We were pleased to learn that one of the most respected men in television—Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, one of the most acclaimed shows of all time—tunes in to Me-TV regularly. Not only does he find the shows that captivated him as a young TV fan and burgeoning filmmaker/writer in Virginia, but he’s also discovering new programs he missed the first time around.
We found out that Vince was happy to speak with us, and so members of our web and on-air promotion creative teams gathered around a speakerphone one afternoon a few weeks ago and we peppered him with questions. With his affable, easy-going demeanor, and the enthusiasm with which he spoke about classic television, any awestruck behavior we might have exhibited was quickly set aside. And when he made a point of telling us how much he enjoys the work Me-TV does curating and promoting our lineup of Memorable Entertainment Television, well, it was a pretty memorable moment for us.
Enjoy this Me-TV Monitor exclusive—our chat with television giant, Vince Gilligan.
Alright, let’s start with the elephant in the room. We show a program on Me-TV that I’m sure has affected your life in many, many ways. Tell us about growing up with the name Gilligan.
It was tough! Gilligan’s Island the TV show predates me by at least about three years, I think. And so I never grew up in a world without Gilligan’s Island. It was a cross to bear! Having to introduce myself to people, or having a teacher say ‘This is Vince Gilligan,’ and everybody would laugh, because of Gilligan’s Island.
I’ve got a good story I can tell, though. It was in 2002 and I had been working on The X Files for about seven years, and it was our final year of production. I wrote and directed an episode in which this character had supernatural powers, and he loved old television shows. He loved The Brady Bunch more than anything. He was this very lonely and damaged character, with these amazing godlike supernatural powers, and anything that he thought of became reality. And so he loved The Brady Bunch so much that he lived in a house that on the outside looked like just another tract home, but inside looked exactly like The Brady Bunch house.
We had to get the rights to the Brady Bunch home and we reached out to Lloyd Schwartz and told him about the idea we had, and he seemed to think that was copacetic and respectful of their brand. He then put me on the phone with Sherwood Schwartz at a later date and, just like you said, the first thing out of his mouth was ‘So let me get this straight. Your name is Gilligan?’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir, it is. And if you’re of a mind to share some of that Gilligan’s Island rerun money with me, because my name is actually Gilligan!’, and he said, ‘Yeah, I am going to take a pass on that.’ He was actually a very lovely gentleman to talk with.
Was TV a very big influence on you as a child?
Oh, yeah. I grew up in Farmville, Virginia, a town about 65 miles west of Richmond. On a good day, we had four television stations: CBS, NBC, ABC and the public television station. We had an old antenna on the roof and the TV in the basement, along with this controller, and so to dial in the stations, you didn’t just turn the knob, you also had to aim the antenna. And so you’d turn this clicker: “chuh-chik-chuh-chik,” and up on the roof the antenna would turn in different directions. So other than playing with my Star Wars figures and stuff like that, we’d pretty much watch TV—way too much of it! But it was very much a seminal influence on me growing up.
You’ve mentioned Me-TV in interviews, and we’re thrilled to see that. What is it about Me-TV that you enjoy, and what do you watch?
I watch quite a bit of it, actually. It relaxes me when I get home from work, I think there’s a lot of wonderful shows on it, and I like the way it’s curated. There are other channels that show episodes of old TV shows and whatnot. But there’s no feeling that you get from watching some of those channels that the people putting that stuff on the air actually have affection for it. The interstitial stuff that you guys do, the on-air promos and whatnot, clearly exhibit a sense of humor, as well as affection for what you’re broadcasting. I love those promos you run where you say ‘These are words you’ll never hear on Me-TV’ and they always end with ‘Kardashian’. And honestly, that’s reason enough right there to watch Me-TV, because I don’t hear ‘Kardashian’ on it!
And I love your website as well, you can really tell you have genuine affection for these wonderful old shows. In fact, I was just looking at the website, and there was an article about Nat Hiken
. That’s a guy I was not really aware of until I started watching old reruns of Car 54 and The Phil Silvers Show. Those weren’t rerun on any station I can recall when I was a kid, or if they were I wasn’t really aware of it. Those two shows are great, and he really was this unsung show-runner of that era, or at least he’s only semi-remembered, which is a shame. I mean, those two shows, they move as fast as The Simpsons does! How they get as much plot into Phil Silvers or Car 54 as they do is amazing. He’s a different type of writer, but he and Rod Serling were both so very talented and they both died so young, it’s a real shame the world lost them as soon as it did.
