Better Together? Why Vince Gilligan is no Lone Gunman.

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I’m addicted to Better Caul Saul. Before that I was addicted to Breaking Bad. And it’s all Vince Gilligan’s fault. Actually it’s not all his fault. Gilligan is the first to credit the team of writers, performers, directors and producers around him. Maybe that’s why the writers’ room for these shows are reportedly the happiest of all writers’ rooms.

‘One of the more unusual things about the Breaking Bad writers’ room is just how happy it is, as opposed to the writers’ rooms on shows like Mad Men,The Newsroom, and Girls, which have an incredible amount of turnover often attributed to the egos of the showrunners who want to maintain control (and all the credit). As such, there’s been virtually no turnover in the Breaking Badwriters’ room over six years, so now that the show has come to an end, you can expect that many of those writers — Peter Gould, George Mastras, Sam Catlin, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett, Gennifer Hutchison, and John Shiban — will likely end up running their own shows soon.’  The 10 Most Influential Writers’ Rooms In Modern Television Drama History BY08.27.13 http://uproxx.com/tv/2013/08/modern-television-dramas-influential-writers-rooms/

This shows how collaborative drama can be of top quality. Better Caul Saul and Breaking Bad are not only full of crowd-pleasing suspense and plot twists, it’s also full of superbly drawn characters and complex interplay. Not what you expect from a committee.

Gilligan started out writing for The X-Files. I’ve watched almost every show in each of the 10 series and Vince Gilligan’s episodes are always amongst the best. A fan of the show, he submitted a script which became the second season episode ‘Soft Light‘. He went on to write 29 more episodes, in addition to being co-executive producer of 44 episodes, executive producer of 40, co-producer of 24, and supervising producer of 20. He also co-created and became executive producer of the The X-Files spin-off series The Lone Gunmen but it only ran for one season of 13 episodes.

What makes me love these kinds of programmes are all the obvious things already mentioned but underneath that,  they are character-driven. Where other collaborative TV goes wrong is that it mistakes incident for story. Writers sit round a table and each comes up with 6 or 7 funny or quirky incidents which they think will be good to see in whatever show they’re working on. But incidents are meaningless unless viewed through the eyes of characters we recognise as true. I reckon this is where Vince Gilligan’s genius comes into play. As show-runner, he must reject writers’ ideas, however funny or dramatic, unless they serve the characters. That’s how we get such a powerful story arc. In UK television soaps used to do this and often produced brilliant drama. Nowadays they focus on incident alone; plane crashes, tram crashes, murders, explosions…. Each incident has to be a little more sensational than the last in order to keep the viewers viewing. Better Call Saul has dramatic incidents yes but only when they spring naturally from the characters and, because of that, even the quiet moments when nothing big is happening, even those are compelling. Every one of the characters is thought-out, cared about and true to life.

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