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'Better Call Saul': Vince Gilligan Spills Details about 'Breaking Bad' Prequel
July 13, 2014  | By Ed Bark

PASADENA, CA -- 2002: A Breaking Bad time and space odyssey.

"I hesitate to say it, but it is indeed a period piece," creator and co-executive producer Vince Gilligan said Friday of AMC's Better Call Saul. "I can't believe it myself."

Gilligan and his principal behind-the-camera colleague, Peter Gould, met with TV critics Friday evening in the climactic session of cable's four-day merry-go-round of networks hoping to make some lasting impressions with upcoming programming at the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour. Incongruously, they were preceded by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, whose 4th and Loud series for AMC (premiering August 12) will document the inaugural season of the L.A. KISS arena football team.

Stanley began with an off-color joke about Viagra. It played about as well as the KISS team, which currently is 3-12. In terms of trash vs. treasure, it was akin to Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi setting the stage for Dame Judi Dench. But we tarry.

Before Gilligan and Gould took questions, AMC dripped out some further intriguing details about Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad prequel starring Bob Odenkirk as crooked con artist attorney Saul Goodman. Due in early 2015 for a 10-episode Season 1, the series will be set six years before Saul met Bryan Cranston's Walter White. That would put it in the year 2002 by Gilligan's estimation, with Saul operating under the name of Jimmy McGill before becoming the man who "puts 'criminal' in criminal lawyer."

AMC also divulged that Jonathan Banks will return as a regular, reprising his role of "fixer" Mike Erhmantraut (seen with Odenkirk at left). And "Jimmy" will have a brother, Chuck, played by Michael McKean (ever legendary for This is Spinal Tap).

Production is well underway in Albuquerque, NM, with Episode 8 of the first season currently being shot. AMC already has ordered a Season 2 of 13 additional episodes.

"It's a leap of faith or stupidity into the unknown," Gilligan said of Better Call Saul. He downplayed expectations throughout the half-hour interview session, at one point saying the show is a risk worth taking, even if "abject failure" is the end result. But he doesn't think it will come to that.

"We're trying to make something that stands on its own . . . It's not a clip show," Gould said.

Better Call Saul originally was scheduled to launch in November, and Gilligan said he probably could have made that deadline. But he also acknowledged being an exceedingly slow and meticulous writer/producer who has a hard time delegating responsibilities. So the extra time was welcome.

Gilligan, who previously worked on The X-Files and its unsuccessful spinoff, The Lone Gunmen, will be even more under the gun when work begins in earnest on his second new series, CBS's Battle Creek. The police drama is slotted for midseason. Gilligan, who described himself as "pretty much a control freak," nonetheless said of Battle Creek, "I don't have as much to do with that show."

He also expects there to be more of a 50-50 work split with Gould as Better Call Saul moves forward into its second season. Gould, schooled at the USC Graduate Film Program, created the Saul Goodman character in Season 2 of Breaking Bad. He greatly worried at first about upsetting the show's equilibrium.

"It was a leap into the void for me," Gould said. "I feel like Saul kind of moved the universe two degrees to the left" and might be "this puzzle piece that wouldn't quite fit."

Odenkirk, who didn't attend the interview session, is coming off a well-received performance as reluctant police chief Bill Oswalt in FX's recently concluded Fargo, which received 18 Emmy nominations earlier this week. But Odenkirk wasn't among the show's acting nominees, and also has yet to receive an Emmy nod for his work on Breaking Bad. One can hope it's only a matter of time for Odenkirk, who does have two writing Emmys for his work among gaggles of comedy writers for The Ben Stiller Show and, earlier, Saturday Night Live.

After the session, Gilligan and Gould briefly took additional questions from a small circle of reporters before a publicist pulled them away.

Gilligan had noted earlier that Better Call Saul won't hesitate to jump back and forth in time, as Breaking Bad did regularly. Could that mean a return of Cranston's Walter White in some sort of flash-forward sequence?

"If it makes sense, we'll do it. If it doesn't make sense we won't," Gilligan (at right) said, while also leaving the door wide open for Cranston to direct an episode of Better Call Saul. "We'd be happy to have him in any capacity. Character-wise, who knows? Maybe we can do it."

Breaking Bad received seven Emmy nominations for its final arc of episodes. It will mean an Emmy night reunion on August 25 for the show's principal cast members, who haven't all been together since production ended last summer, Gilligan said.

Odenkirk, of course, will be welcome as a key part of the ensemble, and could take the Emmy stage twice if both Breaking Bad and Fargo win in their respective best drama and miniseries categories. Then it's on to what Gilligan and Gould each called the still "daunting" task of making Better Call Saul a praiseworthy series whose tone is "dramatic, woven through with dark humor," according to AMC publicity materials.

"I'm gonna be honest with you. It's a challenge . . . We're still feeling our way through this," said Gilligan.

Better get a grip.
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