You’re a big Twilight Zone fan, aren’t you?
The biggest! Yeah, that is my favorite show, I think. I love The Twilight Zone, absolutely.
Do you have any favorite episodes?
Oh, there are so many, it’s like eating potato chips. It’s hard to nail down a favorite, but I’ll try to name some favorites that are not the typical favorites. Everyone always says Time Enough At Last, or one of the many with Burgess Meredith. One of my favorites, which people don’t normally name is Nervous Man In A Four Dollar Room, which is just this really fun, well acted ‘bottle episode’. The whole episode takes place in this one hotel room. Actually there was also another later episode that took place in a single hotel room, Night Of A Jockey, with Mickey Rooney. But the one I like best is Nervous Man In A Four Dollar Room, where essentially this guy has to get himself ready to go kill someone. He’s this nickel-and-dime thug, this wanna-be gangster type, tasked with killing this bar owner at 2 in the morning. And if he doesn’t do it, he’s going to be killed. And basically, his mirror image comes to life and tells him, ‘You gotta live your life differently. You took a wrong turn somewhere in your life and now it’s time for me to take over.’ It’s just really well acted, directed and edited, and that’s one of my favorites.
The great thing about The Twilight Zone is not the twist endings. Really, if you think about it, if the only thing good about The Twilight Zone was the endings, no one would ever watch any of them a second time. Because once you know the twist, what’s the point? The point of The Twilight Zone is the humanity of it, the photography, the wonderful acting and directing. It’s the attention to the visuals and the great storytelling. Rod Serling had a somewhat purple and mannered way of writing dialogue and yet it really works for me. He really was a wonderful writer, and he had a very distinctive voice, and you can watch these episodes over and over and over again. I’ve seen pretty much every episode, though there might be a small handful I’ve missed over the years, and some of my favorites I’ve probably seen 20 or 30 times each.
We heard an interview with you in which you referenced watching Emergency! as a young kid.
I love Emergency! I love all the old Mark VII shows. That’s another guy I would have loved to meet. I wish I could have met Rod Serling, and I would add Nat Hiken to that list, and I really wish I could have met Jack Webb. He was something, and I love all his shows, Dragnet and Adam-12 and of course Emergency! I love watching Emergency! on Me-TV, and that’s a show I have not seen since it first aired. I remember watching it when it was first on, my little brother and I would watch it, and it holds up surprisingly well.
There’s a new show, I think it’s on CBS, Chicago Fire, and it makes me think of Emergency!, at least an R-rated Emergency! But I find that Emergency! is every bit as engaging, if not more so. I think it was very well shot, there’s a lot of handheld camera work in it. That was an era when you found a lot of handheld camera work, a lot of cameras breaking loose of tripods. European cameras were getting smaller, and there was a lot of use of wide-angle lenses.
Our channel harkens back to the golden age of television, yet it seems now that we’re in a new golden age, with shows like yours. What do you think is the future of television?
Well, I am a terrible prognosticator! I’m probably the last guy to ask where it’s all heading because I’m confused about where it even is currently! But it’s been a wonderful thing, it seems to me, that what started with cable television in the early ‘70s, although it really started kicking in, at least in my awareness, in the ‘80s. When I was growing up there were four channels. So when Bruce Springsteen sang about ‘57 channels and nothing on,’ I politely beg to differ.
The thing is, now there are channels like Me-TV and channels like AMC, which I have to say, is my favorite channel of all, but Me-TV is a close second! But there are these wonderful channels aside from the networks – we have all of these outlets for everyone. In other words, we have – in theory anyway – this amazingly democratized television dial.
Now in practice, unfortunately, it seems that even though we have these many, many channels, they all wind up chasing the same demographic that everybody else is chasing, that male, aged 18-35 demographic. And that’s depressing, but in theory, this amazing democracy of channels is available to all of us, and that only looks like that’s going to multiply a thousand times again, with more young people watching television through a computer link, rather than a satellite feed.
I think it was an interview I read with Jimmy Kimmel where he said he thought there would be a lot more late night talk shows, and each talk show host would be making a lot less money than they used to. And I think that’s probably the case, there will be a lot more cable TV channels, with everybody making a little less money doing it. But that’s probably okay, because this ability of everybody being able to watch what they want, when they want it is probably worth the trade off.
Our sincere thanks to Vince Gilligan and his incredibly helpful assistant Jenn.