Under the Influence

Why the mayor of Albuquerque didn't like Breaking Bad

The Emmy Award-winning television series Breaking Bad put Albuquerque on the map. But for less-than-desirable reasons.
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on the set of Breaking Bad.
Listen to the full episode27:28

From Winnebagos to blue bath salts and pizzas on roofs, Breaking Bad has earned the city of Albuquerque some unusual tourist attractions.

This week, we look at the phenomenon of Set Jetting. That’s when tourists flock to a city to see the sets and locations where their favourite TV shows and movies are filmed. Some towns have embraced set jetting as new-found tourism marketing. Other towns absolutely resent it. It’s a fascinating love/hate relationship. Hope you’ll join us. 0:57

When the television show Cops began filming in Albuquerque, the mayor wasn't pleased.

While the police force came off well in the show, the weekly raids on dilapidated, drug-infested motels or flophouses made the city look bad. People around the world sat in front of their TV sets wondering how much crime there could be in one town.

So the mayor banned Cops from filming in Albuquerque.

Then a few years later, in 2008, another TV show began filming in the New Mexico city.

It was called Breaking Bad and starred Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a middle-aged high-school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. In order to secure his family's financial future, he teams up with one of his students, Jesse Pinkman, to begin manufacturing crystal meth.

Walter White (as played by actor Bryan Cranston), the main character in TV's Breaking Bad, in the show's pilot episode. (Doug Hyun, AMC/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

Because he's a brilliant chemistry teacher, he creates the country's best meth - with a distinctive blue tint. Then we watch his transformation from a mild-mannered every man to feared drug lord.

Breaking Bad became a huge hit with rave reviews from fans and critics alike. It would go on to win over 140 awards, including 16 Emmys and seven Golden Globes.

It brought a lot of attention to the city of Albuquerque. Which didn't make the mayor very happy.

The drug trafficking, addiction and violence themes were a continuation of the mayor's very issues with the Cops TV show.

So the local government did not support or encourage Breaking Bad.

That is, until the fourth season. Breaking Bad received 13 Prime Time Emmy nominations. Critics declared it the best show on television. There was no denying Breaking Bad was a revered and respected break-out hit.

And TV tourists started coming to Albuquerque. That's when the Albuquerque Convention & Visitor's Bureau began to promote the series on its website.

A tour group poses in front of the home that belongs to Walter White in the TV series Breaking Bad and Joanne Quintana in real life. (Breaking Bad RV Tours/Facebook )

With the awards and the praise and the resulting tourism dollars, the new mayor eventually came around, saying he felt viewers had no difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality.

Because of the famous Route 66, New Mexico had a higher pass-through rate than most other states.

But since Breaking Bad, a much higher proportion of tourists are stopping for overnight trips. The average age of tourists also dropped, suggesting the TV show was attracting a younger demographic to the state.

And people are pulling off the highway because the series has launched a Breaking Bad economy in town.

For example, a fast-food burrito chain called Twisters in Albuquerque has become an international tourist attraction. In Breaking Bad, it is the film location for fast-food chicken restaurant Los Pollos Hermanos that ruthless drug lord Gus Fring uses as a front for his drug cartel operation.

The restaurant has a guest book on the counter signed by tourists from the UK, France, Germany, Australia, South Korea, China and from states all over the country.

Curio stores sell Walter White T-shirts. There is a local candy store that features blue-tinted rock candy "meth" treats in little "drug dealer" plastic bags. The store supplied the candy as meth props for the actual TV show.

Another store sells crystal blue bath salts called "Breaking Bath" in 8-ounce plastic bags.

Walter White, portrayed by actor Bryan Cranston, retrieves a pizza he angrily tossed onto the roof of his Albuquerque home on an episode of Breaking Bad. (AMC)

There are several Breaking Bad tour companies operating in Albuquerque that are usually sold out when tickets become available online. One offers tours in a Winnebago similar to the one Walter White used as a meth kitchen in the first season.

Another Breaking Bad trolley tour serenades its guests with the song Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells.

The three-hour tour includes the car wash that was used as a money-laundering operation by Walter White, a run-down motel that was used as a recurring meth site, the Los Pollos restaurant, character Jesse Pinkman's house and Saul Goodman's law office - which has now spun off a sequel titled Better Call Saul.

The house used in the AMC-TV series "Breaking Bad" with poles for a new fence is shown in this Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 photo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The owners are erecting the fence around the real Albuquerque house made famous by the methamphetamine-making character Walter White, because the property has been plagued by countless fans wanting snapshots and selfies. (Russell Contreras/The Associated Press)

The tours also feature a stop at the house used as Walter White's home. As fans of the show will remember, there was a memorable scene where Walter comes home with a pizza but his wife won't let him in the house. So he throws the pizza up on the roof.

Well, that became a favourite pastime for tourists and turned into such a problem for the actual owners of the home they erected a six-foot fence around their property to discourage pizza pitchers.

The TV show has not only attracted tourists to Albuquerque, but it also has attracted more film and TV shoots. As a matter of fact, the state has passed a film and TV tax credit called the "Breaking Bad Bill" that can give productions up to a 30% tax break.

Even though it's been over 10 years since the launch of Breaking Bad, it's still breaking pretty good for the city of Albuquerque.


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Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels, so host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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