My Favorite Mistake: Vince Gilligan

Article excerpt

Byline: Vince Gilligan

On how his show 'Breaking Bad' almost didn't happen.

My favorite mistake was not ordering Showtime.

I suppose that requires further explanation. Back in 2005, a crazy idea for a television series popped nearly full-blown into my head. It was the story of a suburban dad who, upon being diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to throw his law-abiding life of propriety to the wind. Needing quick cash for his family, he tries his hand at drug dealing. Hilarity ensues.

Feeling good about the bold originality of my concept, I spent a week or two honing it into a 15-minute pitch. Then I booked a meeting with Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, the co-heads of Sony Television. I knew these guys from a previous project and figured they might be receptive. Thankfully, they were.

Now that I had a studio behind me, it was time to try to garner interest from a network. To that end, I spent several more weeks expanding my 15-minute thumbnail into a full-fledged, 30-minute rundown of the first episode. This is called a "pilot pitch," and it's something you do verbally, acting it out for various stone-faced executives. There's an art to it: Maintain eye contact, exude boundless enthusiasm, and never, ever refer to your notes. Have the entire thing memorized backward and forward so that you can toss it off with the aplomb of David Niven on The Dick Cavett Show. For me, that's one tall order. But I gave it the old college try.

Which is how I found myself in the offices of a prestigious cable network, pitching away to its president. I was about five minutes into my story, which I had titled Breaking Bad, when he idly offered, "This sounds a lot like Weeds."

"What's Weeds? …