William Shatner essentially played Walter White three decades before 'Breaking Bad'

Shatner played a chemistry teacher turned drug manufacturer. Sound familiar?

Sony Pictures Television

See if this premise sounds familiar. A high school chemistry teacher in need of money for medical bills begins to manufacture narcotics for a drug lord, which leads to a downward spiral. That's roughly the plot of Breaking Bad, no? That acclaimed series masterfully plotted the descent of an average man into a villain in the span of five seasons. 

But that is also the plot of "Smack," a 1974 episode of Police Woman with guest star William Shatner, who covers the same character arc in about 30 minutes.

A quick refresher: Police Woman, a spin-off of the popular procedural Police Story, starred Angie Dickinson as Sgt. Pepper Anderson. The show was both a milestone — the first hour-long drama starring a woman in TV history — it was also a symbol of its time. Pepper's undercover adventures are often little more than an excuse to get Dickinson in various costumes. Take "Smack," for example, where Pepper goes undercover in a school. They have her pose as a P.E. teacher, of course, mostly for scenes of Dickinson stretching in warm-up clothing. And, naturally, Pepper has to teach Sex Ed.

The episode kicks off with Shatner's character, Mark Ciprio, witnessing a student plunge to their death at the football field. The police show up to investigate, and drugs are blamed for the tragedy. As the cops begin to dig, we learn that Ciprio has "broken bad."

Pepper heads to Ciprio's apartment, which leads to an emotive scene full of juicy Shatnerisms. Ciprio swigs from a tumbler of booze, confessing, "I'm laying to rest the man who never was. The phony Mark Ciprio," Shatner muses. "The big shot idealist who never practiced what he preached."

After another officer goes undercover as a student, the pressure is applied to Ciprio and the story becomes clear. The chemistry teacher has been working for a drug dealer.

"I was a chemist in his lab, making and refining drugs," Ciprio confesses. "It was for my wife. She needed to be on a kidney machine most of the time. It cost a lot of money."

Now, this story is pretty neatly wrapped up henceforth, this being episodic 1970s television. We do not witness a slow, Shakespearean descent into amorality. This is not to say that Shakespearan-trained actor William Shatner does not give it his all in his limited scenes. He is Shatner, after all. 

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is a big fan of classic television. It's possible he had seen this episode before, but we're not pointing fingers. It's a deep cut. But it is still pretty fascinating to see how the germ of an idea for one of the most acclaimed shows of the 21st century can be found in Shatner's Seventies action output.

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JDnHuntsvilleAL 36 months ago
*"Shatner played a chemistry teacher turned drug manufacturer. Sound familiar?"*

Actually, NO. I take it "Breaking Bad" is a current TV show?
Tacept 38 months ago
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Thomas0263 38 months ago
Shatner and Dickinson also starred together in "Big Bad Mama". LOL
dangler1907 38 months ago
Yet another Canadian boy makes good. Hollywood is full of them.
RkBke 38 months ago
no one can touch shatner... if you study his body of work between when star trek was cancelled and when the star trek the movie came out...if you study shatners work between 1969-1979 no one was better.. from - mission impossible to hawaii 5 O, marcus welby, barnaby jones, mannix, the magician, ironside, kung fu, petrocelli, police story, amy prentiss, police woman, the rookies, barbary coast, the oregon trail, etc... and dont forget all of his made for tv movie roles, he was great....
MarkSpeck 38 months ago
An episode of Police Woman with William Shatner, Barry 'Ernie' Livingston and (hold onto your hats) Smokey Robinson as the bad guys?

Only in the days of glorious '70s TV, my friends, only in the '70s.

kevopilis 38 months ago
There are no new ideas, and that drug glorifying show had action figures,
and a gang of idiots making their own blue meth.
AWelker013 38 months ago
Shatner has done so much over his career and has achieved almost a cult-like following for his role on STAR TREK, but my favorite Shatner work remains the TWILIGHT ZONE episode NICK OF TIME.
justjeff 38 months ago
I once stumbled across a tongue-in-cheek website called Shatner's Toupee which did a deep dive into the many hairpireces he's worn over his career. It was funny and done f airly tastefully...

