‘Breaking Bad’ Finale Draws Record Viewership on AMC

The finale of “Breaking Bad” drew 10.3 million U.S. viewers for AMC Networks Inc., a record for the series. Even before the show’s conclusion, investors were looking for an encore.

For six years, the fictional odyssey of Walter White, science teacher turned meth kingpin, has formed the backbone of AMC’s cable-TV lineup, along with “Mad Men,” which ends in 2015, and “The Walking Dead,” entering its fourth season this month. White’s satisfying demise on Sept. 29 leaves the network with one less hit, a challenge Chief Executive Officer Josh Sapan addressed last week.

“The creators of ‘Breaking Bad’ are bringing it, we think, to an exquisite end,” Sapan said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York. That speaks well for the show and its legacy on AMC, “and will provide some brand sheen after it’s gone,” he said.

AMC has syndication rights to the program, Sapan said. Production partner Sony Corp. and creator Vince Gilligan are working on a spinoff called “Better Call Saul,” about the crooked lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk. In the just-ended series, he worked out of an Albuquerque, New Mexico, strip mall representing White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston, and his meth-cooking partner Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul.

Also in production for AMC are two series -- “Turn,” set during the U.S. Revolutionary War, and “Halt & Catch Fire,” a character study about the personal-computer industry in Texas in the 1980s. The network is developing a companion series to “Walking Dead,” the most-watched drama on television last season among 18-to-49-year-old viewers sought by advertisers.

“We’re in pretty good shape on AMC,” Sapan said.

Record Numbers

The last “Breaking Bad” attracted a series record 10.3 million viewers, including 6.7 million ages 18-49, AMC said yesterday, citing data from Nielsen. Both were series records.

The episode, one of the most anticipated since HBO’s “The Sopranos” ended in 2007, played at 9 p.m. New York time against plenty of competition: The season premiere of “Homeland,” the Showtime hit series starring Claire Danes as a CIA analyst, and NBC’s Sunday Night Football, in which the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons.

Buzz started building last week, after “Breaking Bad” won the Emmy for best TV drama -- beating “Homeland,” last year’s winner, among others. Cranston, Paul and co-star Anna Gunn, who plays White’s wife, have each won individual Emmys for their acting.

Tweet Meter

As the finale approached, the show topped researcher Imdb.com’s Movie Meter, which ranks searches among the website users. The last episode generated 1.24 million tweets, the most of any program on television, according to Social Guide, the unit of Nielsen that measures social media.

Shares of AMC Networks rose 2.4 percent to $68.50 yesterday in New York. The stock has advanced 38 percent this year, amid talk of industry consolidation, versus a 22 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s Midcap 400 Index.

The company’s record of creating hits has led to discussion of AMC Networks, once part of Cablevision Systems Corp., as a potential takeover candidate, as networks face pressure to bulk up to gain negotiating leverage with pay-TV carriers.

Comcast Corp., owner of NBCUniversal and operator of the largest U.S. cable-TV system, is among potential suitors that would be interested at the right price, a person familiar with the matter said in February. Cablevision’s Dolan family holds two-thirds of AMC Networks’ voting rights, according to a regulatory filing in April.

‘At Peace’

In “Breaking Bad,” White starts off as a high-school science teacher who finds he has lung cancer and turns to manufacturing methamphetamine to provide a nest egg for his family after he’s gone. Over five seasons -- the last one split over two years -- he transforms into a ruthless killer and drug lord who doesn’t want to stop as the millions pile up.

In the last episode, White is on the run from federal agents and suffering from a cancer relapse as he plots his moves, settling scores and wrestling with the impact of his decisions. The end comes in a meticulously planned sequence that leaves the character to die alone with his prized cooking apparatus.

“He is at peace with himself,” Gilligan said in an interview on “Talking Bad,” the AMC recap program that ran afterward. “He has screwed up his life tremendously and I think he knows that. But he has accomplished that thing that he set out to accomplish in that very first pilot episode,” finding a way to deliver the ill-gotten money to his family.

Slow Build

The show was slow to gather an audience after its debut. Gilligan credited Netflix Inc. when he received his Emmy last week, saying an Internet outlet for older episodes helped keep “Breaking Bad” alive past its second season.

“We have confidence in AMC to develop a next generation of original content which could expand audiences as compared to ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad,’” Rich Tullo, an analyst with Albert Fried & Co. in New York, said in a note last week.

The analyst, who cut his rating on the stock to market perform from overweight in August, said those two shows typically draw audiences of 2 million to 5 million, while the newer “Walking Dead,” owned by AMC, attracts double the viewers.

Tullo couldn’t resist joining the speculation on how “Breaking Bad” would end. In a “spoiler alert” appended to his note, Tullo said he saw Walter White walking into the sunset as a ruined man, having lost the money he risked so much to gain.

“‘Breaking Bad’ after all is a modern redux of ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,’” Tullo wrote, invoking the 1948 Humphrey Bogart classic in which three greedy gold prospectors let a fortune slip from their grasp. “Walter’s money blows away in the wind.”

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