Jim Rash interviews 'Breaking Bad''s Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston on 'Writers Room'
Jim Rash interviews 'Breaking Bad''s Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston on 'Writers Room'

This is my idea of a good time: a smart TV series about my fave TV shows and the writers who write them. So far I've seen three half-hour episodes (presented by The Sundance Channel and Entertainment Weekly). Each show features Oscar-winning screenwriter Jim Rash ("The Descendants")-- who also acts on "Community" and wrote, directed and stars in summer hit "The Way, Way Back"-- gently interviewing the showrunner and various writers and usually one star of a hit show. They talk shop, and luckily Rash--who is sharp, funny and curious--has a good sense of how to get entertaining intel out of these gifted people. (See video preview below.)

"That comes from my improv background," he says. "The core of it is listening, giving and taking, hear what they have to say and add to that. It's also a product of being a writer with a desire to know all things about writing these shows. Any holy grail piece of advice is welcome." Each show, which is edited down from an hour and a half, took on a different tone, he says, "following the different dynamic of that group." They're not talking down to the audience, assuming that they either know the shows or may be writers interested in the process. 

EW editor-in-chief Jess Cagle, who leapt at this opportunity for co-branding as well as cross-pollinating material in EW and its website, pops in at the end of each show for one last question. 

The debut episode for July 29 at 10 PM is about "Breaking Bad," with 62 episodes in the can, which just happens to be returning to the air for its ultimate season. Creators Vince Gilligan and Tom Schnauz went to NYU Film School together, worked on "X-Files," and cooked up the plot about turning a mild Mr. Chips into a meth-cooking Scarface. At the time, Gilligan was working his way out of "the world's worst midlife crisis," he says. Everyone turned them down, saying things like, "we love this story but if we buy it we will be fired." 

AMC, though, which was prepping "Mad Men," went for it. Bryan Cranston, who has won three Emmys so far for playing Walter White, was so taken with the pilot script that he arranged for his interview to be moved up in the schedule. "I wanted to get in there and lift my leg on the material," he said. "Mark it with my scent." 

One of the big rules broken in this series is the very idea of changing a character so radically. Apparently it just isn't done. Nor do most actors tattoo the show on their body, but Cranston got the iconic BrBa tattoo in a discreet place that wouldn't show. "It's the greatest role I'll ever have in my life," he says. "It's my own little talisman." (He shows us.)