From Breaking Bad to The Killing: How Avid Fans Use the Internet to Change the Direction of TV Programming

By , Contributor

Television fans, bloggers, and critics wield an unprecedented amount of power. The marriage of the Internet and passionate TV viewers has helped to resurrect canceled programs (Futurama, The Game) and unseat controversial talk show hosts (Glenn Beck).

But the Internet also gives fans an outlet for their ever-changing love-hate relationship with television characters, actors and showrunners--the outcome of which isn’t always as positive as you might think.

AMC’s Breaking Bad returns Sunday night for its fourth season, and while we’re all anxious to see how Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will strategically tangle with the quiet-yet-powerful Gus Fring, a much simpler question looms for the premiere: 
Did Jesse Pinkman kill Gale Boetticher, a newbie chemist who shadowed Walt as an eager to please meth lab assistant?

For Breaking Bad virgins, there’s little need in going into too much detail surrounding Gale. Just know that the season three finale ended with Jesse pointing a gun at Gale--the camera panning around an already remorseful Pinkman--and cut to black the moment Jesse fired his weapon.

In short, the finale ended with the implication that Jesse shot and killed Gale in a disturbing (but necessary) effort to ensure he and Walt’s survival.

Over the next few days, Breaking Bad fans took to the ‘net to break down the finale. Did Jesse really shoot Gale? If so, why did the camera cut to black before showing Gale’s lifeless body? Did the panning of the camera imply that Jesse altered his aim, thus shooting the wall (or maybe Gale’s shoulder) rather than his head? Could it all have been a crystal meth-induced hallucination?

It wasn’t long before executive producer Vince Gilligan was giving interviews claiming that, because of the audience’s interpretation of the finale, he was thinking of opening season four of Breaking Bad differently than what was originally intended.

“I would be lying if I said that that didn't take me by surprise, that reaction (to the final scene), and that furthermore, it didn't open up possibilities for us, and we had not discussed it,” said Gilligan. “I would be lying if I denied all those things. We are in an interesting situation in which audience reaction was a little different than I thought it would be, in a good way.”

“So our first day back in the writers' room was very much about talking through ‘What if we did this instead?’ I want to be a little coy here and not say exactly what decision we've come to but suffice it to say, when enough people interpret thing in a different fashion than you perhaps intended, you would be remiss not to give some thought as to their interpretation of things,” Gilligan told AOL TV last August.

Problem is, that’s not how you run a TV show. Fans, bloggers, and critics--no matter how devoted--don’t get a say when it comes to the creative integrity of the series.

Last month, AMC’s freshmen drama series “The Killing” ran into a similar issue. The show, which revolved around the investigation of a murdered teenage girl, ended its 13 episode run without actually solving the case.

Not only that, it threw viewers for a loop, as key characters were left in peril while others appeared to turn bad or semi-corrupt in the show’s closing minutes. That set the Internet ablaze, with fans and critics alike not only lamenting the finale, but believing that the producers of the show outright deceived viewers and wasted their time.

But as much vitriol as The Killing showrunner Veena Sud received from viewers, she never apologized for the show’s controversial finale. “We never said you'll get closure at the end of season one,” said Sud. “We said from the very beginning this is the anti-cop cop show. It's a show where nothing is what it seems, so throw out expectations. We will not tie up this show in a bow.”

“I don't follow fan forums and don't read a lot of stuff on the Internet. I haven't read a lot about the show, expressly because I don't want to know. I've heard anecdotally that people are excited about the show, and I think that's great. But I also think it's very important for writers to preserve their inner compass and not get influenced by people who may like it or may not,” Sud added in her interview with HitFix.

Love her or hate her, that’s the way you run a show. A writer, producer, or director is supposed to execute their vision to the best of their ability, all the while hoping that viewers will hop on board the train for the wild ride.

So here we sit, just days before the premiere of Breaking Bad, hoping Vince Gilligan doesn’t capitulate to the fan pressure and alter what would be a massive pivot point in terms of story arc and character development for Jesse Pinkman.

And, if in the end we learn that Jesse doesn’t kill Gale, we’ll know that, when it comes to content creation for the small screen, fans, bloggers, and critics just might wield too much power.

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Michael Langston Moore is a freelance writer who aims to be both entertaining and insightful. His written work focuses on television, film, and music, and his analytical approach has landed him two columns on Michael has interviewed the likes of Donald Trump, Russell Simmons, Paris Hilton…

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