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"Breaking Bad" Came For Tax Incentives, Stayed For Albuquerque Ambience

Courtesy of Stewart Lyons

The hit show “Breaking Bad” launched its final episodes recently on AMC. The series is set and filmed in Albuquerque and focuses on chemistry teacher Walter White. He turns to cooking methamphetamine to provide for his family after he is diagnosed with cancer.

Breaking Bad has earned a large and devoted fan base over the last five years. The final season's first episode alone had 5.9 million viewers. Stewart Lyons was the line producer on the show and handled all the day-to-day operations. He says the show's creator, Vince Gilligan, had originally planned to shoot in California.

“The shift happened because of the tax incentives,” he says. “What they didn't know at the time, and what Vince really embraced, was the whole sense of being in New Mexico and specifically in Albuquerque and that became, to some extent, a character on the show. The light, the desert vistas, the very basic American milieu that they found themselves in got embraced. And it had not been overly shot, and certainly had not been shot from the kind of perspective that “Breaking Bad” brought to it – not always flattering but always unique.”

The show also brought a significant economic impact to the city. “Roughly we spent $1 million a week when we were in production locally,” Lyons says. “That's for salaries, that's for materials, that's for supplies. It's for food. We feed 120 to 150 people a day on the show, two meals. We rent cars locally, we put people up in hotels.”

That impact also came through training up many local crew members to greater levels of responsibility. “'Breaking Bad' went from about a 60 percent New Mexico hire to, at our peak, over 90 percent. And that's because we were able to develop local talent, or simply become familiar enough with local talent to have an impact here,” Lyons says. “A continuing TV series of five or six years, that's enormous. You have a stake in treating people reasonably well because you'll be needing them year after year.

Lyons admits that in some ways, the popularity of “Breaking Bad” is a mystery to him. There's no eye candy, no fast cars, no scantily clad women. And when Gilligan went to sell it to an industry executive, the reaction was quite mixed. “This was the single worst idea for a TV show he had ever heard,” Lyons says of the reaction to Gilligan's pitch. “And then he said 'We'll buy it.' Because he realized if somebody like Vince Gilligan, who had been on 'The X-Files,' was putting his passion behind the show, then this was going to be something special.”

Lyons is back in New Mexico as line producer on a new show for NBC about ex-Army doctors called “The Night Shift.” But while Albuquerque is the shooting location, the setting is in San Antonio, Texas.

Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.
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