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  • Hot Cold Openings

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    I’ve mentioned the amazing Friend-of-the-Blog Jeff Greenstein before, and here he is again with a great idea. He suggests that I talk about the right way to open your spec pilot. Yes. This is huge — a lot of people never read past the opening, so making it as perfect as possible is crucial. Jeff says: I am a big believer that the opening line of a pilot (or the opening image, or the teaser) should be the series in microcosm.

    Yes. Exactly. I agree. I do this and I suspect many other writers do as well. In fact, Jeff is prepared to prove that they do. Here is a darn impressive list he composed:

    In the Cheers pilot, the teaser is Sam with an underage kid who’s trying to get a drink using a fake military ID. Kid says he was in the war. Sam asks what it was like. “It was gross,” the kid replies with a shudder. “Yeah, that’s what they say — war is gross,” Sam replies. The teaser gives you a sense of the place and the guy.

    The Battlestar pilot has that great opening scene with Number Six and the emissary from Earth. The scene says, “Remember those metal robots? They look like humans now. And they’re going to fucking kill you.”

    The Lost pilot starts with a close-up of an eye opening, and the aftermath of the plane crash. This show is about consciousness and strandedness and tragedy.

    Will & Grace starts with Grace in bed with her sleeping fiancé, yet on the phone dishing with Will about George Clooney’s hotness. It’s the perfect encapsulation of their odd relationship.

    The Desperate Housewives teaser: In the midst of tranquil suburban splendor, Mary Alice blows her head off.

    The West Wing pilot: In a bar, talking off-the-record with a reporter, Sam Seaborn is distracted by a hot girl who’s giving him the eye. This show is about politics and sex (well, it started out that way), and the “backstage” lives of people in government.

    Wow. That’s a fantastic list. I would add the teaser of the pilot of The Wire, in which a detective gently interrogates a neighborhood kid about a senseless murder — the gross illogic of which the kid takes in stride. The series’ whole sense of an overwhelming inescapable system of crime is there in that scene.

    And the Buffy pilot teaser? Remember, it was that bit that looked like the girl was about to be munched by a vampire, but in fact SHE was the vampire? It told you to throw out your dramatic expectations, that danger could come from anywhere, and that women were going to have some power in this world. It was Buffy’s own story, but told from the vampire side first.

    Writers tend to agonize over their teasers, especially that first page, and especially if the project is a pilot. If you’ve just shrugged and started with your main character waking up in bed, then I’d suggest that you might’ve missed a really good opportunity. Think about the heart of your show — what’s the central dynamic? The central message? Is there a way to capture it in your opening sequence? Go ahead, agonize. It’s good for you and your spec.

    Lunch: wonton soup at Noodle Planet.

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