Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. The one who knocks knocks no more. We won’t give away what went down in Sunday’s series finale of “Breaking Bad,” partly because we don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it and partly because we wrote this before it aired, but we know that we’re not spoiling anything to say that there’s no more of Vince Gilligan‘s praised-to-the-skies cult hit coming down the pipeline. The show’s two-part fifth season has long been planned to be the last, and Walter White‘s story is well and truly all wrapped up.
And the end of the show comes at a crucial point for television fans. For the last decade or so, we’ve been living in something of a golden age for TV drama, kicked off by “The Sopranos” (and, if you go further back, “Homicide: Life On The Streets” and “Oz”), and continued by the likes of “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under,” “Deadwood,” “The Shield,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Terriers” and, if we broaden the definition away from that very particular brand of cable drama, the likes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “Lost,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “24,” “The West Wing” and many, many others.
In that time, cable drama has become bigger than ever. “The Walking Dead” and “Game Of Thrones” now draw bigger audiences than almost any scripted network series, which would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Add to that that more and more outlets are commissioning series, from HBO’s long-time competitors like Showtime and FX, to networks not known for that kind of programming, like The History Channel, to online upstarts like Netflix and Amazon. But one could argue that we’re starting to creep toward the end—or at least the beginning of the end—of the golden age. Almost every one of the shows in our second paragraph have ended, with “True Blood” wrapping up next year and “Mad Men” following the year after (with an extra year’s reprieve after AMC decided to artificially split the critical darling’s seventh and final season in two, following the example set by “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad”).
It isn’t that great shows haven’t stepped up in their place. “Game Of Thrones,” “Homeland,” “Rectify,” “The Americans,” “The Bridge,” “House Of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black” are among the quality offerings that have sprung up in the last couple of years, while only a few nights ago, Showtime debuted the extremely promising “Masters Of Sex.” For all their strengths, however, none quite feel (yet) like the kind of epoch-defining show that they’re replacing. “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” all hit their stride in later seasons, but they all also felt like something special and new right out of the gate, and not all of the examples above can say the same (we’d argue that “Game Of Thrones” and “OITNB” come closest).
To borrow a premise from “Deadwood,” cable drama was, in its early years, a Wild West, where the rules were there for the breaking. But law and order has come to town, and the networks are increasingly operating as conventional businesses. AMC had barely entered the scripted world before they were firing key creatives, cutting back budgets and forcing protracted negotiations with showrunners. If networks aren’t chasing their existing successes—“The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Game Of Thrones” all have spin-offs in various stage of development—they’re pursuing a certain kind of formula. The kind of show detailed recently by Brett Martin in his excellent book “Difficult Men,” which we’d term as something like the Middle-Aged White Male Anti-Hero Drama (“The Sopranos,” “The Shield,” “Deadwood,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad”), has become a genre copied as often as the comic book movie is by Hollywood studios. As promising as series like “Hell On Wheels,” “Ray Donovan” and “Low Winter Sun” were on paper, with their movie star leads and dark plotting, they felt like pale shadows of their predecessors in the execution. Even something like “Boardwalk Empire” has A-list names behind the scenes, is strongly written, and has one of the best casts you could ever ask for, but somehow fails to add up to more than the sum of its parts. .
Obviously, there was a kind of alchemy in the works when something like “Breaking Bad” came along—asking why more shows aren’t as good as it is a bit like asking why most movies aren’t as good as “The Godfather.” But there are definitely lessons that could be learned from the successes, and from the failures. Don’t just try to follow the troubled-man-with-tough-job-that-might-involve-crime archetype. Dig into different worlds. Remember that two of the most talked-about TV series of the last year are “Scandal” and “Orange Is The New Black,” which prominently feature not only just women, but women who aren’t white.
Perhaps most importantly, remember that “Breaking Bad” was rejected from almost every network out there. Remember that it was a crime drama about a high-school teacher with terminal cancer who starts cooking crystal meth, written by a guy who’d worked on “The X-Files,” and starring the dad from “Malcolm In The Middle.” The chances are that the next “Breaking Bad” won’t come from Martin Scorsese, or star a slumming-it movie star, or be a spin-off of a pre-existing series. The next “Breaking Bad” will take you surprise, so long as the networks continue to do their job.
