The new breed of junkie

2013-11-02 11:00

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Breaking Bad, the hit series about the criminal production of crystal meth, is almost as addictive as the drug. We look at the stunning success of the series – and what it says about the way we watch TV today.

They say the first step to overcoming an addiction is to admit you’re hooked. So let’s get it over with: My name is Bibi and I am a Breaking Bad addict.

The series – about a chemistry teacher struggling with cancer who starts cooking methamphetamine (tik to us) to pay his medical bills and leave a nest-egg for his family – had me hooked from the first episode.

Last Sunday, I overslept because I’d been up late, mainlining – ‘just one more episode’.

Then I stayed in bed so I could continue watching without interruption. In the early afternoon, faint with hunger, I stumbled into my nearest Spur, laptop under my arm, and worked my way through a plate of waffles and two more episodes.

Whether you’re a junkie or haven’t yet seen a single episode, it’s impossible to have missed the hype surrounding the show. Critics have called it ‘possibly the greatest TV show of all time’.

Apart from the legions of fans, the series has also caught the eyes of the intelligentsia: The academic publication Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Context, Politics, Style and Reception of the Television Series is due out soon in the United States.

Breaking Bad memes abound on the net and show memorabilia is in demand. Local company Laugh it Off has created a T-shirt so South Africans can carry the spirit of protagonist Walter White close to their hearts.

In the run-up to the final episode that aired in South Africa and the US recently, Twitter announced that Breaking Bad fans had generated more than 100 000 tweets a day.

And Facebook revealed 11 million of its users generated 23 million interactions relating to the series in the two months leading up to the finale.

According to pop culture website, these numbers indicate a move away from live TV broadcasts: PVR, paid downloads and pirate viewing mean many viewers no longer tune in weekly for a small portion of their favourite show.

Business website reports there were two million ‘zero-television’ households in the US in 2007, and that number now stands at five million.

These aren’t necessarily homes where no TV programmes are watched. Rather, they’re homes in which traditional channels are snubbed in favour of stream-on-demand internet TV, watched on laptops and tablets.

Industry players have realised the TV game is changing. At the Emmy Awards in October, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan acknowledged the role Netflix, provider of on-demand net-streamed media, has played in cementing the show’s success.

‘[They] kept us on air,’ he said. ‘The show wouldn’t have lasted beyond Season 2 if not for streaming on demand.’

This is due to the fact that Netflix and similar platforms make catch-up viewing possible. Since viewers can download or stream the seasons they missed and watch shows in their own time, more get up to speed whena new season comes around.

The last season of Breaking Bad, for instance, had 500 percent more viewers than the first season.

Clearly, Breaking Bad has shown viewer addicts no longer want their fix scheduled in small doses at set times on specific channels.

And it’s only increased their demand for edgy entertainment, enjoyed in their own time, on their own terms.

*If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad yet, there’s good news: the entire series is expected to be repeated on M-Net Series Zone sometime in December.

What is internet tv?

Platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime let users stream programmes online on demand. Some charge a monthly fee; others on a per-episode basis.

Insiders say this could mean the end of the traditional business model for TV networks: If viewers don’t tune in at regular slots for shows, ratings will drop, meaning less advertising revenue.

Netflix has 33 million subscribers and now produce its own series. The service isn’t available here, but it’s expanding. Rumour is Netflix is on its way to South Africa..

The Breaking Bad-diet!

David Miner, the producer of comedy series such as 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, watched three seasons of Breaking Bad while running on a treadmill – and lost 11 kilos in the process!

Binge watching

The Los Angeles Times defines a binge session as when someone watches three or more episodes of an hour-long show, or six or more episodes of a half-hour show, in one sitting.

Breaking Bad is one of the most binged-on series on Netflix: up to 85 percent of viewers watched the third series in one go. Binge watching is changing the content and presentation of TV shows.

Netflix releases its new series, such as House of Cards, at once rather than the traditional episode-by-episode TV model.

The final episode was pirated more than  500 000 times within 12 hours of the first illegal copy surfacing on the net.

10 The number of Emmy Awards the show has won, including this year’s biggie for most Outstanding Drama Series

Cool facts to throw around at parties

Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul) was meant to be killed off in the first season, but due to the fantastic chemistry between him and lead actor Bryan Cranston, he was given a central role in the entire series.

Breaking Bad costumes are second on Google’s list of the most-searched-for Halloween costumes this year (after the yellow minions from Despicable Me).

RJ Mitte, who plays Walt’s son, Walter Junior, has mild cerebral palsy, like his character.

Creator Vince Gilligan was also a writer and producer on The X-Files.

The Y-front underpants Walt wore in the first episode were recently auctioned off for R90 000.

A symphony house in New York is planning a Breaking Bad opera for 2014, based on the third-last episode of the show, entitled ‘Ozymandias’.

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