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Breaking Bad Pilot Beat Sheet by Tom Reed

By on September 14, 2012 in Beat Sheets
The now-iconic ad for "Breaking Bad"

The now-iconic ad for AMC’s “Breaking Bad”

We published an excellent Beat Sheet by Geoff Harris of writer/executive producer Vince Gilligan’s pilot of Breaking Bad before, but Master Cat! Tom Reed couldn’t resist taking a deeper dive. His BS2 is so deep, we’re including it as a downloadable pdf below. Here are Tom’s thoughts about the script:

The pilot script for Breaking Bad by Vince Gilligan is an example of truly outstanding writing. It has a powerful premise executed at the highest level, and much of its impact is due to its masterful structure, the specific beats of which just happen to correspond exactly with Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet (the “BS2”). Nearly every single scene is a demonstration of the BS2 in action. Whether Mr. Gilligan actually employed the BS2 structure template when outlining the story, or used other tools with different names to achieve his effects, the result in my opinion is a perfect script.

This is an origin story that depicts the birth of a drug dealing criminal mastermind. It takes its time detailing the context of the hero and his “normal world,” and so the page count of the first 8 (out of 15) BS2 story beats resembles a feature script of 110 pages, not the average 57 page one-hour TV script. In other words, it takes its time setting everything up. But the script doesn’t skip any steps to fit inside the allotted hour, it just concentrates the remaining steps in fewer pages. This gives the script’s second half incredible density and story energy.

Something else that gives the script great power is the authorial “Fun & Games” in evidence across multiple dimensions. Vince Gilligan is a storyteller fully “at play” in crafting this script, not just in his structure and story world design, but also his characterization, dialogue, scene progression, logic, the interplay of all the above, and the ample doses of cleverness and insight of various hues.

As the show enters its final season, it’s easy to see why it has steadily gained viewers over five years. Not only is the writing enthralling, but the show taps into the zeitgeist by depicting an average, middle-class man (a “dude”) who, despite powerful gifts (IQ, education, and a passion for chemistry), still finds himself near the bottom of the economic food chain. A lot of people can relate. When the middle class struggles to make a living and even the affluent are feeling the pinch, a lot of us wish we could find a better, easier, way. Some of us might even be tempted to “break bad.” This show offers a cautionary tale of uncommon relevance.

As a fan of the show I thank Vince Gilligan for sharing his special powers of storytelling with all of us, and I thank Blake Snyder for providing a powerful language to examine why Breaking Bad is so damn good. I look forward to the tragic tale of Walter White resolving at the end of this last season with memorable inevitability. May we all be powerfully transformed!

Download Tom Reed’s Beat Sheet (PDF) for the “Breaking Bad” Pilot

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Tom Reed

About the Author

About the Author: Tom Reed's entertainment career started in the circus: Dumbo's Circus, a Disney cable show where he juggled art department and stage manager duties. And juggled. He leapt from production to executive positions at grindhouse shop Cinetel Films, the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group, and Imagine Entertainment before settling on the toughest art department of all... the writer's room. When not writing, he's probing the grand mysteries of story, a cat never far from his side. .

There Are 7 Comments

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  1. Emma says:

    Master Cat! Such a well deserved title! Tom, your breakdowns never cease to amaze me in their depth, wisdom and wit. You well and truly prove time and again your mastery of the BS2. I always feel like I’ve learned so much after reading them, as well as feeling like I’ve just watched whatever it is you’ve written about. This doesn’t disappoint! And downloadable! Now I can keep going back to it and learn even more!

    Thank you, Save the Cat! for bringing us such talented writers like Tom, and their examples of how the BS2 never fails to find its way into scripts (intentionally or otherwise)be it a feature, short, or pilot.

    Awesome job, Tom! Kudos 🙂

  2. StoryMapsDan says:

    Excellent job, Tom! I’ve been meaning to go back and revisit the BB pilot, so this will prove a nice supplement. Thank you.


    p.s. I have the pilot script if anyone wants to read it. Email me via my site, link on my name.

    p.s.s. Thank GOD they changed Marion’s name to Jesse, huh? 😉

  3. Brilliant analysis of a stunning pilot episode of a superb series. Thanks for sharing this, Tom.

  4. BC Boyer says:


    You are good. Really good. I enjoy your breakdowns because they add a little more insight into Blake’s CATosphere of wisdom.

    In fact, because of your fine rendition of the pilot episode, I am going to Netflix the series and check it out.

    Thanks again, BC

  5. Debbie Boynes says:

    Woohoo, Tom! Thanks for breaking down Breaking Bad! It’s my favorite TV series EVER! I agree that the writing is superb and your BS is excellent, too! I will be sad to see the series end next summer. BB Hugs

  6. Tom Reed says:

    Thanks Debbie, and Emma, Dan, Caroline and BC. Much appreciated. Thanks for reading it. I know it was long. Exhaustive, but hopefully not exhausting. I couldn’t stop myself! It was that good under the microscope. Cheers. Tom

  7. sharon says:

    is there any pages set up for tv- i don’t mean the concpets – i mean the actual page numbers that blake synder suggest for a screenplay to correlate for a half hr tv espsiode and a full hr tv epsidoe?