With that in mind, we didn’t want to leave things on a pessimistic note because there’s lots of promising drama on the way from the cable channels, in a wide range of genres. So we’ve picked out twelve potential shows that should debut in the next year that might help to fill your Heisenberg-shaped void. Some are from big-name writers and directors, some feature big-name actors, some are based on pre-existing material. We decided to exclude “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul” to make way for something less familiar, and we excluded “Masters Of Sex,” as it’s already started airing. But even with that in mind, we hope that somewhere among them will be a show that can live alongside “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and the rest. Take a look at our picks, and let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments.
What Is It? Inspired by the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning masterpiece of Minnesota crime, and with Joel and Ethan’s seal of approval in the shape of an executive producer credit, this ten-part FX series isn’t directly linked to the movie (unlike a 1997 pilot that starred a pre-”Sopranos” Edie Falco as the character originated by Frances McDormand). Instead, creator Noah Hawley (behind short-lived ABC series “The Unusuals” and “My Generation”) has created a new plotline set in and around the Minnesota town, with Billy Bob Thornton and “The Hobbit” star Martin Freeman already signed up. The show will premiere next spring.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Middling. Like we said, chances are that the next show to really capture the public imagination will be something very different, and likely not connected to a previous property. While “Fargo” is beloved, and certainly seems to promise the kind of mix of dry humor and ultraviolence that Vince Gilligan’s show delivered, there’s no guarantee that it’ll work on the small screen (the Coens’ involvement, and the cast it’s attracted, bodes well, Hawley’s track record less so). Furthermore, word is that the show is planned as a limited, rather than ongoing series. That doesn’t mean that further seasons are unfeasible (look at “American Horror Story,” for instance), but it does mean that it’s tougher for the show to build momentum in the way that was so crucial for BB over the years.
“Halt & Catch Fire”
What Is It? With their nest-eggs “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” on the way out, and other launches like “Rubicon,” “Hell On Wheels” and “Low Winter Sun” failing to follow the success of “The Walking Dead,” AMC are going big in 2014, with at least three brand-new series launching. One of the most promising is “Halt & Catch Fire,” set in the so-called Silicon Prairie, Texas’ answer to Silicon Valley, in the 1980s. Newcomer creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers have assembled a highly promising cast, with Lee Pace (“The Hobbit,” “Lincoln”), Scoot McNairy (“Argo,” “Killing Them Softly”), Kerry Bishe (“Argo”) and Mackenzie Davis (“Breathe In”) as the leads, whose computing start-up sets out to take on the big dogs. If you needed more reason to tune in, Juan Jose Campanella, director of the Oscar-winning “The Secret In Your Eyes,” helmed the pilot.
Chances Of Being The Next Breaking Bad: Unlikely to be the next “Breaking Bad,” but the next “Mad Men” seems more viable—a period-set workplace drama that’s likely to delve into the personal lives of its characters as much as their professional ones. In fact, our biggest concern is that this might be one of those knock-offs we were talking about, as if executives went “give us ‘Mad Men,’ but with microchips!” But if it ploughs out its own furrow (or, even better, turns out a small-screen version of Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess”), then count us in.
What Is It? When Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from film directing, we weren’t sure if it would stick completely, but we thought he’d at least be taking a little time away from the camera. Instead, barely a few months after ‘final’ film “Behind The Candelabra” screened at Cannes, he was shooting again: he’s directing all ten episodes of “The Knick,” backed by HBO subsidiary Cinemax. The show is, of all things, a period medical drama, set at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital at the start of the 20th century, and stars Clive Owen, with Juliet Rylance and Michael Angarano among the supporting cast.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Not huge, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good show in and of itself. On paper, it’s not all that promising: it’s not like television is bereft of medical dramas, writer Jack Amiel’s previous credits (including “Big Miracle” and “The Prince & Me”) are of questionable quality, and Cinemax’s previous shows, “Banshee” and “Strike Back,” weren’t exactly high art. But a period hospital drama is at least a different spin and we assume that there must be something in the script that’s grabbed Soderbergh’s attention away from Twitter novellas and whatever else he’s up to. Him and Owen—a strong actor who needs the right role and the right director to really shine—are also a promising combination. We’d be surprised if this became the next big cult hit, but we’re looking forward to it all the same.
