25 Fascinating Facts About Breaking Bad
On January 10, 2008, Breaking Bad made its debut. Though it didn’t premiere to over-the-top ratings, over the course of five seasons, it morphed into a television phenomenon—thanks in large part to word of mouth and the increasing popularity of binge-watching. At its most basic level, it’s the story of a soft-spoken chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with lung cancer, risks everything he has worked for to make sure his family will be taken care of in the event of his death. But, like all great TV shows, the story is really not that simple. And it evolves over time, with each season somehow—and miraculously—managing to top the one before it.
Regularly cited as one of the greatest television series of all time (Rolling Stone ranked it number three on its list of the 100 best shows, right in between Mad Men and The Wire), here are 25 things you might not have known about Breaking Bad, which aired its finale episode on September 29, 2013.
1. LOTS OF NETWORKS PASSED ON IT, INCLUDING HBO.
In 2016, it was announced that Vince Gilligan is working on a limited series about Jim Jones for HBO. But the “It’s not TV” network wasn’t always so hot on Gilligan. In a 2011 interview, Gilligan shared that he pitched Breaking Bad to HBO, and that it was “the worst meeting I’ve ever had.”
"The trouble with Hollywood—movies and TV—is people will leave you dangling on the end of a meat hook for days or weeks or months on end,” Gilligan said. “That happened at HBO. Like the worst meeting I ever had … The woman we [were] pitching to could not have been less interested—not even in my story, but about whether I actually lived or died.”
HBO wasn’t the only network that ultimately said no to Walter White: Showtime, TNT, and FX all passed on Breaking Bad, too, for various reasons.
2. THE NETWORK REALLY WANTED MATTHEW BRODERICK TO STAR.
It’s impossible to imagine Breaking Bad with anyone other than Bryan Cranston in the lead role, but he wasn’t as well known when the series kicked off, and AMC wanted a star. They were particularly interested in casting either Matthew Broderick or John Cusack in the lead.
"We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle,” a former AMC executive told The Hollywood Reporter about their initial reluctance to cast Cranston. “We were like, 'Really? Isn't there anybody else?’” But Gilligan had worked with Cranston before, on an episode of The X-Files, and knew he had the chops to navigate the quirks of the part. The network brass watched the episode, and agreed.
"We needed somebody who could be dramatic and scary yet have an underlying humanity so when he dies, you felt sorry for him,” Gilligan said. “Bryan nailed it."
3. JESSE PINKMAN WASN’T SUPPOSED TO LIVE PAST SEASON ONE.
While Breaking Bad ultimately ended up being largely about the tumultuous partnership between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, Jesse wasn’t originally intended to be a major character. While it’s often stated that he was supposed to be killed off in episode nine, and that it was the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike that saved him, Gilligan set the record straight in 2013, saying it became clear much earlier than that that Jesse’s character—and his relationship to Walter—was integral to moving the show forward.
“The writers’ strike, in a sense, didn’t save him, because I knew by episode two—we all did, all of us, our wonderful directors and our wonderful producers,” Gilligan said. “Everybody knew just how good [Aaron Paul is], and a pleasure to work with, and it became pretty clear early on that that would be a huge, colossal mistake to kill off Jesse.”
When asked during a Reddit AMA about how he would have felt if Jesse had been killed off in season one, Paul posited that, “My career would be over. And I would be a sobbing mess watching week to week on Breaking Bad.”
4. THE WRITERS STRIKE DID CHANGE THE STORY ARC FOR SEASON ONE, WHICH TURNED OUT TO BE A GOOD THING.
The Writers Strike did end up shortening the show’s first season, which forced Gilligan to cut two episodes that would have seen Walter’s transformation into Heisenberg happen much more quickly—and violently. Gilligan was glad it worked out the way it did.
“We had plotted out all our episodes before the show ever went on the air, and we didn't know how well the show would be received,” Gilligan told Creative Screenwriting. “Not knowing how the public would take to it, you tend to want to be a little more sensational. You want to really keep the show exciting and interesting and keep 'em watching. All of that to say that those last two episodes, because of that, would have been really big episodes, and would have taken the characters into a hugely different realm than that they were already in, and it would have been a hard thing to come back from, coming into season two.”
