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Would Breaking Bad's Better Call Saul Spinoff Be Better Off At Netflix?
On the success of its original programming, it's been hit or miss for AMC, which is about standard for every cable network. But it seems like the gap between hit or miss is much greater for this particular cable channel, with Mad Men and Breaking Bad scoring critical acclaim and better than average (for cable) ratings, and The Walking Dead raking in the kind of numbers to rival a network TV drama, while shows like Hell on Wheels and newest addition Low Winter Sun haven't performed nearly as well on either front.
In absence of the next big hit for the network, it looks like they're aiming to expand and extend what is working. For The Walking Dead, it's another "companion series." For Mad Men, it's splitting the final season in half to extend its shelf-life at the network, much in the way that they did with Breaking Bad's last season. And that brings us to the topic at hand, the Better Call Saul spinoff/prequel series, which will focus on the origins and evolution of Bob Odenkirk's shady attorney character Saul Goodman. AMC may have another winner in their hands with that one, and if they do, they'll surely be celebrating their decision to move forward with it, especially considering there were other distributors waiting in the wings in the hopes of snatching it up if the deal didn't go through at AMC, Netflix among them.
THR shared some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits about the negotiations for the Better Call Saul planned prequel series, noting that an official series order for the project is contingent on Odenkirk and creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould signing deals with studio Sony Pictures TV. The site later points out that Sony could not secure talent deals until they had the licensing deal finalized. AMC had an exclusive negotiation window for the rights to the Breaking Bad spinoff, and according to the site's sources, there was "discord over the timeline of that window" as well as the licensing fee. This was all being dealt with over the summer, and the deal was finally done at the last minute, ensuring that -- assuming the talent deals go through as planned -- Better Call Saul will air on AMC and not somewhere else.
But Netflix and FX were both said to be standing by with their wallets out had things not worked out for the AMC deal. THR posted an interview with FX's Eric Schrier in which he refers to Breaking Bad as "the show that got away." Snatching up Better Call Saul would certainly be a way for FX to make up for that loss, at least a little bit. But if anyone knows the full value of a show like Breaking Bad aside from AMC, it has to be Netflix. For years now, the streaming video service has offered past seasons of Breaking Bad to its subscribers, which should give the service plenty of opportunity to track the watchability and interest in the series and use that data to determine just how successful a spinoff prequel might be. Of course, one would assume that the spinoff would start off with an established fan base, but given the data Netflix is known to collect (Who's watching, how often do they watch, what other programs do they watch, are they rewatching episodes, etc…) they'd probably have a better idea than anyone just how valuable a Breaking Bad-related series would be.
As a viewer, my first reaction to THR's report was that it would've made little difference to me whether Better Call Saul ended up at AMC or FX, as both are cable channels and are known for a bit of grittiness for their dramas. On tone and content, at the very least, I don't think the series would have been drastically affected if it ended up at FX. Then again, there may be other behind-the-scenes factors to consider in terms of how AMC handles their series versus how FX treats theirs. After all, there was that publicized clash between Mad Men's Matthew Weiner and AMC, not to mention the musical-chairs game that is The Walking Dead showrunner situation.
So it's probably not be fair to assume the fate of Better Call Saul would be the same on FX or any other network as it would at AMC. But from a more obvious standpoint, if Netflix had gotten Better Call Saul, there would have been at least one major difference. Not only would it have had even more flexibility on content, but we'd probably be getting the entire first season all at once, as that's been Netflix's method of delivering their original programming to their subscribers. The full first season goes up and the viewer is left to decide how they want to watch. That kind of flexibility is a game-changer for TV. And the binge viewing option is an even bigger deal when we consider AMC's recent interest in extending their seasons by splitting them up and making viewers wait a whole year for the last half-season, which is pretty much the opposite of binge-viewing. Put simply, in a Netflix universe, we would've already seen the end of Breaking Bad.
With all of that in mind, it leaves me to wonder if Better Call Saul would have been better off with Netflix.
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