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Long Live Walter White (and 'Breaking Bad')

By Tom Benedek 

 All hail the king.

All hail the king.

Long live Walter White. And this guy will live forever - on DVD, cable, broadcast TV, any screen near you. The miracle of a compelling TV series, Breaking Bad, hit a bulls-eye after sailing toward its ultimate target for 5 seasons, 62 episodes. But the show wasn't just about Walt. It was about his wife, his son, his baby, his in-laws, his surrogate son, Jesse. Most TV series dribble away, are forced to recast, reconcile midstream to maintain quality, remain compelling. Somehow Breaking Bad managed to mine the White extended family and the intrigues of Walt's "business" without jumping the shark or really ever getting near those dangerous TV series creative waters.

Why? How? What was this magic Vince Gilligan judiciously dispensed with his creative team through the life span of the show? A 58-page pilot script was the template, roadmap, bible of all of it. With a close study of the pilot and its inner workings, it is possible to gain a lot of extraordinary information about how any pilot ought to be structured, what the DNA of great television is all about:

Family of Characters, a strong protagonist with multiple practical and emotional goals, a workplace/family situation with emotional and visual appeal all spun together with consistent and relentlessly fervent creative juice on every page. Family of characters is primal to TV viewing. We voluntarily bring these people into our homes week after week.

The Sopranos is about a family. The teams of CSI, NCIS, The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Mad Men – all contain families of characters with archetypal roles. Breaking Bad stayed meticulously contained within its family milieu. The jolly uncle the TV critic references above as Al Roker on Today happens to be a DEA agent as well on Breaking Bad – which makes for brilliant drama and dark comedy.

Character drives plot. Character creates story. In TV, a family of characters tends to drive story. There may be a protagonist, a star on top of a show. However, that protagonist is generally surrounded by a rich and varied ensemble – that family of characters.

The Breaking Bad pilot is one of the great ones, obviously. Along with a breakdown of the fundamentals of pilot structure in general, I will be doing a close study and analysis of the story engine, family of characters, writing style, and the structure of the Breaking Bad pilot, page by page, in The Writers Store Webinar. Please do join me for the fun. Great TV is always fun even when it is dead serious.

Tom Benedek wrote the screenplay for Cocoon, The Adventures of Pinocchio, and other films. In addition to teaching the craft of screenwriting, Tom has interviewed dozens of agents, managers, production execs, working screenwriters for his Network Hollywood class at He has written screenplays for Robert Zemeckis, Lawerence Kasdan, Lili Fini Zanuck and Richard Zanuck, David Brown, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Richard Rush, Harold Ramis, Lauren Schuler Donner and Richard Donner, Ray Stark, and many more.


The Television Plunge: The Winning Structure of Breaking Bad Webinar with Tom Benedek

Screenwriting Webinar from The Writers Store


At a Glance:

  • Learn how Vince Gilligan shaped his Breaking Bad pilot script using Foundation Principles and Fundamental Necessities of the Form
  • Acquire Effective Strategies for Constructing the World of Your Show
  • Develop Strategy for Constructing Your Own Solid Series Pitch