“We're not just doing those two episodes coming into season two,” he added. “We threw those out completely and we're starting somewhere else. We're building more slowly than we otherwise would have built. I think that's really good, because I know we've all had our favorite shows that were really interesting up to a certain point, but maybe they just go too far, and then there's no going back from it. To me, the trick is to do as little as possible with the characters, and yet keep them as interesting as possible. It's a real balancing act.”
5. THE DEA HELPED OUT, AND EVEN TAUGHT BRYAN CRANSTON AND AARON PAUL HOW TO COOK METH.
Because of the subject matter, the show’s creators thought it was only right to inform the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) what they were making—and welcome their help. “We informed them—with all due respect and consideration—that we’re doing this show, and ‘Would you like to be a part of it in a consultancy in order to make sure that we get it right?’” Cranston told High Times. “They had the choice to say, ‘We don’t want anything to do with it.’ But they saw that it might be in their best interest to make sure that we do it correctly. So DEA chemists came onboard as consultants and taught Aaron Paul and me how to make crystal meth.”
6. THE SCIENCE IS SOUND, BUT NOT PERFECT. AND THAT WAS INTENTIONAL.
Dr. Donna Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma, began serving as a science advisor on the show midway through the first season, and was tasked with making sure the show got its science right—or, at least as “right” as is safe.
“I don’t think there’s any popular show that gets it 100 percent right, but that’s not the goal,” Nelson told Mental Floss in 2013. “The goal is not to be a science education show; the goal is to be a popular show. And so there’s always going to be some creative license taken, because they want to make the show interesting.”
Of course—particularly with a show about drug-making—you don’t want to give viewers a primer on how to start their own meth empires. “In the case of Walter White, his trademark is the blue meth,” Nelson said. “In reality, it wouldn’t be blue; it would be colorless. But this isn’t a science education show. It’s a fantasy. And Vince Gilligan did a fantastic job of getting most of the science right. And I am just thrilled with that. I think Vince Gilligan is a genius, and you can quote me on that!”
7. THAT ICONIC BLUE METH IS ROCK CANDY.
Whenever you see Walter and Jesse’s signature blue meth, what you’re actually seeing is blue rock candy. More specifically: blue rock candy from The Candy Lady, a boutique candy store in Albuquerque. (They have a whole line of Breaking Bad-inspired treats, which they sell under The Bad Candy Lady line.)
8. GUS FRING’S ROLE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE MUCH SMALLER.
Initially, Giancarlo Esposito wasn’t interested in taking on the role of Gus Fring, which was a much smaller part in the beginning. “I had not seen Breaking Bad, but my manager at the time told me it was his favorite show,” Esposito told TIME. “My wife said I should I try it, but it was a guest spot and I’ve done a lot of guest spots. I wanted to develop a character. But I did one episode and then I agreed to do two more with the caveat that I wanted to be part of a filmmaking family.”
When Gilligan offered him another seven episodes for season three, Esposito countered that he wanted a bigger role. “There was some negotiating and I ended up doing 12,” Esposito said. “I wanted to create a character who became intrinsic to the show. And at some point, I realized that I had slid into the Breaking Bad family. Vince told me that I changed the game and raised the bar for the show. And I’m proud of that, but I could only do that because of the depth of the writing and due to the chemistry between Bryan Cranston and myself. And their writing inspired me to think, to create someone who was polite, threatening and poignant.”
9. GIANCARLO ESPOSITO CHANNELED HIS INNER EDWARD JAMES OLMOS.
In the mid-1980s, Giancarlo Esposito made a few guest appearances on Miami Vice. The experience clearly had an effect on him, as he used Edward James Olmos’s character from that series, Lieutenant Martin Castillo, as a model for Gus Fring.
