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Peter Gould offers valuable insight during a Q&A with “Better Call Saul” class

The co-creator of the critically acclaimed show joined University students to discuss the decisions made on set and in the writers’ room

Throughout the session, Gould shared a variety of insights about the show’s creation, from the writing process to the commercial decisions made by its showrunners.
Throughout the session, Gould shared a variety of insights about the show’s creation, from the writing process to the commercial decisions made by its showrunners.

Students in the new “Better Call Saul” media studies course convened on Zoom Tuesday morning and eagerly awaited the arrival of a very special guest — Peter Gould, the television writer and co-creator of the show. In an engaging and intriguing hour-long Q&A session, Gould not only shed light on the behind-the-scenes elements of the show, but also heard interpretations and analysis from students about their favorite aspects of the series.  What resulted was a delightful exchange of ideas between an esteemed industry professional and inquisitive and thoughtful students. 

“Better Call Saul,” the Emmy nominated prequel to “Breaking Bad,” has become a recent fan favorite in the television world. Six seasons of meticulously thought-out storylines, plots and characters provide the perfect focal point for academic analysis. Assoc. Media Studies Prof. William Little’s spring 2024 course, named after the show itself, creates a space for students to apply theoretical readings from various disciplines — from anthropology to legal studies — to the very scenes fans obsess over daily. 

According to Little, organizing the Q&A session took lots of planning and required him to leverage several connections. Jocelyn Diaz, television producer and executive and class of 1999 alumna, connected Little to Mark Johnson — a producer on “Better Call Saul”  and class of 1971 alumnus — and Johnson then connected Little to Gould, which set talks of a visit to the class in motion. Little said that the purpose of the Q&A session was to not only offer a peek behind the scenes of the show, but also to add another dimension to the class material. 

“We hoped that Peter Gould would actually kind of serve as a resource for the students — that the answers he gave would be such that they would entail information or ideas that students could use to supplement or complement the work they were doing in the course,” Little said. 

Throughout the session, Gould shared a variety of insights about the show’s creation, from the writing process to the commercial decisions made by its showrunners. At one point, he shared that the producers were initially hesitant to allow the show to be streamed on Netflix — a decision that would eventually boost the show’s success.

“The initial reaction by some of the folks at the network was that [streaming] is going to destroy the show. Everyone will know they can watch it on Netflix — they won’t watch it on air,” Gould said. “I’m glad everyone came to an agreement, because suddenly the audience started popping and the show became a phenomenon. And I think it was because it was really a show that was made to be consumed.”

For the session, students were asked to formulate a question in advance that referenced one of the course’s assigned readings. Little — with the help of Jake Berton, the fourth-year College student who helped Little create the course — then chose speakers based on their questions and asked students to present their questions in a specific order. Students asked about prominent imagery in the show and its significance, including electricity, technology and fire. 

One motif that appears in “Better Call Saul” that Gould discussed at length was the cell phone. Since the show takes place in 2002, flip phones appear frequently throughout the show — protagonist Jimmy McGill has a brief stint in which he sells burner phones to shady customers. Cell phones function in the show both as a prop and a narrative device — however, Gould noted that it presented the writers with challenges. 

“Technology was an issue for us constantly, especially in terms of communication,” Gould said. “The cellphone has traditionally been the enemy of drama. So much drama is about communication and lack of communication, and so you have to come up with new ways of dealing with cell phones and texting.” 

According to Berton, the conversation was a productive exchange for everyone involved. Gould took an interest in the material students have been working with all semester — at the mention of a particular reading for the course, Gould requested that it be shared with him for his own reading. Berton said he was pleased at Gould’s willingness to interact with students. 

“I think Gould was really able to kind of take the questions in whatever direction he saw fit, but that didn't mean that he completely dismissed what students [brought] to the table,” Berton said. “You could tell that he was really sort of surprised by the depth of the questions and the quotes that people were citing and bringing in.”

Students said that Gould’s insights enriched the learning experience of students in the class. Third-year College student Ethan Marx reflected on the conversation, noting that Gould provided eye-opening answers to even the most challenging questions. 

“I thought he was really willing to sort of just play around with stuff,” Marx said. “People were asking about, like, you know, sort of obscure sort of concepts, and he was very willing to sort of engage, which I think was impressive and, and, like, just cool for him to take his time out and engage.

The most notable aspect of the conversation was the collaborative and cohesive flow of the dialogue between members of the course and Gould. They continued to introduce new and fresh interpretations of the show that Gould invited and built on. Little pointed out the value in academic exchange and discussion of culturally significant works of art like “Better Call Saul.”

“The purpose of a liberal arts education, particularly in the kind of dynamic that we can construct in a seminar, is to foster a kind of community,” Little said.

Instead of being labeled a Q&A, the Zoom link to the class was titled “A Conversation With Peter Gould.” The session was exactly that — not just a lecture from Gould, but a discussion in which ideas and knowledge flowed in both directions. The conversation with the TV giant not only gave members of the class insight on the media industry, but also offered a new perspective on the scenes and shots they have become so familiar with over the semester.

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