[editor’s note: proceed with caution; this page contains ideas that may prove upsetting to decent-thinking persons. but they’re not my ideas; they’re the ideas of network executives, and I simply amassed them based on years of observation and reflection. so I’m fine with printing em.]
We all love Breaking Bad. But let’s face it: the fact that the series was snatched up by AMC is a two-sided coin. What I mean is: Yes, it means fewer commercials—but it also means a lower budget and a lot fewer viewers than it would have if it were produced by one of Hollywood’s top-tier broadcast networks, like ABC, NBC, CBS, or even Fox.
It’s too late now, but it’s still interesting to think about how the minds at the top of these time-tested entertainment empires would have moved the same source material. Let’s take a look at this alternate universe that we’ll never get the chance to experience, side by side with what we’ve actually seen.
Age: 50. Occupation: High school teacher / kingpin.
The actor playing Walt needs to be 50 years old; that’s part of the storyline. But he does need to be “TV 50″—we want audiences to actually tune in to watch the show, after all. Which is to say: the camera needs to like him. Paul Bettany is tailor made for this part: he’s thin, like a science nerd would be, but he can still believably deliver in the action sequences. And people gravitate towards him, which is critical to establishing a hit show. Plus, years of experience shows that there’s nothing US audiences love more than a British actor portraying an American protagonist.
Age: 25. Occupation: drug cook / chump.
Jesse is the secondary protagonist, a former student of Walt’s. Since he’s a young guy, it’s your chance to add some star power that will attract a younger audience. He needs to believably get caught up in the criminal underworld and hold his own against a wide variety of thugs and ne’er-do-wells, while still being someone the producers can send out on the talk show circuit. Actor: Scott Speedman. OR WHOEVER.
Age: mid-Forties. Occupation: mom.
Walt’s wife Skyler is there to be a dramatic foil to Walt, so she too needs a commanding screen presence. But there do need to be changes. In the original series, Sklyer is an accountant, but she spends the majority of her time taking care of the kids. That’s pretty dull (and that’s dull on both counts), and doesn’t give her much of a story arc to work with. So she needs her own angle. Bryce Dallas Howard gets the part, but the character needs updating so that she’s a corporate “fixer,” negotiating high-priced mergers and acquisitions, frequently by jetting off to exotic locations. Unless the series is on Fox, in which case she’ll be a police psychologist, instead (which really ups the tension when the fuzz starts hunting down Heisenberg).
Age: 45. Occupation: DEA agent.
Hollywood is committed to equality and to making shows that look like America looks. And that means there needs to be a black character. Secondary character. Law enforcement is the perfect fit—it flips all of the stereotypes on their heads: Hank is the good guy, see? Out to get the drug dealers. On the other hand, the DEA is kind of an abstract agency that doesn’t really do much. It would work if Hank is an undercover DEA agent, but for just regular detective stuff, the FBI would be far better territory from the audience’s perspective. Second choice: the CIA, which opens up all kinds of counter-terrorism story possibilities. After all, terrorists use drug trafficking to finance their sleeper cells. How awesome does that sound, just in that one sentence? Actor: rising star Dayo Okeniyi.
Age: late thirties? Occupation: nurse or orderly or something.
Skyler’s sister, married to Hank. First off, since it’s impossible to get actual siblings, you can’t get too caught up in figuring out whether Skyler and Marie look similar enough to be relatives. Establishing that they are sisters is a simple matter of dialogue: in the first two episodes, have them address each other “Hey, sister” and answer the phone “Hi sis!” a few times and reference “mom” to each other in conversation; people will pick up on it subconsciously, and you can drop it after the first month.
On the other hand, Marie’s boring job of medical technician or something is irrelevant and weird. Good that she’s in the profession, yes, but it’s far more dramatic if she’s closer to the action. So she’s a neurosurgeon or maybe the head of oncology for the hospital. She can even be the one that operates on Walt! In fact, that has to be what happens. And on Jesse and Hank, too; possibly several other characters, in emergencies. Actress: Anybody.
Age: 15. Occupation: student driver.
Junior is Walt and Skyler’s son, who goes to the high school where Walt works. His main purpose in the story is to elicit sympathy and have medical bills. In the AMC version of the show, he has CP, which is certainly great, and we want to support that community as much as possible, but sheesh: talk about a downer. Junior definitely needs to have a chronic medical condition, cause that needs to drive Walt to his illegal activities, but it needs to be one people can relate to. So, blind or deaf. Everyone can understand those (and pretend to have those conditions, momentarily, so they can relate to Junior). Blind is clearly the better choice: not only does he get to wear shades, but his blindness is symbolic, of how he’s blind to his father’s criminal secrets. Get it? The writing Emmys are going to stack up.
