hollywood movies seem the same. The titles and actors are different, but the plots aren’t. When something original does slip through the cracks, and has a little success, that starts a whole new copycat trend.
TV doesn’t play by those jacked-up rules; and Breaking Bad certainly didn’t. It was never predictable, and never had cookie cutter characters or situations.
The characters seemed real. They were human. They had flaws and personality quirks like we all do, and sometimes their flaws led them into major problems. Problems not easily resolved the way they would be in a typical movie script.
It was amazing how, over the course of a few episodes (or sometimes even a single episode), a character would go from being sympathetic to unsympathetic and back again.
This is a credit to Breaking Bad creator/writer Vince Gilligan and his team. Gilligan is a model of a new breed of hybrid creator/producer/writer/director, who has a strong vision, and who is (thankfully) entrusted by the cable networks to find the right collaborators and make the vision work.
2. Production Values -
Breaking Bad was as well made and looked as good as the best Hollywood films.
TV used to get second class citizen status because it didn’t look as “professional” as Hollywood films did. Not so anymore.
In fact, most of the cinematographers, editors and crews that work on top notch TV shows, also work on feature films, and move seamlessly back and forth. Even big-shot movie directors jump at the chance to do things on TV now.
3. Acting -
There’s plenty of excellent acting in the movies, but often there are only one or two standout performances in any given feature film.
Breaking Bad, on the other hand, was chocked full of great acting. From top to bottom, the cast was superb. There are not enough awards to go around. Especially noteworthy were Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, and the cast’s most recent Emmy winner Anna Gunn.
Oh, yeah, and what about the leading actor, the soul of the show, Bryan Cranston (a.k.a. Walter White)? How about one of the all-time great pieces of acting, and maybe the best ever seen on television. The transformation and ultimate resolution of the life of cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned “empire builder” Walter White, as embodied by Cranston, was staggering and heart-rending.
Because it got these simple things so right, Breaking Bad is one of the best, if not the best, examples of an ever-growing number of shows on cable (not broadcast) TV that put 99 percent of what comes out of Hollywood to shame.
In fact, it’s almost hard to keep track of how many quality TV shows there are nowadays. Here are a few of the others, in no particular order: The Walking Dead (right up there with Breaking Bad), Mad Men, The Killing, Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story and a slew of HBO powerhouses such as: True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones, which continue HBOs tradition of dramatic slam dunks like The Sopranos and The Wire.
These shows work because they don’t pander to and patronize their audiences, the way so many contemporary films do. They don’t assume their viewers are stupid and have to be spoon fed everything and safely and deliberately guided from plot point A to plot point B.
They also prove that there’s no such thing as “typical” anymore when it comes to television. The same can’t be said for movies. In fact, there are probably about 15 typical ones playing at the nearest multiplex right now.
If you didn’t know it before, Breaking Bad spent the last five years serving notice – the best, most “cinematic” stories are on TV now. There are even some “originals” breaking out on broadcast networks, which is a good sign.
Hollywood, the ball’s in your court. You might want to consider stepping up your game.