ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bryan Cranston was right.
Albuquerque quickly became a vital character in AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad.”
Though that wasn’t originally the case.
Back in 2007, when the pilot episode was filming, no one knew what the future would hold for the show, much less Albuquerque.
During its first two seasons, ratings were nearing the 1 million mark in viewership – a level where shows are often canceled – but producers and top executives held out hope.
As buzz swirled around the show, seasons three and four saw its ratings climb closer to 3 million viewers.
As season five began, the word was out and “Breaking Bad” was finally getting its due.
“It’s now hip to know about ‘Breaking Bad,’ and that’s a great thing,” Cranston said prior to the start of season five. “But what’s happened is great. We’ve been able to have a great run and give a lot of New Mexicans years of employment.”
And then things just boomed.
Viewership for the show began to skyrocket and 10.3 million viewers tuned in on Sept. 29 to watch the series finale. (This puts “Breaking Bad” behind the finales of “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” for cable shows.)
The Duke City reaped the benefits for the show.
According to Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry, “Breaking Bad” had a direct spend of $1 million per episode. $1 million multiplied by 52 episodes over five years – pretty simple math.
Around the Duke City, small businesses began to offer merchandise, as well as tours that were inspired by the TV show.
ABQ Trolley Co. began offering its “BaD Tour,” which took fans to locations in the show.
Great Face & Body developed “Bathing Bad” bath salts, which were blue in color just like the methamphetamine that Walter White produced on the show.
Rebel Donut came out with “blue sky” doughnuts that featured blue crystals on top.
Marble Brewery also came up with two “Breaking Bad”-inspired beers – “Heisenberg’s Dark,” an India Black Ale and “Walt’s White Lie,” an India White Ale.
And then there is The Candy Lady, who made blue rock candy to look like the blue meth depicted on the show.
Debbie Ball, owner of The Candy Lady, said she produced the candy, which was used on the show for the first two seasons.
“All of these products came out because of the fans,” she said. “The show was great and was well done. It’s the fans that made everything take off. There’s nothing like seeing a fan walk into the store and grab the small bag of candy. It just makes their day.”
Ball said sales of her blue candy and other “Breaking Bad” merchandise accounts for 20 percent of her sales.
“The show has been a big deal for the entire city,” she said. “Not just the small businesses who have created products about the show. It helps out the entire city with tourism and throwing its name into the international spotlight.”
Cast members welcome
During the filming of “Breaking Bad,” it wasn’t odd to see many of the characters walking around town. In fact, Cranston was the most visual. He bought a townhouse in Nob Hill and would often be seen in the area.
“Personally, it’s been good for me,” Cranston said. “I was born and raised in LA, and I lived in New York for five years. It’s really hard to get away in those cities, but when I come to Albuquerque, it’s a slower pace, which I like by and large. There is a lower key to the entertainment business here, and getting across town doesn’t take much time.”
Cranston also spearheaded celebrity softball charity games for the past two years, which have benefited YDI Inc. and Wounded Warriors.
“I’m proud that I, as well as others, have been able to get involved with the community,” he said. “This is a home for me, and I felt like I needed to be a part of it.”
Cranston also took time out this past spring to judge a “Walter White Look-a-Like” contest.
R.J. Mitte, who played Walter White Jr., was often seen hanging out with friends from La Cueva High School and going to concerts at Sunshine Theater.
And Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, would often tweet his locations from around the city. He also spent a lot of time at Launchpad.
“I’m going to miss that place,” he said at the cast wrap party this spring. “I’ve had a lot of good times there and it was great to just hang out with the bands.”
Film base grows
While the show grew in numbers, many of the New Mexicans involved in production also got more experience.
One of those was Elissa Kannon, who found herself with little work during the writer’s strike in 2007.
“‘Breaking Bad’ quickly became more than money to me,” she said. “During the course of the show, I had the opportunity to experience amazing talent firsthand. The writers, producers, cast and crew were all incredibly talented and committed to perfection. To work in an environment where flawless execution is encouraged is the type of challenge that is thrilling. As an actor myself to be able to watch someone perform a scene as talented as Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn was deeply inspiring and enriching.”
Kannon said her career progressed during the show, as she was promoted to production coordinator and also was the set producer for the Entertainment Weekly cover shoot featuring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.
“‘Breaking Bad’ was an amazing experience that fulfilled me in many ways,” she says. “It was wonderful to share that experience with my mother who lives in New Mexico.”