What Is It? The return of “Lost” mastermind Damon Lindelof to television, this adapts the 2011 novel by Tom Perotta, whose books previously made it to the big screen to great success as “Election” and “Little Children.” It’s another post-apocalyptic tale, but with a sort of twist; it’s set in a world shortly after The Rapture has taken place, focusing on those that God didn’t choose to raise to heaven. Justin Theroux leads a solid and starry ensemble that also includes Liv Tyler, Christopher Eccleston and Ann Dowd, and HBO just picked the show up for a ten-episode first season.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Hard to say. After the “Lost” finale, “Prometheus” and “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Lindelof’s name is mud among some sectors of the fanboy community, but we shouldn’t forget that he also shepherded six seasons of hugely entertaining, often brilliant television. So his return to the small screen should be reason to celebrate on its own. With HBO backing the project and source material from the excellent Perotta, there’s ample reason for optimism here. Don’t go expect something super genre-y, though; the novel is more gentle satire than genre exercise, and we wonder if that might hold it back from becoming a phenomenon. Still, for us, the biggest danger would be if it follows the path of this summer’s “Under The Dome,” and moves the plot forward at a snail’s pace in order to extend the novel into multiple seasons.
What Is It? The return of “Shawshank Redemption” helmer Frank Darabont to television after his ousting from “The Walking Dead,” “Mob City” (previously known as “L.A. Noir” and “Lost Angels”) is a period crime show set in post-war Los Angeles, as an ex-marine-turned-cop (Jon Bernthal) becomes caught in the battle between L.A.P.D. chief William H. Parker (Neal McDonoghue) and mobsters Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke) and Bugsy Siegel (Edward Burns). Airing on TNT starting in December.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Fairly decent. Darabont’s never been a big box-office draw in theaters, but “The Walking Dead” is one of the biggest shows of the last few years, and despite his brief tenure there (and the questionable quality of the show), its success suggests that Darabont knows how to connect with a wide audience. And while the show does just sound like a TV version of “Gangster Squad,” and we all know how that turned out, this feels like something that Darabont could pull off. Trailers have also been been promising so far. While the casting isn’t that starry (bar Simon Pegg, who guests in the pilot), there’s some strong actors involved, not least Bernthal, whose Jon-Hamm-as-a-boxer presence is popping up in movies like “Wolf Of Wall Street” and “Fury” in the near future. That said, TNT aren’t exactly known as the home of quality drama. Can they step up here, or will this just be another procedural time-filler?
What Is It? From the duo behind billion-dollar Bond flick “Skyfall,” Sam Mendes and John Logan, and with a pilot directed by “The Impossible” and “The Orphanage” helmer Juan Antonio Bayona, this is a psychosexual horror set in Victorian London that seems to be a boobs and blood-friendly take on something like “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” with Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, Dorian Gray and other out-of-copyright favorites crossing paths. The cast is toplined by Josh Hartnett and Eva Green, with Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, Harry Treadaway, Timothy Dalton, Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale among the supporting players.
Chances Of Being the Next “Breaking Bad”: With “True Blood” wrapping up next year, this seems to be have a better chance of slipping into that niche, to be honest. With a big budget and big names it’s likely to be one of the most high-profile launches of next year, and has a good likelihood of being a ratings blockbuster. The premise could either turn out to be indecent amounts of fun, or a campy mess and we’re not sure that Logan’s scripting in the past gives us enough faith that it’ll be the former. Still, the cast are mostly heavyweights (we’ll tune in just to see Timothy Dalton play some kind of Allan Quartermain surrogate), and if they can find out a way to make Josh Hartnett compelling as a lead, they can probably do anything.
What Is It? Cinemax’s other major project in development (though not, like “The Knick,” yet picked up to series, unlike most on this list), this adapts a series of period crime novels by “Road To Perdition” writer Max Allan Collins, about a Vietnam vet, Max Quarry, who returns from war to become a hitman. “Prometheus” star Logan Marshall-Green has the lead role, with very strong support from Stellan Skarsgard, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jamie Hector, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Noah Taylor, among others.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Reasonable. Collins’ novels have a cult following, and traffic in the same kind of gut-punch plot twists that made “Breaking Bad” the big deal that it’s been. This kind of 70s-set hitman thriller seems like it could be reasonably fresh territory, on TV at least, and the pilot’s in solid hands, with the writers of the excellent “Rectify,” and “The Proposition” and “Lawless” director John Hillcoat helming. Marshall-Green feels a little too pretty-boy on paper for the part, but we’re open to him, and those backing him up are fairly awesome. Again, the biggest problems may be getting past Cinemax’s reputation as a home for softcore pornography rather than quality drama, but it is at least shifting, and let’s not forget that only a few years ago AMC wasn’t exactly associated with original programming either.
“The Red Road”
What Is It? An original series on the Sundance Channel, “The Red Road” is a six-parter from writer Aaron Guzikowski, who’s just had a major big-screen success with “Prisoners.” The show focuses on a cop dealing with two communities—his home town and the Native American community in the mountains nearby—whose job becomes personal after a tragedy involving his wife. “Friday Night Lights” vet Bridget Carpenter will be showrunner, Playlist favorite James Gray directs the first episode and the cast includes Martin Henderson, Jason Momoa, Julianne Nicholson and Tom Sizemore.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Not too bad, we reckon. The Sundance Channel have had a very good start to their venture into original programming (quality-wise, anyway), with “Top Of The Lake” and “Rectify,” and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change here, especially with the killer combination of Gray and “Prisoners” writer Guzikowski. Perhaps more than any other show on this list, this looks, from a distance, most like it’s in the “Breaking Bad” type of wheelhouse. What’s more questionable is whether it can break out to a wide audience—Sundance’s ratings are minimal compared to most other cable networks. Then again, Netflix played a major part in the success of “Breaking Bad,” and with a deal similar to the one that the network struck for “Top Of The Lake,” where the show appeared on the streaming service almost as soon as it finished airing, this one could end up building an audience over time. That’s assuming it’s good, of course. We’re excited about the talent behind the camera but slightly less so about that in front of—Nicholson stole the show on “Boardwalk Empire,” but much of the rest of the cast seem a little bland. Then again, who knew that Bryan Cranston had it in him a few years back…
What Is It? Guillermo Del Toro’s first major delve into television waters, this is based on the trilogy of novels that the “Pacific Rim” helmer co-authored with “The Town” scribe Chuck Hogan, depicting a vampire apocalypse and those who fight against it. Del Toro directed the pilot, with “Lost” co-showrunner Carlton Cuse also on board, and although FX haven’t yet picked up the series, a writing staff have already been hired and are at work on scripting a first season, which suggests a certain degree of confidence that it’s moving forward. “House Of Cards” standout Corey Stoll has the lead role, with John Hurt, Mia Maestro, Kevin Durand, Jonathan Hyde and Sean Astin also among the cast.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Again, this is more in that “True Blood” kind of genre territory, though “The Strain” does seem a little more in the “Breaking Bad” mold. What’s perhaps the bigger question is whether audiences used to the sexy vampires of both ‘Blood’ and “Twilight” will adapt to vampires that are less brooding and more biological and disgusting. “Pacific Rim” included, U.S. audiences have been slow to adapt to Del Toro’s world, so it’s interesting to see whether this proves more popular (again, the success of “The Walking Dead” suggests that might be a thumbs up). Still, with Del Toro writing and directing the pilot, and Stoll and Hurt in particular in the cast, we’re certainly optimistic it might work out, even if, from what we’ve heard in the novels, it’s probably closer to trashy fun rather than high art.
What Is It? Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman comes to TV in this Showtime pilot (not yet picked up to series, but given the talent involved, likely to be a priority if it’s even halfway good) in a show about ad executive Thom Payne, who specializes in youth culture, only to become a victim of it when he hits middle age and his agency is taken over. “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” and “Rabbit Hole” helmer John Cameron Mitchell directed the pilot, and Kathryn Hahn and Rhys Ifans also star.
Chances Of Being The Next “Breaking Bad”: Showtime have made something of a habit of taking big-name movie character actors (Don Cheadle, Liev Schreiber) and building shows around them, and they seem to be trying to replicate the trick here with “Trending Down,” which unlike the other shows on this list, is a half-hour comedy (or at least, comedy drama). The premise sounds fun (if not immediately marketable), and the talent is inarguable, but we could have said the same about both “House Of Lies” or “Ray Donovan” and while the shows have been successful enough for the network, they’ve been somewhat underwhelming creatively. As such, we’d remain a little cautious of this, even if the PSH/Hahn combination seems totally irresistible on paper.
What Is It? HBO’s first big drama of 2014, this is a new procedural crime show created by novelist Nic Pizzolato, about a pair of cops trying to find a serial killer in Louisiana. It might sound familiar, but the whole series has been directed by one of our most promising filmmakers, “Sin Nombre” and “Jane Eyre” director Cary Fukunaga, and stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the lead roles, with Michelle Monaghan and Kevin Dunn in the supporting cast.
