'Breaking Bad' Free Agent Vince Gilligan Has Studios in Pursuit

Vince Gilligan Comic Con - H - 2013
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Hollywood's hottest unsigned TV showrunner is weighing interest from Sony, Warner Bros. and others as eight figures or a movie deal could tip the scale.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Vince Gilligan has become Hollywood’s hottest unsigned TV showrunner. The Breaking Bad creator, who was under contract with Sony Pictures TV until recently wrapping his long-running AMC drama, now is a free agent -- and studios are lining up to become his next home. “They’re foaming at the mouth,” says one source, noting that it’s like nothing this person has seen.

Breaking Bad never has been a huge ratings hit, averaging fewer than 3 million viewers for the most recent fifth season, its most watched. But the critical success for the Bryan Cranston meth drama -- which recently earned a series-best 13 Emmy nominations -- and a cultlike following in Hollywood has turned Gilligan into a coveted prize.

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It’s highly unlikely that Gilligan’s next creation will be tailored for a broadcast network, meaning certain studios — including highly motivated Universal TV — won’t make much sense for him. Far more likely is that he will ink another deal at Sony or will shift to deep-pocketed Warner Bros. TV. Sources suggest Gilligan also is seeking a film component in his next deal. He hasn’t been shy about his desire to direct a movie, noting that he helmed two consecutive episodes of Breaking Bad’s fourth season as a way to prepare: “Directing two hours of the show back-to-back and cross-boarding and block-shooting them seemed to me a pretty good dry run for doing a movie when this is all said and done,” he told THR in 2012. Already, his reps at ICM Partners are fielding calls about top movie projects, but thus far he hasn’t responded to the material.

To be sure, Warner Bros. comes with the potential for an eight-figure payday and the combination of acumen and power that has lured J.J. Abrams, Chuck Lorre and Greg Berlanti. But it’s not at all clear that a “TV factory” like Warners would be the best fit for Gilligan, who doesn’t churn out projects in the same way. Proof: Over the past half-decade, he has been singularly focused on Bad, for which he is particularly hands-on, while the latter trio rarely go a year without adding a show.

An overall deal at Sony would come with several advantages, the most obvious of which is history. Gilligan has long-standing relationships with the executives at the studio, both in TV and film. What’s more, if the Breaking Bad spinoff centered on Bob Odenkirk’s character Saul Goodman gets picked up to series, being at its studio certainly would simplify things. (While Gilligan would be an exec producer on the spinoff, Breaking Bad writer Peter Gould would be its showrunner.) “I really hope it happens,” Gilligan said recently. “It’s for powers bigger than me to figure out if it can come to fruition.”