Bad characters: Jesse Pinkman and Walter White from Breaking Bad. Photo: AMC
Most police don't watch crime dramas because they hate the way cravat-wearing writers turn gritty reality into Hollywood fantasy. Murders, they say, don't get solved in an hour of prime time.
But increasingly crooks are watching such shows on their giant (stolen) plasma screens to use them as tutorials for future ventures.
When Breaking Bad first came out, nearly every drug cook we interviewed either volunteered they watched Breaking Bad religiously or had Breaking Bad DVDs in their home when we raided them.
Just as keen home cooks turn to MasterChef for recipe ideas, up-and-coming gangsters look to programs such as Breaking Bad for career development.
Al Pacino in Scarface. Memorabilia from the film was among $55 million in assets seized from the Mokbel crew.
For those not familiar with the award-winning series, high school chemistry teacher Walter White becomes a prolific methamphetamine producer (with the aid of a former student) at first to pay for his cancer treatment and later to satisfy his greed.
In a case of life emulating art, Australia's best-known drug trafficker Tony Mokbel's purest speed was produced by a qualified chemical engineer and the chemist's brother.
Police estimated the team produced at least $100 million in illicit drugs for Mokbel's syndicate, known as The Company.
Melbourne drug dealer Dino Dibra "watched Reservoir Dogs too many times".
''They were like a machine. They could produce a million-dollar cook every three or four days. One bragged they were in the top three producers in the southern hemisphere. Don't ask me how they worked that out,'' one detective said.
When one of the brothers was caught a third time, he eventually agreed to be a star prosecution witness against the syndicate - just like in the movies. Police seized around $55 million in assets from the Mokbel crew, including a $2000 framed memorabilia set from the gangster movie Scarface.
Victoria's clandestine laboratory squad's Detective Sergeant Campbell McNair said: ''When Breaking Bad first came out, nearly every drug cook we interviewed, especially the low-level pseudoephedrine-type cooks, either volunteered they watched Breaking Bad religiously and it had some impact on them cooking drugs or had Breaking Bad DVDs in their home when we raided them. Ice addicts thought it looked easy and thought they could save some money.''
James Cagney (centre) counted 1950s Melbourne crooks Norm Bradshaw and Freddie Harrison among his fans.
Police are concerned that Breaking Bad wannabes are using boarding houses, hotel rooms and backpacking hostels as bases for potentially explosive attempted drug cook-ups. In separate cases, US police have caught a school teacher with stage-three cancer and a 74-year-old maths professor trafficking methamphetamines. In another investigation, two men were discovered trying to copy the Breaking Bad campervan mobile meth lab.
In a murder case, a man tried to dispose of his girlfriend's body in an acid container. When police searched his home they found a series episode in his DVD player where the same method was used.
Victoria Police say some street hoods who carry handguns are copying the sideways grip often used by gangsters in US movies.
They also report regularly finding Australian true crime books and DVDs when they raid drug suspects.
When Melbourne drug dealer Dino Dibra was asked outside court why he had turned to crime, he said: ''Mate, I've just watched Reservoir Dogs too many times.'' It didn't end well. Dibra was shot dead in October 2000.
When the big Melbourne crooks of the 1950s, Norm Bradshaw and Freddie Harrison, were wanted for a chat they could be found at the pictures, watching the latest Jimmy Cagney or George Raft gangster flick. Some things never change.