10 things we learned about TV exit strategies from the creators of 'Breaking Bad,' 'Lost,' and 'Six Feet Under'

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Image Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

There are three Breaking Bad episodes left, meaning it’s prime time to check in with Vince Gilligan on the upcoming series finale. Interview magazine’s latest issue talked to not only Gilligan, but three other series creators, with a roundtable of showrunners, including Six Feet Under‘s Alan Ball and Lost‘s Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, all reminiscing, without spoilers, the final moments of writing their shows and how they dealt with audience reactions.

And as it turns out, great minds do think alike. Each of them recounted the emotional toll of writing finales and shared the lessons they learned about today’s TV audience. Read on for 10 enlightening facts Gilligan, Ball, Lindelof, and Cuse offered about their shows:

1. Lindelof, Ball, and Gilligan cried when they finished their last scripts. “I wrote that final episode up at my place in Arrowhead, where I’d gone with two of my dogs, and I started crying like a baby as I was writing it,” Ball says. “These two dogs were just staring at me like, ‘What’s wrong? Did we do something bad?'”

2. Gilligan feared he wouldn’t live to finish Breaking Bad. While driving home every day, he says he “would think, ‘Gee, if I get hit by a car today, how much of this show will I have been able to shepherd through the end?'”

3. Cuse admits he knew Lost‘s ending wouldn’t please everyone. “There was no possible way we were going to make everybody happy, so we decided the only viable solution was to make ourselves happy,” he says.

4. Speaking of unsatisfied Losties, George R. R. Martin is one of them. The Game of Thrones author told a reporter he didn’t want to mess up the end and “do a Lost.” “That was the hurtful part because there is an implication that everyone knows what you mean by ‘do a Lost,'” Lindelof says. “By his definition, it meant basically taking a s–t on the doorstep of the audience, which we’d never do.”

5. Lindelof and Cuse threatened to quit Lost to force ABC into giving them a concrete end date. Cuse says ABC treated TV shows “like the Pony Express, where you ride the horse until it drops dead beneath you. So we really had to threaten to quit and walk away from the show in order to get them to take us seriously.”

6. After a sitcom he wrote became “universally loathed” and canceled after 13 episodes, Ball says he spent a Christmas vacation writing Six Feet Under‘s speculative script for free. But by the time the show was ending, he stopped paying attention to audience expectations on the Internet. “I was just tired … [and] stopped reading stuff that people wrote about me or about any show that I was working on,” he says. “I just don’t have the emotional fortitude to wade through it without it making me crazy.”

7. Gilligan, however, attributes Breaking Bad‘s success to fans on the web — “God bless the Internet because I don’t know that our show would have lasted more than a season without it,” he says — because it helped people find and catch up on the series.

8. He’s also a big fan of cable, “but not because you can show boobies and say the F-word,” he says. Instead, because cable shows have less episodes per season to produce, he has “more time to think.”

9. It’s also a reason behind Lindelof’s current work with HBO. If his show is picked up, “the big debate is whether to do 10 episodes or 13 episodes — both of which are 11 or 12 less than we did on Lost at our high point,” he says. “It sounds so good — it makes me want to cry.”

10. The ultimate takeaway from creating a show, to Lindelof, is that “television has evolved to this place of real thematic richness,” where shows don’t always have to attract millions of viewers to survive.

On that note, here’s a bonus tidbit:

11. Vince Gilligan has no idea how huge the Breaking Bad fanbase really is, telling Lindelof and Cuse, “I look at Lost and it was a phenomenon — but it was like a British Open-sized phenomenon. Breaking Bad is more like a putt-putt golf-sized phenomenon.” (“Not remotely,” Ball aptly responds.)

PopWatchers, you can read the full interview here, but tell us: Were you satisfied with the endings of these creators’ shows, excluding Breaking Bad, of course? (We’re sure you’ll have plenty to say in a few weeks.) Has the TV landscape indeed changed for series finales?

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