Although if the show is on Fox, Junior’s struggle will be not-quite-as medical, in that he really wants to be a dancer and the town is pressuring him to play quarterback instead. Actor: Who just had a CW series canceled?
Age: 0. Occupation: dependent.
Holly is Walt and Skyler’s infant daughter in the AMC series. Which is okay, I guess, but it’s far more interesting for everyone if she’s a spunky middle-schooler instead. She can have all kinds of great subplots, like being embarrassed by her parents, sneaking out of the house, her friends pressuring her to try drugs (IRONY); you name it. The point is, you need a young female character in order to get young female viewers. Her storylines can get bigger every year as the audience grows and she becomes a fan favorite. Actress: Jessy Schram.
Age: late Forties. Occupation: lawyer.
Saul is everybody’s attorney; you need an actor with gravitas to play that role: somebody who knows how to wear a suit; somebody who can be “slick” and charm a courtroom full of jurors. Somebody people want to emulate: the audience needs to be drawn to Saul’s success. He knows how to work the system. Actor: That guy from Lost.
Age: Thirties. Occupation: drug dealer.
Tuco is the first drug dealer Walt and Jesse tangle with. He needs to look like a drug dealer. I.E., gangsta. All-black clothes, nickel-plated .45’s, the whole deal. He does need to be Latino, so that it’s clear he comes from a cartel. Note that this does not affect the racial-balance quota; Tuco is not a main cast member, but as long as we have Hank we’re covered. Actor: Who’s played a drug lord before?
Age: Fifties. Occupation: Big bad.
Gus is the biggest drug trafficker in the region before Walt gets into the game. But c’mon: he needs to look like a drug kingin, not look like a dork. There can be only one choice for this part: the man himself, Jimmy Smits. Gus has to fill out a suit, rock the mirrored shades, and look like he deserves to be behind the wheel of that Bugatti he drives.
Age: Sixty-ish. Occupation: P.I..
Mike is the private investigator who “works” for Saul and also for Gus. He’s tough-as-nails and not afraid to get his hands dirty. Thus, he should look like a P.I. looks: fit enough to win in a bar fight, but with stubble so you know he’s street-smart. P.I.s are magnetic characters by nature, so you need a magnetic actor. He has just as much story potential as everyone else; just imagine what could happen if he rescues Holly from danger at Walt’s insistence? Again, the drama writes itself. He will also need a signature vehicle, like a brand new red Ford Mustang convertible, to take to stakeouts and make rescues with. Actor: Whatever that guy’s name is.
Age: 40. Occupation: second-string drugmaker.
Gale is a genius scientist like Walt, hired on to kick the operation into high gear, and later turning into a competitor whose skill level threatens Walt and Jesse’s dominance. But you can’t just have a character that important be a bland blob or a lighter-weight nerd-clone of Walt himself. To really create drama, he needs to be Walt’s total opposite: streetwise and dangerous. Someone that drives the action; someone who makes things happen—someone who’s active, not passive. Actor: Michael Trucco. Also, seriously: better name. At the very least, “Dale.” Preferably something more rugged, but also one syllable, like “Tagg” or “Kane.”
Age: 22. Occupation: bug zapper.
Todd is one of Mike’s connections with criminal ties. He starts out working with a shady front business, then gets involved in other operations, then helps tackle the drug trafficking, too. He’s essentially competition to Jesse, much like
Gale Kane is to Walt. So they have to match wits, match fighting skills, match each other at gunplay, etc, etc. “Team Jesse” vs “Team Todd”! Although Todd would be a lot more interesting if he had more dimensions, like he works as a criminal informant sometimes, too, and is searching for his brother’s killer on the side. He can also rescue Holly from imminent danger a few times, which opens up all kinds of new Mike/Todd storylines for the audience to soak up.
Age: 25. Occupation: addict.
Skinny Pete is one of several friends of Jesse’s from the drug underworld. As someone on the low side of the drug empire business, they walk the line between dramatic tension and comic relief. But with a name like Skinny Pete, there can be only one choice for the actor: Jorge Garcia. It’s irony again! That’s the fuel that makes dark comedy burn. Although you would also want to combine him with Badger and Combo; too many friends makes for convoluted plotting.
