ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. (AP) — It's been five years of meth addicts, deadly shootings, violent drug traffickers and hidden secrets of the desert.
And throughout the filming of AMC hit television series "Breaking Bad" in Albuquerque, interest in this Southwestern city from tourists has grown and local businesses have sought to cash in. A doughnut shop sells treats laced with blue "meth" toppings, for example, while a bike rental business gives tours of characters' favorite spots.
But now that "Breaking Bad" is returning for its final episodes, Albuquerque shops and tourist attractions are trying to take advantage of the popular show's last moments before the series fades from memory.
The city's visitors' bureau hosted a watch party Sunday for the premiere of the last season's first episode, drawing more than 450 fans. Stores held specials to sell "Breaking Bad" memorabilia. There was even a "Breaking Bad" marathon at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Albuquerque, followed by Mass, then its own watch party for the last season's premiere.
"It's been great for us," said Debbie Ball, owner of The Candy Lady store, who sells blue "Breaking Bad" meth treats and offers limousine tours of scenes from the series. "People are always coming in and asking about 'Breaking Bad.' I hate to see it end but I also can't wait to see how it ends."
"Breaking Bad," which was filmed largely in Albuquerque, follows former high school teacher Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, producing and selling methamphetamine with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. The show, with its dark themes and addictive story-line, often features different parts of the city from a regular carwash to well-known local restaurants.
The Nielsen ratings company said Monday that 5.9 million people watched the first of the Emmy Award-winning show's eight final episodes Sunday night. That's nearly double the largest audience it has ever reached for an episode. The previous record was just under 3 million and came last August.
"At first, Albuquerque was shown through its skies and a lot of local spots," said Tania Armenta, a vice president for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The fact is that Albuquerque really has become its own a character in the show."
Recently producers of "Breaking Bad" thanked the city of Albuquerque for playing host through the filming of the show's five seasons by purchasing advertising on billboards around the city. The billboard read: "Thanks Albuquerque. We had great chemistry."
Keith West-Harrison, co-owner of Miss Celie's Spa, which has sold blue bath salts called "Bathing Bad," said show producers didn't stop him from selling his product even though he didn't get permission to use the term. (It's actually bath salt used to bathe, not the street drug also known as "bath salt," although it resembles the blue meth from the show.)
In fact, he said crews ordered 450 bags of his product for the show's wrap party. "They've been very supportive," he said.
Ann Lerner, the city's film liaison, said although the series is ending, the show has sparked more interest in the city from television and film producers. NBC's "The Night Shift" will begin filming later this month, she said. Another project, which hasn't been announced, will start production in September, she added.
"It's amazing," Lerner said. "People in Hollywood can actually spell Albuquerque now."
Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .