By almost any measure, Better Call Saul has been a success for AMC: critically-acclaimed, a good ratings performer, and so beloved by Breaking Bad fandom that some viewers actually prefer it to the parent show.
As the show’s third season nears a close (the eighth episode airs tonight at 10; look for my review of it at 11:07), a fourth season has yet to be ordered, which has some fans wondering if they should be concerned. Everything I’ve heard suggests it’s just a matter of crossing various t’s and dotting various i’s — again, Saul is both a successful show and an important one for the AMC brand, given the link back to Breaking Bad — and also of AMC and Sony deciding whether they want to do a multi-season renewal or keep going year-to-year.
During a lunch interview today with Saul co-creator Peter Gould and actor Michael McKean (look for the full transcript sometime in the next week), Gould casually referred several times to bringing the writers room back together shortly to begin prep on the next season, and did not come across as a man sweating renewal. Still, at the tail end of our conversation — after we had discussed Gould’s surprise at how long they’ve wound up spending on the Jimmy McGill incarnation of their title character — I asked him how much longer he saw the series going, and also if there was any real reason to worry that these next three episodes might be it.
Having done three years of it, do you have a better sense of how much life is left in the version of the story you want to tell?
Yes. The writers room has been closed for quite a while now. We all had lunch together just a couple of weeks ago, and that was one of the main questions we were asking ourselves: How much story is there? I think we’re getting a better idea. I will say I think this show has a definitely limit to it. It’s a story with a beginning and a middle and a definite end. I have to say, I would rather have it end too soon than go on too long. It’s the old showbiz adage: “Leave them wanting more.” I would rather have people wish there had been more seasons than them going, “Oh, is that still on?”
The incentive in show business, in every way, is to stay on. Financially, the longer a show is on, the more money everyone makes. But there’s another reason to do it, too: we love working together. I’ve had 10 years of working with a lot of the same people. It’s been the greatest creative experience of my life. I don’t expect anything, no matter what I do, is ever going to come close to this.
(McKean interjects: “Flash forward…”)
… Yeah, I’ll be saying the same thing about the next show I do! No, I don’t think so. Frankly, I thought it was greedy to want to do the spin-off. I thought, “Are we being greedy in trying to extend this experience?” And part of the reason we decided to do it was we had more to say about Saul Goodman, but there was another motivation: Let’s keep the band together, as long as we can. We have this great group of people; let’s see how many we can lure into keeping on. The day we close for the final time and say goodbye to the crew in Albuquerque, and the crew in Burbank, I’m going to need a lot of Kleenex, because I’m going to be very upset. But I still would rather end too soon.
Related to that, I’ve been getting a lot of panicked tweets and emails lately: “They haven’t been renewed yet. Should I be worried?” Should they be worried?
They should always be worried in television… AMC and Sony have been very good to us. I believe they will continue to be, but it’s show business. There’s nothing that’s certain. You asked me how many seasons we have left; hopefully, it’s a creative decision to end the show, and not an economic one. So I don’t want to take anything for granted. I just feel lucky that we’ve done three seasons. I sure hope we get to do more.
In the doomsday scenario — which I’m not envisioning — where negotiations fall apart, how would you feel about episode ten of this season being your series finale?
[Laughs.] It would be a very provocative ending, that’s what I will say.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com