Now *before* all the Shatner fans start pouncing on me, I'm just relating this story...

If you have any issues with someone calling out Shatner on his toupees, go fight with the (now idle) website!
bored_azfuq 38 months ago
Found a clip and drunk on bourbon Shatner says, "the grey matter fails to function." Too funny!

MrsPhilHarris 38 months ago
The article makes me want to watch that episode of Police Woman. Maybe METV could air the show. 👮
srrainwater 38 months ago
Happy Birthday 🎂. To all you MeTV fans, anyone remember a show call the Barbary Coast and guess which Star Trek alumni starred in the show?
srrainwater MrsPhilHarris 38 months ago
Glad to see someone remembered. I thought I dream it
Barry22 srrainwater 38 months ago
Also starred Doug McClure and lasted all of one season.
Andybandit 38 months ago
I liked that show "Better late then never". It was funny. It had William Shatner, Henry Winkler, George Forman, and Terry Bradshaw.
Andybandit 38 months ago
Cool story. I liked him in Star Trek and TJ Hooker. Happy Birthday, he still good for 90yrs old.
lynngdance 38 months ago
By the way, Happy Birthday William Shatner!
lynngdance lynngdance 38 months ago
Since this is William Shatner’s Birthday I thought I’d mention “Better Late Than Never”, a series he is In that you may not have heard of, I saw it when it originally aired and it’s HILARIOUS. It’s free on the NBC app so ya may wanna give it a try! 🙂
TheDavBow3 lynngdance 38 months ago
I very much liked that show. It was hilarious! A lot of it seems like a put on but still funny.
Barry22 lynngdance 38 months ago
Saw it a couple of times, it was funny.
lynngdance 38 months ago
I’ve never watched this but I like how her name is SGT. PEPPER Anderson. 😆 🎵Sgt. Pepper Anderson’s Hearts Club Band, we hope you will enjoy the show🎵 😆😝
justjeff lynngdance 38 months ago
*Never* thought about that - but I'm sure it was an inside joke by the show's writer(s) and/or creator(s)...
stephaniestavropoulos 38 months ago
Breaking Bad?!?! Did William Shatner know someone by the name of Walter White, who he was trying to break a bad habit he had, and it was turned into a tv series?!?! I don't understand this story at all. I think that's because I don't know all of the characters. The only ones I recognize are Angie Dickenson, Police Woman and William Shatner. The story sounds pretty convoluted. The story goes on to say the show was very popular. Yeah, if you can understand it, I guess it would be, but it also sounds pretty lame and stupid. But I guess that's what a lot of people like to watch. I don't see the appeal in it. I guess the appeal lies in the fact that WS {Kirk himself,} was the star. To each their own. Whatever turns everybody on!
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justjeff Pacificsun 38 months ago
I'm not complaining... although I only have about a year and 4 months left of my 60s... I just couldn't resist the obvious joke in "Sexagenarian"... Actually, I still chase girls---I just can't remember *why*...
MarkSpeck Pacificsun 38 months ago
Breaking Bad aired not on a streaming platform, but on the cable channel AMC (American Movie Classics).
dangler1907 Pacificsun 38 months ago
Uh ... the point of the article is painfully obvious. The plot of Breaking Bad is virtually identical to the original Shatner version. That's not a coincidence.
Pacificsun dangler1907 38 months ago
😉 Using Pete Davidson's "SNL" voice ... okay.
justjeff 38 months ago
As one of the ancient philosophers onced observed... "Nothing is new."
madvincent justjeff 38 months ago
And a picture has no future.....
cseeley90 38 months ago
Happy Birthday William Shatner! New spinoff series- "Breaking Shat"!
Pacificsun 38 months ago
But you forgot to wish him a Happy Birthday, March 22!

Good enough that you wrote an article though. Compared to all the material you write about your other shows.

Mr. Shatner was never timid about tackling anything role. Check out his resume!
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