April 7, 2017
video essay

Watch: 'Breaking Bad' Shows You How to Write the Perfect TV Pilot

Here's proof that 'Breaking Bad' had the best pilot ever—and how you can emulate its success.

Breaking Bad is as cinematic as television gets. With innovative cameraworkepic editing, astounding performances, and, most of all, incisive and poignant writing, Vince Gilligan's character-driven series shattered the precedents of peak TV.

In a new video essay from Lessons from the Screenplay, Michael Tucker breaks down just what makes Breaking Bad the perfect pilot. According to Tucker, a pilot has to "introduce the main characters, set up the world of the show, and tell enough of a satisfying story that an audience is entertained and wants to come back for more...in 57 pages."

The pilot contains structural elements that help construct the world: a teaser and four acts. In any pilot, the teaser should be a "surprising and puzzling" opening scene into which high stakes are quickly introduced. In Breaking Bad, it's watching a gas mask-wearing Walter White crash his RV into the desert and emerge from it in his underwear, bearing a gun.

Next, Act 1 shows us a "day in the life" of Walt as he navigates his passionless home life and frustrating, unfulfilling work life, including a second job at a car wash, a source of deep embarrassment for White. All of this begs the question: what's missing in Walt's life? In an interview, Gilligan states that you don't have to love Walter White; you simply have to understand why he's making the decisions he makes. The Breaking Bad pilot shows us that Walt is powerless, passive, diplomatic, and despite being a brilliant chemist, is constantly demeaned. "He longs for control and purpose, but lacks both," says Tucker.

At the end of Act 1, Walt collapses. This is the show's inciting incident—the catalyst that shatters the status quo and sets the rest of the story into motion. (For detailed breakdowns of Acts 2 through 4, watch the video. We promise it's worth your time.)

And if you want to dive even deeper into the craft at hand, read the Breaking Bad pilot here.       

Your Comment

3 Comments

It's funny I just started watching this show 2 weeks ago. For some reason I felt I was always busy but my friends kept recommending it. Then I saw it pop up in remastered 4k. I gave it a go and was blown away. That pilot is perfect. I'm still on the 4th season and Hank is on to Gus and it's getting crazy! Anyway I loved this breakdown. You can take this to anything you write in the future. I recommend Scott Meyer's Expository writing class and John Truby's Anatomy of a Screenplay! Now if only there was a class on writing the perfect finale...

April 7, 2017 at 1:50PM

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Julian
Director
327

The perfect finale has to pay off a question you have been asking throughout your story, Who or what someone really is? Or after so much heartbreak and anger your hero finally gets their reward. A finale to remember is one that goes full on cinematic in its ambitions and makes the viewer's jaw drop at the end of the story but also at the fact that they have to wait a while for the story to continue or for the next adventure to begin.

April 10, 2017 at 6:45PM

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Adam Foster
Writer & Creative
6

Thanks for sharing this.

April 8, 2017 at 6:38PM, Edited April 8, 6:38PM

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Kevin Jones
Editor
811

This is why I've been checking nofilmschool for 5 years, every single day.
Articles/Studies like this make it all worth it.
Thank you Emily Buder and LFTS

April 10, 2017 at 8:30AM

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ehsan abbasi
Cinematographer
91