'Better Call Saul' Wants 'Breaking Bad' Viewers ... But Not the Comparisons

AMC is using familiar images in its marketing campaign, but the network and creatives are quick to insist the show "is not a continuation of 'Bad.'"
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

AMC has packed plenty of familiar images into the marketing of Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, which debuts Feb. 8. The first clip heavily featured Jonathan Banks, one of only two Bad alumni with a series-regular role on Saul. Teasers have featured such Bad hallmarks as duffle bags of cash and star Bob Odenkirk smooth talking and running for his life.

The network is walking a fine line of trying to lure a rabid fan base that ballooned to 10.3 million for Bad's 2013 sendoff while also trying to prepare those fans for a slower-paced, solo lead show.

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"It's tough," says co-showrunner Peter Gould. "We have this glorious thing -- a built-in audience that knows this character and that's interested in the world of the show -- but the truth is, this isn't Breaking Bad."

To temper those expectations, Gould and co-creator Vince Gilligan revealed in January that Bad stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul would not cameo in the first season. The pair said at the Television Critics Association press tour they made the decision because they want the show to stand on its own.

Saul ads trumpet "from the creators of Breaking Bad," and evoke its desert setting.

"The fact that there are surprises along the way for the Breaking Bad fan, that's phenomenal," notes AMC chief Charlie Collier. "But we really are trying to launch it like season one of Saul, not a continuation of Bad."

Gilligan fears there will be people who expect Saul to mimic Bad, "but hopefully they will find enough excitement and challenge to this show where they will say it's fun and they can't wait to see what happens next."

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Gould, who worked on Bad since season, says he was initially uncomfortable with the billing, because in his mind "there is only one creator of Breaking Bad, and that's Vince Gilligan."

But he and Gilligan discussed it, and Gilligan noted that in addition to Gould, Better Call Saul enlisted a number of Bad writers, producers and directors including Melissa BernsteinMark Johnson and Stewart Lyons.

"Really Breaking Bad was a group effort. So having it say from the creators of Breaking Bad made perfect sense to me," says Gilligan. "And why dodge that association? It really is the same world. It's just not the same show."

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch