Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), David Milch (Deadwood) and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) sat down recently for a chat with GQ’s Brett Martin — as you can imagine, plenty of interesting conversation ensued relating to the past, present and future of television and serial. Some quotables for you below.
On creating worlds without a clear ending:
Vince Gilligan: Endings are the hardest part. I find there’s a great relief that at the end of every episode, every hour of TV you produce, while you want a proper and satisfying ending, it doesn’t have to end The Story, in capital letters.
Matthew Weiner: And that automatically makes it more real. Because in the end, there’s things that are hanging, the way they are in real life. And your audience, you’re actually whetting their appetite for more.
On the future of television given the rise of DVR and streaming:
Vince Gilligan: I’ll tell you what I worry about. Being a student of TV history, I know that in the early days, advertisers had much more of an impact on what you could do and what you couldn’t do. Now with TiVo, with DVRs, consumers of TV are skipping the very thing that allows TV to exist in the first place—at least in commercial television, which accounts for most of it. It makes me think a new paradigm is in the offing—a new paradigm that in fact is the oldest paradigm—in which each TV show is individually sponsored.
David Milch: The avatar of that is product placement.
Vince Gilligan: I worry that that will potentially put the kibosh on a lot of edgy, fun storytelling.
On the importance of Hill Street Blues and The Sopranos in the transformation of TV:
Vince Gilligan: Oh, absolutely. Breaking Bad couldn’t exist without The Sopranos.
Matthew Weiner: I feel like David Chase died for my sins. Do you know how many decisions were based on some meeting when he was on Northern Exposure or The Rockford Files or some show you never heard of that he worked on for three years? Somebody saying to him, “You can’t do that,” and him saying, “Why not?” And them saying, “Because you can’t.” We were exorcising those demons. He wouldn’t do a walk-and-talk, which is two characters being covered in one shot, talking. He wouldn’t do that, because it was something NBCUniversal used to do to save money. Sometimes you’d be at this amazing location with a strip club on one side, an abattoir on the other—spectacular. You’d say, “Can’t they just walk down the highway?” And he’d say [sarcastic], “Sure. Let’s just lay some track, walk backwards, and we can get out of here by four.” I knew it was some network executive he was punching in the face thirty years later.
Vince Gilligan: Now, I think The Sopranos couldn’t have existed without Hill Street Blues.
Gilligan on turning Breaking Bad‘s Walter White from Mr Chips to Scarface:
Vince Gilligan: In very general broad terms, we had a sense of Walter’s fate. But God is in the details. (I love that there’s two expressions: “God is in the details” and “The devil’s in the details.”) Anyway, when you do a show about a man who’s been diagnosed with cancer in the first episode, a very likely possible ending presents itself pretty readily. But the details of that ending are really where the art’s at, if there’s art to be found.
Milch on not being able to end Deadwood on his own terms:
You try to live your creative life in the way you would try to live your real life. Which is, if it turned out to be your last day, you wouldn’t be ashamed of the way you finished up. In the case of Deadwood, I had enough time to mourn but not enough time to really shape the material towards a conclusion. But if you go back and look at the concluding episode, there is a provisional sense of an ending there. Some series end halfway through and just don’t know it. So it’s not a question that I allow myself to linger over.
You can read the whole discussion at GQ.