And the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, can teach you a few things.
If you don’t know, the show’s protagonist starts out as a high school chemistry teacher, but ends up fully immersed in the seedy underbelly of the meth business.
In the producer’s own words, a Mr. Chips to Scarface transformation.
A far-out formula that could have bombed, but it endured for five amazing seasons, and the finale drew a record 10.3 Million viewers. This from a show that almost never got off the ground and had 1/10th the viewership in its first season.
You might be thinking: This is fine and dandy Craig, but what the hell does it have to do with me?
Here I wrote what Mr. Chips could teach you about branding, but today I want to go a bit deeper.
I think Gilligan could give a seminar on: Creative fortitude, passions realized and what it takes to do something amazing.
And you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate the lessons. Here they are:
1. Creative Courage will get you places:
TV is business and executives like proven boilerplate formulas. A meth-cooking chemistry teacher is anything but formulaic.
Imagine the pitch: “I have this great idea for a show. A high school chemistry teacher turns to cooking crystal meth after he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. All to provide for his family.”
BUT after facing multiple rejections, Gilligan never wavered, and more importantly, never diluted the original concept.
And what did he get for his efforts? Critical acclaim, including multiple Emmys and a drama now regarded as one of the best in TV history.
Creative courage means not only coming up with a brilliant idea, but having the fortitude to see it through, and most importantly … artfully telling the naysayers to get bent.
In my little world, and yours, telling cynics, defeatists and gloomy party poopers to bugger off is a good thing.
Don’t let wet blankets put out your fire.
2. You must kill the poison called Fear.
The Breaking Bad storyline never suffered from trepidation or desperation.
In the beginning there was rejection. Once the show started, it was low audience numbers and the possibility of cancelation. And of course there were people who said this glamorized drug use … they obviously didn’t have a clue.
But there were no compromises or moves based on panic, and this was evident all the way to the end. In fact I would say the last eight episodes may have been the best end-run ever.
Gilligan rocked our world and nailed the landing, because he trusted his gut and pressed on despite fear.
Great creative feats and big things done right require you to blast past the anxiety, daily.
3. Learn how to tell a story.
Many see the modern TV viewer as an ADHD riddled boob who can’t tolerate more that five minutes of dialog.
Enter Breaking Bad. Yes, there’s action, but the show’s deliberate pacing takes time to explore its characters, deeply.
And amazing TV is about the slow burn done right, letting a story unfold over time. In our frenzied media world this is increasingly hard to do, because execs see pay dirt built on special effects and non-stop action.
But guess what? Patience is a virtue and restrained, creative story-telling done right might equal TV gold. From “The Wire” to “Madmen,” all the best TV dramas have this down.
Creative restraint. Letting things unfold. The slow burn. This is how you create a story that rocks.
4. Realize you can’t go it alone.
What made the show so bang-on?
Compelling acting, tight, creative writing, an award-winning score, a cinematic aesthetic that has redefined American television, oh and a million and one other things.
He so nailed the landing that he may have set the new standard for season finales. THIS was a group effort.
Gilligan is a showrunner; A boss who understands whom to hire and how to let them run free. I’m such a fan of the show (read: freak) I listened to the Breaking Bad Insider podcast, where they often discussed the writer’s room – a place where concepts were vetted and “dumb” ideas were encouraged. Nothing was off limits.
A true auteur like Gilligan listens to “dumb” ideas.
A boss who knows what he wants, but also knows how to empower people by ceding control.
The creativity and cohesiveness of the show stemmed from the fact that he knew how to work with the best and brightest, and to get them all on the same page.
Work to find people who are amped-up by duties that drain you. Then learn to manage them in a Vince-like, hands-off way.
What say you?
Gilligan’s “lightning in a bottle” idea arrived when he was unemployed and not in love with the fickle world of TV. The idea was spawned while joking with an associate.
It didn’t take long for him to realize how the dark twists and turns of such a story could become compelling TV.
The crazy, but original idea kind of arrived, and he made it work with a brand of creative tenacity based on the four practices above.
Maybe it’s time for you to turn that crazy idea of yours into something special. So why not Break Bad in your own little way?