It’s almost impossible to remember a time before Breaking Bad was popular. Even now, years after the final episode aired, fans can’t stop rehashing the amazing storytelling from the Emmy Award-winning series. These diehard Breaking Bad addicts are still binge-watching seasons like they’re brand new.
However, network execs couldn’t have predicted that incredible success based on the pilot alone. Viewership for the first interaction between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman was so low that some people wondered if the series would last a full season.
Showrunner Vince Gilligan invented the tragic story of Walter White
Showrunner Vince Gilligan had a vision before he pitched Breaking Bad. Instead of creating a show with typical villains and heroes, he wanted to take his protagonist and turn him into an antagonist. As he described it, he wanted to “turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.”
AMC wasn’t sure actor Bryan Cranston could deliver such a varied performance, especially after his role of the goofy father Hal on Malcolm in the Middle. However, Gilligan fought to cast Cranston as Walter White based on the performance he gave on The X Files.
The casting was perfect. The pilot was explosive. There was just one problem: practically no one was watching it.
The ‘Breaking Bad’ pilot had stiff competition
To be fair, future fans had no idea that they’d rather be learning Walter White’s backstory than watching a bunch of football players throw a pigskin back and forth. But that’s exactly what happened on the night of Jan. 20, 2008, when AMC aired the first episode of the epic series.
“We went up against some big football game and we got crushed,” Gilligan recalled during an appearance on The Colbert Report, LA Times reported. The total number of viewers was under 1 million thanks to the simultaneous sporting event.
However, a few years later fans would be more attracted to watching Walter White’s final stand against Uncle Jack and his gang than they would be seeing who won a Sunday night game.
‘Breaking Bad’ became more popular as time went on
Despite lower than expected viewership, the Breaking Bad pilot received positive feedback from critics and slowly began getting more attention. Reviewer Barry Garron from The Hollywood Reporter called the premiere “suspenseful and surprising” while USA Today’s Robert Bianco described Cranston’s Walter White as “riveting and remarkable.”
The pilot episode ranks high on the list of favorites, but it’s not better than the finale. The highest-rated episodes of Breaking Bad are all from the fifth and final season. “Ozymandias” is considered one of the greatest dramatic episodes of television ever created. The finale “Felina” is also in the top five.
Even though the Breaking Bad pilot didn’t draw too many viewers, the finale did. The last episode aired on Sept. 29, 2013 and drew a record-breaking crowd of 10.3 million viewers. Even though the New England Patriots were playing the Atlanta Falcons at the time.
And now? Sunday night football fans only wish they could return to Walter White’s intoxicating world of meth-making.
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