Soon the TV universe will say goodbye to two flagship dramas: Showtime's "Dexter" and AMC's "Breaking Bad." As the series finales roll their credits, fans will take to the Internet and rejoice; or they'll spew their bottomless contempt at everyone involved with creating 96 episodes of "Dexter" and 62 episodes of "Breaking Bad."
Will Dexter and Walter White get away with it all? Will they die in a blaze of glory? Will the screen fade to black and never tell us? Were they dead all along?
It's an exciting and scary time, and not just for the fans. Interview magazine gathered the high-profile producers of "Six Feet Under," "Lost," and "Breaking Bad" for an emotional conversation about the process of ending a beloved TV series. From what it felt like to reach the last page of the script and type the words, "The End," to how they deal with the vitriol that makes up a lot of Internet criticism, Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under"), Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof ("Lost"), and Vince Gilligan ("Breaking Bad") did not hold back.
By the time "Six Feet Under" was ending in 2005, Ball said he'd stopped reading what people wrote about him because "I just don't have the emotional fortitude to wade through it without it making me crazy. So I really was not that aware of any expectations. That was a choice — and maybe that was a cowardly choice. But it was the choice I made."
Gilligan disagreed: "I don't think that's cowardly — I think that's wise. I stay away from the Internet as much as I can. Except for pornography."
Lindelof, who authors an entertaining Twitter feed in which he often retweets the hate thrown his way, admitted to still having some hurt feelings over the way some people reacted to the ending of "Lost."
"It wasn't just trolls who were doing it — it was television critics who I appreciate and admire," he said. "There was also George R.R. Martin. When a reporter asked him about the ending of 'Game of Thrones,' which was still three books away at the time, he said, "What if I [expletive] it up at the end? What if I do a 'Lost?'" He also said he felt like the ending of 'Lost' was like someone leaving a big turd on his doorstep. That was the hurtful part because there is an implication that everyone knows what you mean by "do a 'Lost,'" and by his definition, it meant basically taking a [expletive] on the doorstep of the audience, which we'd never do ... I mean, we talked about it. [all laugh] But we never followed through."
Ending a show, the producers said, is just as complicated behind-the-scenes as it is for the story being told. Cuse referred to the making of a series as a "life passage."
"There are sort of two parallel worlds on a series: there's the fictional world that you've created, but then there's also this other world that you've created, which is the world of the several hundred people who work on the show, and you're ending their family life, in a sense, as well by ending the show, so it has this reverberation," he said. "There were people who met and got married on 'Lost' and completely upended their lives — people who went to Hawaii and stayed ... It was very emotional to know all of these relationships and the kind of intensity of working together day after day was going to go away."
"In hindsight," Lindelof said, "It almost feels like the final season, if not the final episode, really is just a lens on the feelings of the audience as a whole — it's basically a focal point. It's not like the final season or the final episode is really going to change anyone's mind in terms of how they feel about a show, but there are opportunities at the end of something like that to transcend expectations and make a lot of noise."
Gilligan wonders how viewers might have responded to the ending of "Lost" before the Internet age.
"Television has always been designed by its very nature to be open-ended because you just want to milk that cow until it shrivels up and dies," he said. "But what we came to was very much an organically derived ending — be it good or bad — and I'm hoping it'll be satisfying to as many people as possible. It's funny, but if the feeling was that 'Lost' had a divisive ending, then I nonetheless wonder if every ending of every TV show in a post-Internet world is going to be pronounced as potentially divisive. When 'M*A*S*H' ended back in 1983, there was no Internet yet, but I remember digging it — I remember loving the ending. There were probably people, though, who weren't happy with the ending to 'M*A*S*H,' but it was before you could instantly log on to a computer and say, "That sucked!" So I wonder if there is going to be an element of divisiveness to every TV show ending, as it were, going forward."