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Vince Gilligan created the groundbreaking TV show Breaking Bad, which recently finished its final season. The series was about a high-school chemistry teacher dying of cancer and his descent into drug-dealing and crime.
It earned critical raves and rabid fans — and made us wonder about the pop-culture influences on the man behind it. So, for the occasional Morning Edition series Watch This, NPR's Steve Inskeep talked to Gilligan about what he's watching on television when he's not too busy making it.
"Black Mirror is a show created by a writer named Charlie Brooker who I was not at all familiar with until I enjoyed being in the U.K. a few months back doing a press tour for Breaking Bad," Gilligan says. "And he has created this show that is an anthology series, inspired by The Twilight Zone, and it's very dark and very dystopic, and it is fascinating."
The show is so dark, in fact, that one episode's plot is not easily discussed on family-friendly radio. But Gilligan says he likes this kind of story when it's well done.
"The idea of it is so outrageous that you hear it, and you say to yourself, 'That sounds like a terrible TV show,' " he says. "Which, by the way, is what people said about Breaking Bad when it first went on the air. I can't tell you how many people said, 'Oh, a show about a guy who's dying of cancer so he decides to cook crystal meth? Ugh, that sounds terrible.' So I feel a kinship with Charlie in that respect."
Gilligan's second pick is another British show, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, which airs in the U.S. on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.
"[In the show] there is a horror writer, sort of a British Dean Koontz or perhaps a Stephen King type — except very much a blowhard and very much an inept writer, not like those gentlemen," he says. "And the premise of the show is that years ago, in the early 1980s, he paid for his own television series, called Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, and he wrote it and starred in it. And it's just so ludicrous — the acting is so terrible and over the top, the editing is awful, the special effects are just laughable, and the whole thing is ridiculously bad on purpose. It is a laugh riot. I love that show."
These so-called "old episodes" are interspersed with interviews with the fictional horror writer and his co-star.
"It takes a great deal of talent to make something that bad, and that is what's so brilliant about it," Gilligan says.
From well back into television's archives, Gilligan's last choice is a '70s show produced by Jack Webb. It focuses on two Los Angeles paramedics played by Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe.
"There's something about all the Jack Webb-produced shows — he's like a hand-puppet man operated by off-screen operators," he says. "There's a very stiff, formalized delivery to the speech patterns, and it's not like reality. And yet it fascinates me."
Beyond merely liking the show, Gilligan recently discovered a coincidental personal connection to it.
"I was watching an episode, and I jumped out of my chair at home because I'm watching the Squad 51, the ambulance ... in Emergency! driving along this very familiar stretch in Burbank," he says. "And I realize, they are pulling up to the scene to assist a guy with chest pains on the very spot that our writers room from Breaking Bad was located!"
Gilligan quickly emailed the clip to all of his writers.
"That was one of the biggest moments of 2013 for me," he says.