TV URBAN LEGEND: Breaking Bad was originally going to be set in California.
Likely the most famous TV show ever set in New Mexico (its prequel spinoff series, Better Call Saul, is also set there), Breaking Bad repeatedly made great use of the deserts of New Mexico, from the very first cook by Walt and Jesse in Season 1…
all the way to the famous “Say My Name” scene in the desert in Season 5…
Not only was the scenery beautiful, but the show made a lot out of how close the borders were between New Mexico and, well, Mexico. This is something that has continued with Better Call Saul, as well, where interconnection between New Mexico and the drug cartels of Mexico plays a significant part in the plots of the series (Albuquerque, after all, where both shows are set, is just 220 miles from the Mexican border).
However, amazingly enough, the series was originally not even going to be in New Mexico at all! And the change was not a creative decision, exactly, but rather one based on tax breaks!
In an interview with Slant Magazine, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was asked why he chose to set the show in New Mexico instead of California or Texas, and he explained:
When I originally conceived of Breaking Bad, I intended to set it in Riverside, California. And of course southern California is not too far from the Mexican border either, but when I originally conceived of the show I wasn’t thinking as much in terms of the Mexican drug cartel component. I was thinking more in terms of a homegrown meth business that Walter White was going to establish. But early on, Sony, the studio that produces our show—this was after the script was written, and they knew I was thinking of southern California—they came to me and said, “What do you think about us placing the series in New Mexico instead?” And I said, “Well, why are you thinking that?” And they said New Mexico has a tax rebate for film and television production, and it’s a pretty substantial one. It’s a tax rebate of 25% of the money that we spend within the state returned to us by New Mexico. And really, it’s a hard [carrot] to turn down. It was established to bring production from all quarters of the U.S. into New Mexico, and it is something that unfortunately California does not have and so New Mexico very quickly became the place we decided to shoot our show for strictly financial reasons. We wanted our limited production budget to go that much farther.
But having said that, now that we shoot in New Mexico and now that I know it as a place to do business, now that I’ve learned to love Albuquerque so much, I realize that it’s just a wonderful place to set the show and I feel like I got very lucky that we wound up there, although it was not originally my decision.
So think about the Mexican drug cartel component of Breaking Bad (and Better Call Saul). Think of how important that is to both shows and then think about how we only got it because of tax breaks!
It’s fascinating how such seemingly small details can have such a huge impact on the creative decisions of a classic television program. It reminds me of how difficult it was for Gilligan to get Bryan Cranston approved as Walter White. The financial side of things will always play a major role in how shows are made.
The legend is…
Thanks to Slant Magazine and Vince Gilligan for the information!
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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