Media

Why Did AMC Split Breaking Bad's Final Season Into Two?


Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Photograph by Ursula Coyote/AMC via Everett Collection

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Few TV shows can leave audiences hanging with the agonizing effect of AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad. (Viewers of last night’s episode, in which many of the show’s essential characters find themselves embroiled in a firefight just as the credits begin to roll, will testify to this.) But at least one Breaking Bad fan found the network’s larger practice of dragging out its hit shows just too much to bear.

The Breaking Bad fan, from Ohio, sued Apple (AAPL) for defining Breaking Bad’s 16 final episodes as two separate seasons, rather than as different parts of the same season, as AMC does. When Noam Lazebnik purchased a Season Pass on iTunes at the beginning of Season Five, he expected to get the final 16 episodes. But Apple is selling the last eight episodes as a separate season, under the moniker, “The Final Episodes.” Lazebnik argues that the company defrauded him, and everyone else who purchased an HD version of the show, out of $22.99. People who bought the standard definition version should get $14.99, he says.

“When a consumer buys a ticket to a football game, he does not have to leave at halftime. When a consumer buys an opera ticket, he does not get kicked out at intermission. When a consumer buys a “Season Pass” to a full season of a television show on iTunes, that consumer should get access to the whole season,” the lawsuit states. Apple declined to comment.

The lawsuit will likely hinge on what Apple promised. But from the narrative standpoint you could forgive the company for not playing along with AMC’s naming conventions, which have always seemed slightly disingenuous. The half-seasons of AMC’s most popular shows generally end with a cliffhangers worthy of season finales. Season 5(a) of Breaking Bad, for instance, closed with Hank sitting on the toilet, aghast at the revelation that Heisenberg had been under his nose the entire time. The first five or 10 minutes of Season 5(b) recount that discovery at an agonizingly slow pace.

The funny naming, of course, is hardly an artistic decision. AMC has few hits and needs to get the most it can from them. Dragging out the seasons for as long as possible gives the company extra leverage in negotiations with carriers, which need to carry the most popular shows. Also, by making the final 16 episodes one long season rather than two shorter seasons, AMC has been able to trumpet to viewers that it is in Breaking Bad’s “Final Season” for the last 14 months.

But soon both Breaking Bad and Mad Men will be done. AMC has until that happens to persuade viewers to move over to its next generation of shows. So far, it’s slow going. On Sept. 1, 4.4 million people tuned into Breaking Bad. Just over a quarter of them stuck around to watch Low Winter Sun, which comes on directly afterwards. Expect the network to use every trick it has between now and the time Mad Men ends next year. Thirteen episodes are left in that show, and it’s unclear whether AMC will dole it out to viewers in one large portion or two smaller ones. One thing is sure, though: The network’s time is running as short at Walter White’s.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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