For every "Frasier," there are five disasters like "Joey." So there was every reason to believe that "Better Call Saul" was a bad bet. Vince Gilligan, who created "Breaking Bad" and partnered with Peter Gould for the prequel, ignored the long odds.
"The older I get, the more I realize that trying to be a chess player is detrimental," Gilligan said during a virtual news conference about the "Saul" finale, airing at 8 p.m. Monday on AMC. He signed off on a spinoff before knowing where the story would go.
"If I had had another six months to think about it, I would have talked myself out of it. Sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff," he said.
Thank goodness he took the leap. "Saul," which explores how Saul Goodman became an unethical attorney, has already earned 46 Emmy nominations, including five for lead Bob Odenkirk.
The actor, previously best known for doing cutting-edge comedy on "Mr. Show" and writing the down-by-the-river sketch for "Saturday Night Live," didn't initially have any concerns about possibly tainting "Bad's" legacy. At least not consciously. But shortly after filming the premiere, he lost his voice. And when billboards for the first season went up, he started getting visibly nervous.
"That's when I realized, 'Oh, we made a show people are actually going to watch,'" said Odenkirk, who was also part of the news conference call. "I'm so used to getting knocked down in Hollywood that I don't even worry about people judging it because they probably aren't going to see it. But then I knew, way too late, that everyone was at least going to sample this."
"Saul" was almost instantly a hit. It finished in the top 10 most viewed dramas on cable TV during its entire six-season run. That wasn't the case with "Bad," which didn't really find a significant audience until its third season. It's now widely considered one of the greatest series in TV history.
"Saul" has more humor than its predecessor but both series challenge viewers to root for characters who, in real life, you wouldn't trust with your spare set of house keys.
In "Bad," we watched Walter White (Bryan Cranston) become obsessed with power. Goodman was addicted to danger. Some of his scams are so ridiculous, you wonder if he wants to get caught.
Odenkirk said he often thought about the 1995 movie "Leaving Las Vegas," in which Nicolas Cage's character is determined to drink himself to death.
Gould said he knew the series was working whenever his wife would start screaming at the screen, begging Goodman to go in another direction.
"The ultimate compliment is the audience's emotional engagement with the characters," he said.
Gould said he hopes the finale, which he wrote and directed, captures the tragic spirit of the entire series. "It's been a lot of pressure," he said. "It's very scary. Lots of sweaty palms, lots of sleepless nights. Those of us on the show were very happy where it ended. I hope everyone else agrees."
Despite the success of "Saul" — as well as the 2019 spinoff movie, "El Camino" — don't expect any future visits to the "Breaking Bad" universe.
"You've got to know when to leave the party," said Gilligan. "You don't want to be the guy with the lampshade on your head who won't go home. I've got to prove to myself I've got something else in me, that I'm not a one-trick pony."