Before he appeared in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston was best known for his comedic role as classic sitcom dad Hal on Malcolm in the Middle. Starting in 2008, however, he began appearing in the role which would change his career trajectory, starring as Walter White, a downtrodden chemistry teacher who begins cooking meth ostensibly to pay for his lung cancer treatments and provide for his family, only to become intoxicated by the power he feels from dominating the drug trade.
Though Breaking Bad seems like an obvious hit in retrospect, it wasn't considered so at the time. Multiple networks including Showtime, TNT, and HBO passed on creator Vince Gilligan's pitch, leaving the relatively new AMC network (which had only recently begun to venture into original programming with Mad Men) as the only buyer. Fortunately for AMC, Cranston gave his all to the performance of Walter White, and he perfectly captured the bitterness, rage, and fury of the White American male, leading to several Emmy wins and nominations. Along with Gilligan's sharp writing and more award-worthy performances from Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and the rest of the stellar cast, Breaking Bad went from underdog pitch to a masterpiece that's often cited as one of the best TV dramas of all time.