Ever since Breaking Bad signed off in September 2013, AMC has been desperately searching for a new series that would bring in both audiences and awards.
But after shows like Turn and Halt and Catch Fire launched to underwhelming ratings, the network is now hoping to recapture that Breaking Bad magic with … a Breaking Bad prequel. Better Call Saul will debut at 10 p.m. ET Sunday, Feb. 8, after the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead. Episode 2 will air the following night, Monday at 10 p.m., its regular time slot.
The show follows Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the Albuquerque, N.M., criminal lawyer who eventually becomes Saul Goodman. It also stars Jonathan Banks, reprising his Breaking Bad role as heavy Mike Erhmantraut.
Because the show is a prequel, set six years before Saul Goodman meets Bryan Cranston's Walter White, "all the characters who were deceased when Breaking Bad ended could theoretically turn up," said Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad's creator, who also co-created Better Call Saul. "It allows the sky to be the limit."
Except, that is, when it comes to Breaking Bad's two stars: Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, who played Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
"Walt and Jesse don't show up in Season 1. But everything else is on the table," co-creator Peter Gould told reporters at today's press event. "We want this thing to stand on its own." (Also, as the AMC panel pointed out, Jesse Pinkman would have been in middle school during Better Call Saul's first season.)
Gilligan also talked about the potential pitfalls of trying to replicate a show that is one of the best ever. "I'm still anxious about how it will be received. I'd be lying if I said otherwise," he admitted. "I don't know if the world is going to like this thing, but I really do. I'm really proud of it. It's a goddamn good show!"
Before introducing the Better Call Saul panel, AMC president Charlie Collier talked about the "dramatic change" facing traditional television networks.
Yes, The Walking Dead is averaging 14.6 million viewers per episode, a whopping 9.5 million of them in the 18-49 demo, which is almost 4 million more than the closest broadcast show.
But its other shows, particularly its newer series, have been struggling. "We believe that patience, which has become a calling card for AMC, remains a key ingredient to our success," said Collier—both Mad Men and Breaking Bad started slow and then grew into hits, rather than smashing records immediately. "And we also recognize that the time-shifted categories measured by Nielsen are far too short-term to be our sole focus. We're really starting to operate in a Live + 365 environment." (Hear that, advertisers?)
There's also hope on the horizon. In addition to Better Call Saul, AMC is about to go into production on its as-yet-unnamed companion series to The Walking Dead, which will be set in L.A., and the network wowed the reporters with footage from its upcoming artificial intelligence drama, Humans.