TV dramas colored by Mexico’s drug violence

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When “Breaking Bad” features its own “narcocorrido” — drug ballad — in an upcoming episode, it’s clear that Mexico’s bloody narcotics trafficking culture has seeped into the TV drama. The same is true for “Weeds,” which shifted from homegrown American drug stories when it transplanted its marijuana-dealing mom closer to the California-Mexican border last season. The specter of real-world drug violence is putting a sharper, darker edge on the TV dramas even as Mexico’s casualties spiral beyond the stuff of fiction. Both AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and Showtime’s “Weeds” remain focused on domestic worlds and characters who turn to crime because of financial pressures, the shows’ producers say, but the devastating foreign narcotics wars can’t be ignored. Drug violence has spiked since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a national crackdown on organized crime in 2006. Battles among cartels, their rivals and soldiers have led to nearly 9,000 deaths and a cross-border crime spillover. In recent weeks, the mayhem has included a grenade attack on a city police chief’s house and a police station in the western state of Michoacan, and a deadly campaign aimed at killing a Ciudad Juarez officer every 48 hours to force the police chief to resign. “We don’t live in a vacuum and when my writers and myself read these stories in the newspapers, naturally our minds turn to the idea of incorporating some of these elements into our series,” said “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan. The Emmy Award-winning series stars Bryan Cranston as a cancer-stricken New Mexico chemistry teacher, Walter White, who becomes a methamphetamine maker to leave his family secure. This week, it received a Peabody Award, a prize given by the University of Georgia for excellence in radio and television broadcasting. The show’s first year ended in a crescendo of brutality. Walter started doing business with a Mexican drug lord who, in the season finale, beat an underling in a fatal frenzy — leaving Walter to deal with the aftermath in this year’s opening episode. In the April 19 episode, Walter’s brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, starts work with a task force that includes the Mexican federal police. “I don’t want to give away the plot, but Hank does spend a little time outside Juarez (Ciudad Juarez, near El Paso in northern Mexico) and witnesses some pretty remarkable things,” Gilligan said.