“Eddie did very little and he was very convincing,” Esposito told the Toronto Sun. “I also thought he was a bit flat, but he did very, very little in playing [Castillo] and I thought it was really effective. Juxtaposed to Philip Michael [Thomas] and Don [Johnson], who were at times a bit full of themselves but were doing a little bit of acting, Eddie was just doing his job. And I wanted Gus to be in that mode."
10. GILLIGAN GOT SOME HELP FROM THE WALKING DEAD CREW FOR FRING’S FINAL EPISODE.
Fring’s final sendoff is one of the most memorable visual images from the entire series—and they were able to enlist the help of some true gore experts. “Indeed we did have great help from the prosthetic effects folks at The Walking Dead,” Gilligan told The New York Times. “And I want to give a shout-out to Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, and KNB EFX, those two gentlemen and their company, because their shop did that effect. And then that was augmented by the visual effects work of a guy named Bill Powloski and his crew, who digitally married a three-dimensional sculpture that KNB EFX created with the reality of the film scene. So you can actually see into and through Gus’s head in that final reveal. It’s a combination of great makeup and great visual effects. And it took months to do."
11. YES, AARON PAUL DOES SAY “BITCH” A LOT—BUT PROBABLY NOT AS MUCH AS YOU THINK.
While any Jesse Pinkman impression ends with a “bitch,” by one calculation, Paul uses the word a total of 54 times throughout the series. Which, considering there are 62 episodes, seems a little on the low side.
12. PAUL RELEASED A “YO, BITCH” APP.
Even if that above number seems underwhelming, Pinkman’s favorite add-on became so synonymous with Paul that, in 2014, the actor released an app called Yo, Bitch.
13. WALTER’S BOSS AT THE CAR WASH IS A CHEMIST IN REAL LIFE.
Marius Stan, who played Bogdan, Walter’s boss at the car wash, wasn’t a familiar face to many of the show’s viewers. That’s because the series was his (and his eyebrows’) acting debut. In real life, rather coincidentally, he has a PhD in chemistry and, according to a Reddit AMA, is a “Senior Computational Energy Scientist at Argonne National Lab—which is one of the national laboratories under the U.S. Dept. of Energy—and a Senior Fellow at the University of Chicago, the Computation Institute."
14. WALTER WHITE’S ALTER EGO IS A NOD TO A REAL PERSON.
Walter White’s drug kingpin alter ego, Heisenberg, is a nod to Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who developed the principle of uncertainty.
15. HEISENBERG’S SIGNATURE HAT WAS A MATTER OF PRACTICALITY.
Heisenberg’s porkpie hat came to identify Walter White’s dark side, but it originated from a very practical place. “Bryan kept asking me, after he shaved his head, ‘Can I have a hat?’ because his head was cold,” Kathleen Detoro, the show’s costume designer, explained. “So I would ask Vince and he kept saying no; Jesse wore the hats. Finally, Vince said, ‘I think there’s a place …’ It was Bryan asking for a hat, me asking Vince, and then Vince figuring out where in the story it makes sense: It’s when he really becomes Heisenberg.” (If you want to buy your own Heisenberg hat, it was made by Goorin.)
16. THE WHITES’ HOUSE HAS BECOME A TOURIST ATTRACTION—AND LOTS OF PIZZA HAS BEEN THROWN ON ITS ROOF.
Though Walter White and his family live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, the home that you see in exterior shots is actually 3828 Piermont Drive NE, a private home in Albuquerque that has become a pretty major tourist attraction. Many fans, caught up in the excitement of seeing the home where Walter White managed to hurl the world’s largest pizza onto the roof in one swift move, have attempted to recreate that scene—leaving the home’s owner with a regular mess.
In 2015, Gilligan appealed to the show’s fan base to refrain from throwing pizza onto the home’s roof. “There is nothing original, or funny, or cool about throwing a pizza on this lady’s roof,” Gilligan said. “It’s been done before—you’re not the first.”
“And if I catch you doing it, I will hunt you down,” added Jonathan Banks, in true Mike Ehrmantraut fashion.
17. CRANSTON MANAGED TO GET THAT PIZZA THROW IN ONE TAKE.
Speaking of that infamous pizza scene: It really was Cranston who threw it, and he managed to do it in one take. Gilligan called it a “one-in-a-million shot.”
18. TUCO GAVE JESSE A CONCUSSION.
A fight scene between Jesse and Tuco (Raymond Cruz) turned serious when Cruz ended up accidentally knocking Paul unconscious. “Yeah, Raymond Cruz who played Tuco gave me a concussion during the episode ‘Grilled,’ where Tuco takes Walt and Jesse to his shack in the middle of nowhere where we meet the famous Uncle Tio,” Paul said in a Reddit AMA. “Tuco takes Jesse and he throws him through the screen door outside, and if you watch it back you'll notice that my head gets caught inside the wooden screen door and it flips me around and lands me on my stomach and the door splinters into a million pieces. Raymond just thought I was acting so he continued and kicked me in the side and picked me up over his shoulder and threw me against the house, but in reality I was pretty much unconscious ... I kept pleading to him, saying ‘stop.’ The next thing I know I guess I blacked out and I woke up to a flashlight in our eyes and it was our medic. And then I hopped up acting like nothing wrong, but it appeared like I was drunk, and I kept saying, ‘Let's finish the scene’ but then my eye started swelling shut so they took me to the hospital. Just another fun day on the set of Breaking Bad!”
19. JANE’S DEATH WAS THE HARDEST SCENE FOR PAUL TO SHOOT.
When asked about the hardest scene to shoot during a Reddit AMA, Paul said that it was Jane’s death. “I honestly think the hardest scene for me to do was when Jesse woke up and found Jane lying next to him dead,” Paul said. “Looking at Jane through Jesse's eyes that day was very hard and emotional for all of us. When that day was over, I couldn't be happier that it was over because I really, truly felt I was living those tortured moments with Jesse.”
The scene was hard on Cranston, too, who reportedly spent 15 minutes crying after filming was complete.
20. MIKE’S DEATH WAS HARD FOR EVERYONE.
When asked about filming his final scene, Jonathan Banks shared that, “The crew on the set that day all wore black armbands all day long. There are a lot of friends on that crew. It was an emotional day to say the least on set—a lot of tears. Tough day, brother.”
21. JESSE’S TEETH STILL BOTHER GILLIGAN.
When asked about whether he had any regrets about the show or any of its storylines, Gilligan admitted to one: "One thing that sort of troubled me, looking back over the entirety of the show: Jesse's teeth were a little too perfect. There were all the beatings he took, and, of course, he was using meth, which is brutal on your teeth. He'd probably have terrible teeth in real life."
22. WARREN BUFFET RESPECTS WALTER WHITE’S BUSINESS ACUMEN.
Warren Buffet was a fan of the series, and even showed up to its fifth season premiere. On the red carpet, he expressed admiration of Walter White’s entrepreneurship, calling him "a great businessman," and saying that, "he’s my guy if I ever have to go toe-to-toe with anyone."
23. THERE ARE 62 EPISODES IN TOTAL—A NUMBER THAT HAS A SPECIAL MEANING.
Over the course of five seasons, Breaking Bad produced a total of 62 episodes—which is no arbitrary number. The 62nd element on the periodic table is Samarium, which is used to treat a range of cancers, including lung cancer.
24. THE FINAL DEATH TOLL IS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.
Though you may have underestimated the number of times Jesse uttered “bitch,” you might be surprised by how many people were killed throughout the show’s entire run: 270. (BuzzFeed created a thorough breakdown of some of the most memorable ones.)
25. IN 2016, A METH COOK NAMED WALTER WHITE WAS WANTED BY THE AUTHORITIES.
In 2016, a 55-year-old man named Walter White rose to the top of Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s most wanted list for manufacturing and selling meth. Though White wasn’t a teacher, there have been other real-life stories that mirrored Walter White’s descent into the criminal underworld: In 2012, a chemistry teacher named William Duncan was arrested for selling meth; in 2011, Irina Kristy, a 74-year-old math professor, was arrested for running a meth lab.