ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The southwestern New Mexico city that's played home to "Breaking Bad" is preparing for the end, with the Emmy-award winning series airing its last episode on Sunday.
As the AMC finale approaches, Albuquerque is planning on celebrating with watch parties and red carpet casting events in a city still benefiting from a tourism boost thanks to the drama's popularity.
Despite the show's dark themes of drug trafficking and violence, tourism officials say "Breaking Bad" highlighted neighborhoods around the city and gave viewers a sense of Albuquerque. The show displayed the city's downtown Route 66, its various stores and restaurants, and even took audiences to Latino barrios and nearby American Indian Pueblos — places rarely seen in Hollywood.
"Before the show, Albuquerque didn't have an image," said Ann Lerner, Albuquerque's film liaison. "When I started this job in 2003 and I mentioned New Mexico, people would say, 'Oh, I love Santa Fe.' No one thought of Albuquerque."
That has changed in the five seasons that "Breaking Bad" has aired on AMC, growing its reputation and buzz as Netflix users raced to catch up on previous episodes. Since then, trolley and private limo tours of scenes from the show have sold out and created waiting lists that go on for weeks. A city-run website detailing locations of scenes — from seedy motels to the one-time headquarters of a now deceased drug lord — has seen tens of thousands of visitors.
The series, she said, has boosted inquiries to the city's film office. And two more television series are currently under production, Lerner said.
Albuquerque businesses also have taken advantage by selling "Breaking Bad" themed products like "blue meth" candy and character-related clothing. One art store, Masks y Mas, continues to sell statues of La Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of death. That underground saint was shown in one season opener and was the spiritual protector of the show's cartel assassins, cousins Leonel and Marco.
Meanwhile, the show has become a weekly social media event during every airing as Albuquerque residents and visitors post photos and links of sites they've visited. Often, a character's death or a single quote can spark a hashtag on Twitter to trend worldwide.
"We expect this craze to continue for a while," said Tania Armenta, a vice-president for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau. "All this has translated into more visitors who come here and then enjoy all aspects of the city."
"Breaking Bad" follows former high school teacher Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, producing methamphetamine with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul.
The show recently won the Emmy for outstanding drama.
In accepting the award, series creator Vince Gilligan even gave Albuquerque a shoutout. "Thank you to a wonderful crew in Albuquerque, N.M.," he said, generating more buzz on social media.
On finale night, a number of watch parties have been scheduled around town and food related to the show has been ordered in advance.
Jesuit volunteers at Immaculate Conception Church, for example, will hold a watch party in the basement of the downtown church. Other fans will gather at Hotel Albuquerque for a special VIP showing serviced with special cocktails named after "Breaking Bad" characters.
"I'm nervous," said Lerner, who plans on joining the city's watching frenzy but from her own living room. "I have no idea how it's going to end."
Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras