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Stewart A. Lyons

Year of Graduation: 
1969
Exeter graduate Stewart A. Lyons

​“You have to come up with inventive ways of doing things, because no show ever has enough of a budget to do everything ... ."

Actor Bryan Cranston (left) with Stewart Lyons ’69, line producer for the show “Breaking Bad.”

When the executive producer of “Breaking Bad,” one of cable TV’s most critically acclaimed shows, is looking for a unique prop to enhance an episode, who gets the call? Stewart Lyons ’69: the show’s seasoned line producer.

Lyons has been in television and filmmaking for more than 30 years and recently received his second Emmy nomination for his work on “Breaking Bad,” a show about a high school chemistry teacher who decides to “cook” and sell methamphetamine to provide for his family when he learns he has incurable lung cancer. Lyons is the person who deftly handles all of a show’s logistics, from budgeting and scheduling each episode, hiring the crews, renting the cameras and soundstages, to overseeing the filming process.

“You have to come up with inventive ways of doing things, because no show ever has enough of a budget to do everything the writers and directors would like,” Lyons says. “And since creative people like choices rather than limits, you need to develop multiple solutions to any problem.”

Most unique prop? “One of the drug cartel characters gets beheaded and we needed to see the head moving through the desert scrub so that one of our characters thinks the man is still alive,” explains Lyons. “The solution was to mount the head on a tortoise. But then the writers wanted the head to explode. I had to coordinate finding a big enough tortoise (and not an endangered species!), getting a model head made, special effects explosives planted inside the skull, stunt men to be blown into the air after the explosion, and high-speed cameras to record the carnage. All in less than a week. And of course, since it was winter in New Mexico, the tortoise had to have his own heated trailer.”

Television production means working with tight budgets, tighter deadlines, production crews of more than 150 people, and 12- to 14-plus-hour days. And Lyons says it’s not a career for those looking for stability: “If you don’t like looking for work, this isn’t the industry for you. I have worked on 29 different series and an equal number of television pilots and feature films. In a given year, I might work for two or three different studios, each with its own way of doing things.”

Lyons says Exeter prepared him for some aspects of TV production. “I came in as a lower,” he says,“and going to Exeter taught me how to work under extreme pressure at very high standards.” The Marblehead, MA, native credits his English and drama instructors B. Rodney Marriott and Thomas Lee Hinkle for encouraging his interest in drama. As a student, Lyons performed in and worked as a stagehand in the Academy’s productions of Hamlet and Macbeth.

After realizing he had a gift for organizing creative projects, he majored in film and television production at NYU and later went there for his M.B.A. At the same time he was in graduate school, he was in the prestigious Directors Guild of America Assistant Director Training Program. His first movie production was Three Days of the Condor. Some of his best-known gigs were “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Cagney & Lacey” and “Taxi.” “I’ve just finished my 569th television episode,” Lyons says. During his career, he has worked as a production manager, first assistant director, director and writer.

Ultimately, Lyons says he succeeds in the make-believe world by being able to support a variety of visions: “Show business is a mixture of technology, creativity and business. You have to understand all aspects of the process as well as the different kinds of people who do them in order to get the best possible show on the screen.”

—Famebridge Witherspoon