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Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Breaking Bad' And A Little Sad

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We've been doing PCHH for two years now, and we've never really talked in detail about Breaking Bad. That's kind of weird, but it's partly an artifact of the fact that it took us a while to develop an adequate background, since the only one of us who was a regular watcher from the beginning was Mike Katzif, our producer.

But this week, with me and Glen fully up to speed (along with Mike) and with Stephen and Trey recent experimenters who watched a few early episodes and then jumped ahead to Sunday's season premiere — heresy, I know, but they did it anyway — we dive in.

In second position this week is a topic that was brought to us on our Facebook page by Tanya Barber, who asked: "What is it about a movie (Titanic, anything by Shyamalan, etc.) that is so amazing and lots of people love it and it gets Oscar nods when it comes out, but years later it becomes a huge joke to people and no one will admit loving it when it first came out?"

Producer Jess Gitner, one of our other favorite NPR types, snapped this photo of Mike as he spoke for Friday's show about his old job and his new one.
/ Jess Gitner
Jess Gitner
Producer Jess Gitner, one of our other favorite NPR types, snapped this photo of Mike as he spoke for Friday's show about his old job and his new one.

So we talk about how things age, what makes people turn against things that were once highly thought of, and how the gaze of history looks poorly on earnestness.

Not to bury the lede, but the third segment this week is actually the most important by far: Sadly, we are saying goodbye to Our Esteemed Producer Mike Katzif, who is departing for a new job at WNYC in New York. We are putting together plans to keep PCHH on track, but it's a huge loss for our show as well as for all of us personally.

As you'll hear, we do our best nevertheless to muddle through this, the last show all five of us will do together before he leaves. (Mike actually leaves after next week's show, but I'll be out in California at the TV critics' press tour then.)

We try to lift the mood by treating you to a peek at some raw audio that gives you a hint of how much we can be to handle for a patient producer. But we're very sad, and we're still processing, as you will be able to tell. Mike's the only person whose stamp has been on every episode, whose periodic absences we've never even tried to cover for. When the rest of us need time off, you get subs. When Mike is gone, that's when you get reruns.

Stephen and I are fond of saying that when we dreamed up the show in his living room in the spring of 2010, it came to us pretty much fully formed: the two of us, plus Trey and Glen, with Mike producing, and called Pop Culture Happy Hour. All of that is true. But we all had a tremendous amount to learn — far more than we realized as we sat around fantasizing about taking our fun conversations and making them a show.

A lot of that education has come from Mike, who had done the hard work of radio/audio more than any of us had. He's always known what the show needed and what it should sound like, and he's always had the crucial mercilessness it requires to make the arm-circling gesture that means "FOR THE SAKE OF ALL OF OUR SANITY PLEASE WRAP THIS SEGMENT UP BECAUSE SERIOUSLY." (At that point, he also usually has his head buried in his other hand, so if there's a facial expression that goes with it, I've never seen it.)

At our best, we are something of a noisy, free-associating steam engine, and Mike has both helped build the tracks and kept us from flying off them. He's helped pick topics, guide the discussion and — not for nothing — he turned out to be terrific when we put him on the show.

And of course, when we had no idea what music to use for the intro and the outro — what I, for no particular reason, started calling our "in-and-out music" — and no idea where to get any, it turned out that Mike had a band, because ... of course he did.

There was no meeting and no discussion and no vetting. We said, "Just pick something you like; we trust you." And we've used that music ever since, to the point where I can't imagine anything more right, and we will continue to use it until the day Mike sues us into the poorhouse.

A final note: While everybody values what Mike does, I claim host's prerogative in extending special thanks to him. I think as a host, you desperately need a producer who, in addition to having all the tech skills you lack, can act like an ancillary brain, anticipating things you haven't thought of, questions you forgot to ask, clarifications you forgot to elicit.

Ironically, Mike edits out most of his own best work — he'll stop us, have us circle back and clarify something, or suggest we elaborate on a particular point, and then he'll stitch it all together so you never know it happened, or that it was his idea.

As well as being our dear pal, he is the most priceless of colleagues: someone who cares not at all for getting credit or building his personal brand or whatever such nonsense, just for delivering the best possible result and making everybody look good.

WNYC is tooth-grindingly lucky to be getting him, we know he will do great work for them, and it is only the most fundamental professional respect between public-media organizations that will keep me in the coming months from retrieving him with a butterfly net after they figure out that they went looking for a producer and brought back a rock star.

Of course, we rally to bring you this week's What's Making Us Happy This Week segment, because even when we're sad, we're still being made happy.

As always, come and find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter: me, Stephen, Trey, Glen, and especially Mike.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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