By Megan McCluskey
October 10, 2019

On the day that Breaking Bad was set to shoot the scene in which Walter White slings an entire unsliced pizza onto the roof of his family home, the show’s prop department reportedly had stacks of pizzas ready to be sacrificed in pursuit of the perfect shot. Miraculously, Bryan Cranston ended up nailing the throw on the first take, and thus, Breaking Bad‘s instantly iconic pizza moment was born.

When the episode in question, season 3’s “Caballo sin Nombre,” aired in March 2010, fans immediately latched onto the hilarity of Walt expressing his familial frustration through an act of pizza destruction. After all, everyone knows that you’d have to be pretty upset to willingly waste a perfectly edible pie.

In the nearly 10 years since its debut, Breaking Bad‘s pizza moment has evolved from a hilarious meme to a fan-favorite prank to a polarizing controversy that even showrunner Vince Gilligan has gotten involved in. Frank Sandoval, the owner of Albuquerque’s Breaking Bad RV Tours, tells TIME that he chalks the pizza debacle up to the obsession that some fans have with the series. “In some cases, the show has become a drug for people,” he says.

In honor of the Oct. 11 premiere of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie — and any new meme-worthy content that the Jesse Pinkman-centric sequel may gift us with — let’s take a look at the progression of Breaking Bad’s unprecedented pizza-throwing problem through the years.

Pizza turns prank turns problem

Steve Snowden—Getty Images

Following the debut of “Caballo sin Nombre” (season 3, episode 2), fans hoping to recreate Walt’s perfectly placed pizza pitch began flocking to the Albuquerque house that doubled as Casa White in the show and, you guessed it, tossing pizzas onto its roof.

Unfortunately, this didn’t sit well with the home’s owners, Francis and Louis Padilla, who started exploring ways to dissuade fans from trespassing on their property. At the height of the show’s popularity in 2013, close to 200 people would show up at the house on a daily basis, according to Francis. And of course, some of those visitors would come bearing pizza.

“We’ve had pizzas on our roof. We’ve had pizzas on our driveway; pizzas until we’re sick of looking at pizzas,” Francis told NPR in March 2015. “I’ll sit outside with a shotgun in a rocking chair. You know, like Granny from Beverly Hillbillies.”

Sandoval, who first got involved with Breaking Bad when he appeared on the show as an extra in 2013, tells TIME that he has cleaned many a pizza off the roof of the Padillas’ home and does his best to help them police the area. “In the past, on a daily basis we would have to run up to people and tell them to knock it off,” he says.

Vince Gilligan chimes in

Vince Gilligan attends the premiere Of Netflix's "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie" at Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, California on October 07, 2019.
Frazer Harrison—FilmMagic/Getty Images

With the pizza pilgrimages continuing long after Breaking Bad came to an end in September 2013, showrunner Vince Gilligan attempted to nip the the problem in the bud during a March 2015 appearance on the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast.

“There is nothing original or funny or cool about throwing a pizza on this lady’s roof,” Gilligan said, referring to Francis. “It’s been done before. You’re not the first.”

He went on to make an impassioned plea for fans to treat all of the homes involved in the making of Breaking Bad with respect. “People live in these houses. They’re trying to go about their lives just like we all are,” Gilligan said. “If you see anyone acting like an a—hole, well, I’m not saying go after them personally or anything, but maybe take down their plate number. Something within reason.”

Jonathan Banks, the man you know and love as Mike Ehramntraut, was also a guest on that episode of the podcast and added a warning of his own. “If I catch you doing it, I will hunt you down,” he said. “If you’re a kid and you’re doing that, straighten your a— up, man, because it’s not cool.”

The sliced vs. unsliced debate

Breaking Bad Season 3, Episode 2: "Caballo sin Nombre"
AMC

As anyone who has ever ordered a pizza likely knows, it’s rare for a restaurant to serve customers an unsliced pie. So when Walt’s pizza landed on the roof completely intact, viewers took notice.

According to Breaking Bad pizza supplier Venezia’s — a local Albuquerque pizzeria that’s now called Gino’s NY Style Pizza — the condition of said pizza was no coincidence. “For the scene of the pizza thrown on the roof, [production] ordered like 10 plus [party pizzas]. They ordered more just after that and requested them not to be cut. So we did,” the Gino’s website reads. “When that episode aired, a lot of people that know our pizza came in and started to congratulate us. It was a real exciting experience.”

The show later addressed the sliced vs. unsliced debate in the season 4 episode where Jesse sends Badger to pick up some food for his never-ending party. “That’s the gimmick,” Badger tells Jesse after he questions Venezia’s now-signature style. “This place, they don’t cut their pizza and they pass the savings onto you.”

“After that episode aired, we were getting calls from all over asking us why we don’t cut our pizzas, and asking, do you cut your pizzas?” the Gino’s website reads. “It was a great gimmick to have. It really stirred up the pizza-eating crowd.”

 

During a Reddit AMA in 2017, Gilligan himself broke down exactly why the show opted for an unsliced pie in the pizza-throwing scene.

“We had a long discussion before we shot the pizza on the roof scene about whether or not the pizza should be sliced—because, as all you physicists know, a thrown, sliced pizza would come apart due to centrifugal force or angular momentum (or something like that),” he wrote. And yet, you’re right: no self-respecting pizza parlor sells an unsliced pizza. So we figured we needed to explain it (in the “They pass the savings on to you” scene), or else face our audience’s righteous wrath!”

The fence goes up

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 9
Ursula Coyote/AMC

In 2017, when the problem persisted, Albuquerque’s local KOB 4 news reported that the Padillas had begun construction on a six-foot-tall wrought iron fence to protect their property from the pizza perpetrators.

Joanne Quintana, Francis’ daughter, told KOB 4 that her family had also experienced instances in which tourists had stolen rocks from the yard as souvenirs or made requests for them to close the garage door and move out of the way to create better photo opportunities.

“We feel like we can’t leave because when we, do something happens and that’s ridiculous,” Quintana said. “We don’t want to gate ourselves in. We’re the ones who’s being locked up. We did nothing wrong.”

Quintana declined to comment on the situation when reached by TIME.

Unfortunately, the fence hasn’t stopped some people from continuing to try to land their very own pizza on the Padillas’ roof. “They still try to throw pizzas even though she’s got a gate, she’s got signage. We joke that it’s kind of military-hardened now. Pizza-hardened,” Sandoval says. “Even to this day, people still try to do it. They even try to climb the gate now.”

Continued controversy

An RV resembling the mobile crystal meth lab nicknamed "The Crystal Ship" from the TV show "Breaking Bad" at the series finale party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood California on September 29, 2013.
Stephen Albanese—Getty Images

As the premiere of El Camino draws closer, Sandoval says that interest in his RV tour is higher than ever. “We’ve noticed about a 30 percent uptick [in customers] since the movie announcement,” he tells time. “El Camino coming out has really given the base a shot of adrenaline.”

And with Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta also in full swing, Sandoval estimates that the Padillas are seeing around 200-300 cars pass by their home on a daily basis. He says that Francis, for her part, is continuing to fight the good fight against pizza-wielding visitors.

“Francis Padilla has made it very clear that you’re not going to come to her house and do whatever you want,” Sandoval tells TIME. “She doesn’t mind people coming to see the property, she just wants them to respect her privacy.”

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com.

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