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Take a masterclass on writing a TV pilot with Breaking Bad’s first episode

Screenshot: Breaking Bad pilot

When Vince Gilligan originally pitched the idea for Breaking Bad, he described it as “a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.” That type of 180-degree character transformation is an intriguing hook, but establishing the basis for that transformation, with concrete and believable emotional justifications, all within 44 minutes is no easy task. That’s what makes the pilot for Breaking Bad so good, and one of the reasons the show went on to such success and acclaim.

In a new video from the Lessons From A Screenplay YouTube channel, we get to see exactly how all the elements of the Breaking Bad pilot are perfectly aligned to make a great hour of television. From the now-iconic opening teaser featuring Walt frantically driving the meth-mobile in nothing but a gas mask and tighty-whities, to the succinct encapsulation of his motivation to “break bad” from his depressing, straight-laced existence.


“The audience doesn’t have to agree with anything Walt is doing, but they have to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing,” Gilligan says in a behind-the-scenes interview, highlighting the importance of focusing so heavily on Walt during the show’s pilot. The show’s numerous side characters that will go on to be loved or derided take a backseat in the first episode, allowing the audience time to fully understand where Walter White is coming from and where he’s going.

It’s also important to note the amount of action and enticing visuals the pilot offers. It wouldn’t be enough to just set up a pitiable character on the verge of a drastic transformation. As a veteran of TV writing, Gilligan knows he needs to show the audience some of the exhilarating “fun and games” that will play out over the course of the series, some of which are tense and some of which are comedic.

So, next time you think you’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a TV show, make sure you’ve got all your pieces in place for a jaw-dropping first episode. That way you’ll be guaranteed to get five award-winning seasons of must-see television!

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