Chances Of Being The Next Breaking Bad: Solid, with one caveat. We’ve been excited about “True Detective” ever since it was announced with the killer Fukunaga/McConaughey/Harrelson trifecta. It took a little while for the schedules to line up, but filming got underway last year and HBO will bow the 8 part series in January. The early trailers have suggested something atmospheric, dark and sprawling, and not as much like something like “The Killing” or “Broadchurch” as it might sound on paper. The sheer star power should guarantee this a fairly substantial audience. Our gut is that it’ll be closer to something like “Zodiac” than a traditional whodunnit, but nevertheless this could dominate water cooler chatter next year. The bigger question is about longevity: the idea is that future seasons would focus on different characters and cases, with the first season telling a stand-alone case, and McConaughey and Harrelson unlikely to return. As such, it may not build up the momentum that was crucial to “Breaking Bad.” Still, we are counting the days until this is unveiled.
What Is It? Adapted from Alexander Rose’s book “Washington Spies” by “Bones” and “Nikita” writer Craig Silverstein, this is a Revolutionary America-set tale of a New York farmer (Jamie Bell) who helps to set up The Culper Ring, an alliance of spies aiming to free America from the yoke of British rule. “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” helmer Rupert Wyatt directed the pilot and the show was picked up for a full first season by AMC this summer.
Chances Of Being The Next Breaking Bad: Not unfeasible. Aside from HBO’s Emmy-lauded “John Adams,” it’s a while since the American Revolution was depicted on TV, and doing it through the Culper Ring is an undoubtedly exciting premise. Wyatt proved his directing chops for this sort of thing long ago and he’s assembled a solid cast, with Jamie Bell heading up the likes of Angus MacFayden, Kevin McNally (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), JJ Feild (“Captain America”), Heather Lind (“Boardwalk Empire”) and Burn Gorman (“Pacific Rim”). That said, AMC’s last period piece, “Hell On Wheels,” never really built up steam and we have to wonder about the previous credits of creator Craig Silverstein, which are suggestive something escapist rather than substantial. But remember that the same arguably could have been said about Vince Gilligan back in the day so we’re more than open to see how it turns out, even if it remains to be seen if and when mainstream audiences embrace something like this.
Honorable Mentions: So the short answer to the question posed above is that, while there’s lots of promising and high-profile drama on the way, none immediately look like they’ll be filling the exact void left by “Breaking Bad.” That said, there’s tons more that are a little further off that could step up, that we didn’t quite have the space to include here. HBO have greenlit “Looking,” a series about young gay man in San Francisco, with a pilot directed by Andrew Haigh, who was behind the excellent “Weekend.” “American Horror Story” mastermind Ryan Murphy is working on “Open,” a look at modern sexuality to star Michelle Monaghan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wes Bentley and Anna Torv. Robert De Niro just replaced the late James Gandolfini in miniseries “Criminal Justice,” a remake of a British show and most excitingly, “Deadwood” creator David Milch has a new pilot in the works, “The Money,” with Brendan Gleeson and Nathan Lane, looking at a Rupert Murdoch-ish media mogul.
Meanwhile, FX lost Ang Lee as director of Middle East-set drama “Tyrant,” but gained David Yates, with the pilot filming at the moment. We’re also excited about “Hoke,” based on a popular series of detective novels, written by the great Scott Frank and set to star Paul Giamatti. The untitled drama set in the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll from “Boardwalk Empire” duo Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter is also moving forward to the pilot stage, with Bobby Cannavale taking the lead, and “Rounders” writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien hired as showrunners. Also on the dramedy side is “Togetherness,” from the Duplass Brothers, which is already ordered to series, and a new show from “King Of The Hill” and “Office Space” creator Mike Judge, set in Silicon Valley. There’s also the Ridley Scott-produced religious thriller “The Vatican,” from “Quiz Show” writer Paul Attanasio and starring Kyle Chandler, Matthew Goode, Bruno Ganz and Anna Friel and the already picked up to pilot “Line Of Sight,” which Jonathan Demme will direct and which stars David Morrissey as an air crash investigator.
What piques your interest the most? What do you think will be your next addictive, watch-it-all-at-once show? Let us know below.