I don’t want to be the guy that upstages Brad March, I like his work.
But when I saw the headline “What can radio learn from Breaking Bad” I had a completely different set of dot points in mind.
So with full respect to Brad, here’s my list of ten things radio can learn from Breaking Bad.
- Breaking Bad cared about it’s viewers. The writing didn’t leave you angry or upset but it did leave you wanting more, like the last 5 seconds before we saw Vince Gilligan’s name appear in the credits. It reminds me of a coffee with a good friend where you share stories, cover off all bases, tie up loose ends and you’re brought up to speed. But then it’s time to go and you can’t wait to catch up again.
- Breaking Bad delivered the maximum amount of story it’s medium would allow. F%@k was censored whilst meth was cooked and whole gangs were brutally murdered on television. The writers, directors, producers, show runners all knew the limitations and the opportunities available to them in the realm of television and on-demand whether it was through DVD, iTunes or Bittorrent.
- People that found Breaking Bad late in the game, which is almost everyone, went back to the start and caught up. How many people are listening to old episodes of your show podcast?
- The story was satisfying. It went as long as it needed to and it was as short as it needed to. Although you enjoyed every last drop, it was satisfying to the end. It’s the kind of show Mick Jagger find satisfying. The system of rewards in regards to character development and story development delivered every time. As a character or a story element was introduced, you would get engaged and wonder what was happening, and then pow, the writers delivered.
- The visual and audio production elements were simple, but important and engaging. Scenes shot in Mexico had a slight yellow shade, so you knew you were in Mexico, even though it was the Albuquerque desert.
- The true story beneath the drugs and the murder, was about a man dealing with middle age. A school teacher who had his professional and personal dreams stolen and now has a wife that wants him to eat healthier, a son suffering with cerebral palsy, a newborn baby, and an under-satisfying job. [SPOILER ALERT] And the teacher’s story ends where his story started, with his lab equipment, in his meth kitchen. As Jesse Pinkeman would say, Bitches love real stories, bitch.
- Breaking Bad created so many extra-curricular conversations, many out of reach of the show’s producers. From Talking Bad, the post-show talk-show, to memes, recaps, blogs about the show, blogs about what people could learn from the show … like this one, and even fan movies, Breaking Bad was a major conversation starter. Even in Australia, where only 10% of the country legally had access to the broadcast, we were the fourth biggest conversation starter online about Breaking Bad, with the UK and Canada ahead of us before America. The post-finale Talking Bad kept 44% of the audience. What if 44% of your Breakfast audience hung around for a 30 minute post-show-talkfest?
- The people involved in creating the show were all active on social media. All of the actors were involved in the online community, they weren’t superstars, they were the show’s biggest fans. They presented opportunities for other fans to go to premieres with them, they posted memes and Instagram photos and replied to other fans online.
- Breaking Bad was the king of the call-back. Five series in and we’re still flashing back to episode one. This is obviously down to great writers, but don’t assume that people listening to your show today weren’t listening five years ago and remember that story that relates. When you call-back to it you reward the listener for joining you on the same journey and also add context and breadth to your current story.
- Breaking Bad took all of us losers into an exciting and crazy world where we cooked meth, hired hookers, killed dealers and stood up to bad guys. None of us could cook meth, well almost none of us, but we all could be a school teacher with a wife and two kids. And we could all be diagnosed with cancer and want to provide for our family. All of us common-folk know Walt and we’re really impressed that he had the guts to do what we would never have the guts to do. It’s the common-man’s version of celebrity news. Celebrity news takes people into Kardashian world, Breaking Bad takes us into meth world.
No doubt there’s millions of things that you could take away from the show and apply to any industry, but that’s my takeaway from five series of amazing television and applying it to radio. Because radio is just audible storytelling in a commercial fashion.
And of course, radio is all about the chemistry in the end.