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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 9th, 2013
06:28 PM ET

'Breaking Bad' and the era of the TV anti-hero

Chances are this Sunday night, a few million television viewers will be home, cuddled up with loved ones, watching murder, and sex, and crystal meth-making on television.

"Breaking Bad" is back for its final eight episodes, and despite all moral obligations to reject the series, it was just named program of the year by the Television Critics Association.

If a murderous drug dealer isn't to viewers' liking, other villains have lit up the screen in ground-breaking shows. "Mad Men" features adulterous advertising executive Don Draper. And then there's the handsome devil named Dexter, who just happens to wrap people in Saran wrap and kill them.

Unseemly as they are, these three shady fellows attracted nearly 9 million total viewers during their most recent season premiers.

"The relationship is that of rooting for these characters ... who are doing these terrible things, and then asking ourselves, 'Well, why are we rooting for this person?' That is the kind of tension that makes this kind of television so exciting," said Brett Martin, author of "Difficult Men."

Martin's new book looks at America's transition from the small time troublemakers on programs like "The Andy Griffith Show," to the downright criminal lives of today's hit characters.

"The common wisdom for many, many years was that people just wouldn't let these types of characters into their living rooms," said Martin. "That all obviously has changed, and I think we root for them because their real, because they are full characters, they're incredibly well written, and they have problems like we have problems."

Martin argues that the complex programming transforming Sunday programs into black holes of binge viewing is the stuff of a revolution, a new golden age of storytelling more open to taking risks

"All of a sudden you didn't need the most people watching any given show," said Martin. "Frankly, you know, it's still an incredibly exciting time to watch TV."

Exciting, he says, because of who controls the stage.

"When we think of film we think of the director, and how much power the director has," said Martin. "This new role of show runner elevates the writer for the first time to king of television."

And right now, it seems, television is the king of entertainment. One with royally bad habits that viewers just can't stop watching.

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