It turns out that telling the back story of “Breaking Bad’s” smarmy lawyer, Saul Goodman, requires the same type of care and attention that the character puts into his flashy suits and strategically combed hair.
News broke last month that the originally planned fall roll-out of “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” prequel from Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, would be delayed to 2015. It’s the sort of detail that is usually cause for alarm in the film and TV world.
In addressing reporters Friday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills, Gilligan put the blame on himself.
“I’m going to take full responsibility on this,” said Gilligan, who was joined by Gould onstage. “We could have made deadline, but I am very slow. I am slow as mud as a TV writer.”
Part of it, Gilligan and Gould contend, was making sure the AMC hourlong show had the same quality that people came to admire in “Breaking Bad.” And that requires time, they said, noting it was a large reason why the final season of “Breaking Bad” was broken into two halves.
“That’s what you’re seeing here,” Gilligan said. The writing staff is currently breaking Episode 8 of the 10-episode season, with each taking about three weeks to complete. Production on Episode 4 is set to begin on Monday.
“Better Call Saul,” which received a straight-to-series order from AMC, travels back to the year 2002, six years before the crooked lawyer meets Walter White. It was previously announced that another “Breaking Bad” favorite, Jonathan Banks’ Mike Erhmantraut would return. But there are new faces to meet as well, including Saul’s brother Chuck, played by veteran comedian Michael McKean, as well as a handful of others meant to represent both sides of the law.
Gilligan and Gould said it was certainly a possibility that other “Breaking Bad” figures could roll through, but it’s not a focus or goal.
“We’re trying to make something that stands on its own that has an entertainment value that is not just about seeing a series of old favorites,” Gould said. “It’s not the series equivalent of a clip show. We’re trying to balance these things out”
That’s just one of the challenges of trying to craft a new series from a world that viewers are familiar with and protective of, they said. Another the series must contend with is the built-in limitations of knowing where the Saul character ends up.
“It’s a challenge,” Gilligan said. He noted it mirrors the challenges faced in “Breaking Bad,” such as the machine gun in the truck that opened Season 5 -- which they knew they’d have to find a way back to by the end of the season.
“It’s a leap of faith or stupidity into the unknown,” Gilligan said.
But Gould said it was part of the fun of trying to peel back the layers of a quirky character whose birth name was something else.
“We ask ourselves a lot, ‘What problem does Saul Goodman solve?’” Gould said. “That was sort of the kick-off point.
Gilligan, who who will direct the pilot, also indicated that the the spinoff will feel the same as “Breaking Bad” in terms of storytelling style.
“You saw from ‘Breaking Bad’ that we like nonlinear storytelling,” Gilligan said. “We like jumping around in time. I would definitely point you in the direction of ‘anything that was possible storytelling-wise on ‘Breaking Bad’ is possible on ‘Better Call Saul.’ ”
For all the care and attention being made to ensure that “Better Call Saul” doesn’t find itself in the kind of trouble that would require a bail-out call from the slippery lawyer, the series can at least find solace in the early renewal for a second season from AMC. Still, Gilligan knows pleasing a network is one thing. But pleasing the fans is another.
“It’s daunting,” he said. “It’s always daunting.”