Age: 200. Occupation: invalid.
Hector is a former crime boss that tangles with Gus, Walt, and Hank. Like all of the other drug dealers, he needs to be Hispanic, but he also needs to be old, which leaves Miguel Ferrer as the only choice. Good thing he’s a Tinseltown legend, and can be intimidating even though he’s elderly.
Age: 45. Occupation: DEA agent.
Gomez is Hank’s partner. Or coworker or whatever. Do DEA agents have partners? Presumably so, since they’re buddy cops. In any case, the AMC version makes a pointless casting mishap with a generic person in the role. Fortunately, that can be corrected by making Gomez a far more interesting strong, female character (the show needs that, and it’s the right thing to do). The new Gomez should also be Hank’s boss, not his partner, to show that she’s empowered, and she needs to be a butt-kicking supercop on her own, to be a good role model. Which means she gets to use her sniper skills and her hand-to-hand combat skills at least once per season, and means she does the rescuing, not Hank. All while adopting a child. Actress: Moon Bloodgood.
Okay; sometimes you just gotta admit that they nailed this one the first time through. Do I smell spin-off?
Walt sells drugs. That’s vital to the show. But seriously: crystal meth is the wrong choice on a number of levels. First, it’s only used by rednecks, and that’s not good TV. Second, it’s not really clear how you make crystal meth, and rather than spend time explaining that, you gain a lot of story time by working with something that has more action built right into it.
So, coke. People understand coke, it’s worth a lot more money, and it has far more potential for drawing in other circles of characters and cartels. For instance, Gus can be Colombian, which is where the cocaine comes from (without that, it’s a bit murky how the drugs move across the border anyway). Walt can use his science skills to chemically treat the cocaine so that it’s undetectable, so he still has to be a genius, and you can move the drugs in nightclubs and fancy bars, which is a way better backdrop than street intersections.
Although if the show was on Fox, it could also be replaced by an exotic synthesized hallucinogen that creates wild visual effects.
Forget it. The new setting is Los Angeles. First of all, nobody can spell the name of the dang place. Second, in case you haven’t noticed, nobody lives in Arizona; it’s a desert wasteland. You wouldn’t believably have high-powered government offices, hospitals, lawyers with fancy cars, private eyes, kingpins, and scientists in the middle of nowhere. That part of the country would have maybe a medical clinic and a part-time country lawyer. Third, it’s a big empty spot that looks drab no matter which direction you turn—there’d be no cinematography. Television is a visual medium.
LA is a far better environment on every level: you have nightlife, you have ghettos, you have classic locations and rich, colorful streets and buildings to shoot in. You have gangs and FBI offices and expensive medical facilities for Walt and Marie. You have sophisticated people. And, best of all, all of it looks great. No question here.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the issue of Walt’s health. On the original version of the show, Walt has lung cancer, which talk about a downer even compared to the other downers. It doesn’t even make sense to start, since you get lung cancer by smoking (and we can’t have him do that). But worse yet, it’s slow and depressing, and it’s not interesting to see in diagnosis or in treatment. And it doesn’t even tie in to the plotline of the show?? How confusing is that?
Far better is to have Walt’s dramatic medical condition be something that relates to who he is. Like, instead of being a teacher his whole life, maybe he used to be in the army using his chemical skills some way in the field, like as an explosives expert. And when he was in Iraq, he got that Gulf War Syndrome or got an accidental dose of poison gas from one of Saddam’s biological weapons stockpiles. But he doesn’t know it until later. Or it’s classified operation, like maybe it was really people in his unit going rogue who had the chemical weapon, because they were stealing it, and he fought back and destroyed it, but he got sick in the process, and the commanding officer doesn’t kill him but says “I’m going to leave you to die slowly, just like they did to my wife” or something like that, so Walt has a grudge but he can’t prove anything. That makes the sickness relevant to the story. That makes it part of who he is. That makes it drama.
Although if the show is on Fox, we can still go one better; rather than Walt destroying the stolen chemical weapon, the rogue CO injects him with a dose of it and forces him to keep quiet about the heist or he’ll detonate the capsule remotely, but then it starts to leak so Walt knows he only has so much time left so he heads down a dark path of drug dealing in order to make contacts that will lead him to the members of his old unit and he uses the money he raises to track them down so he can exact vengeance one by one. And also Hank was a paratrooper in the same unit but he doesn’t believe Walt’s story and also Walt’s name is changed to “Walter Badd” and the show is called “Breaking Badd.”