Sunday is the beginning of the end of “Breaking Bad,” one of the darkest series on TV. It’s the story of Walter White, the chemistry teacher who becomes a ruthless crystal-meth dealer.
In five seasons the show has become a phenomenom, and helped drive revenues at AMC, also home to “Mad Men.” But “Breaking Bad” is also a lesson in the future of TV, where the show never stops.
“We do a lot both on air and off to give the fans access to their show,” says Charlie Collier, president of AMC. “These shows have been discovered by fans and they feel connected to the brand and the product because they have access to them.”
There was the build up: The Times Talk, the marathon screening of past episodes at Lincoln Center, and the exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria New York. At the exhibit, fans can see fake meth (made of rock candy), outfits and color palettes that explore White’s transformation.
And there’s the “second screen experience” where fans can watch tweets as they watch the show, or use a Breaking Bad app. “Literally if you watch the second screen while you’re watching the show you get other information and get to go deeper into some of the behind the scenes elements of ‘Breaking Bad,’” says Collier.
Then there’s the post-game — after each episode is another show called “Talking Bad,” where viewers can submit questions to actors and celebrity fans. “It gives fans an interactive way to speak with the talent and continue the conversation they’re having online on air.”
This all encompassing strategy is much bigger than AMC, according to Sam Ford, co author of “Spreadable Media” and director of audience engagement with Peppercomm. The strategies that “Breaking Bad” engages in, says Ford, are “indicative of a movement across the media industries to think about how to deepen engagement and conversation with their audiences.”
Shows like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” have live video chats with actors during the off season, producers of “True Blood” sent copies of ancient texts to bloggers to decode ahead of the season premiere. Even when TV wrestling began, there would be Saturday morning programs designed to drive traffic to the actual grudge match that evening. “Eventually the question gets raised as to what is the series,” Ford says.
That new media blurring of the lines is in part designed for a very old fashioned goal: getting people to watch in real time.
“A lot of these are also strategies to combat the dilemma the television industry in particular has had with shifted viewing,” says Ford*, referring to the phenomenon where consumers watch on their own time and fast-forward through commercials. When people aren’t watching commercials, networks don’t make money.
Enticing people to watch during the show — to be part of the multiplatform experience that only occurs live — helps “to fit the show back into the logic the television industry was originally based on.”
There is also plenty of new logic for the all encompassing advertising aspect to the expanded show on as well — Netflix and iTunes and Hulu. “We’re investing more,” says AMC president Collier, “but at the same time the life cycle of these shows has been made longer.”
As Walter White said, “Chemistry is the study of matter, but I like to think of it as the study of change. That’s life!”
And that’s the TV business too.
*CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly attributed the quote about “shifted viewing.” Author Sam Ford was the speaker. The text has been corrected.