June 19, 2007 Jill

Let’s take a quick tour through the opening acts of some of the pilots that aired thus far this year.Traveler is a summer replacement series with a pilot written by David Diglio. It opened with the main titled followed by ten minutes of drama before the first commercial break. These ten minutes are used to set up the series premise. There’s some character development along the way, but the main purpose of this act is to establish the continuing mystery which will drive the series. The show launches you straight into the action: two men running through Manhattan — from something. Then the story flashes back a few days and moves forward full circle to let you know why they were running. Or at least partly why, but then the series about them continuing to run and continuing to try discover why it is they are doing so. It’s quite a clever opening and very hooky.

Dirt, on the other hand, devotes three minutes and 20-odd seconds to a pre-titles teaser that is all about character. Dirt is the Courtney Cox vehicle about a tabloid editor. The pilot was written by Matthew Carnahan. The short sequence that opens the series features no regular characters but Cox’s Lucy and doesn’t really hint at the episodic plot or any of the season arcs, other than the fact that Lucy is hated and people may or may not want to kill her.

The pilot for Friday Night Lights, written by Peter Berg based on a novel by H.G. Bissinger, opens with seven minutes of drama before we get to the titles. We meet many of the main characters, their problems and the dynamics of some of their relationships to each other. The premise of the series is established and there’s a little sex and a little violence thrown in as well. By the time you get to those titles, you’re pretty deep into the world.

The Riches pilot was really strong in my opinion, but I didn’t like the Teaser. I felt it verged on a shark jump, but then the episodes which follow also seem to get awfully close to that border. After the Teaser, the episode twists and turns and changes with every act and I think that makes it very successful as a viewing experience. Where I think the Teaser goes wrong is that it works so hard to establish character and give Eddie Izzard a forum to be Eddie Izzard that it stretches credibility. And the opening five minutes and 45 seconds are all about character, mostly Eddie’s as the lead Wayne Malloy. And when we go to the titles, we really have no idea what the episode to follow is going to be about. Izzard, by the way, shares a story credit with Dmitry Lipkin, who takes the solo teleplay credit.

Meadowlands, written by Robert Murphy, which premiered earlier this week on Showtime, has a short little pre-titles Teaser that does nothing to establish the characters of the four blind folded people riding in a van. Nor does it tell us much about the episodic story to come. What it does do is give us the series premise and a taste of back story. Actually it didn’t add much information to the series’ poster and it didn’t make me want to keep viewing.

And then there’s Jekyll, written by Steven Moffat, my new hero. The pre-titles teaser runs nearly four minutes. It introduces us to two of the main characters, one of whom is looking at this story world with fresh eyes, just like we, the viewers, are. And what we learn about is a third character who isn’t present. There is a promise of horror that we simply can’t believe. In fact when the Teaser ends, we feel that the writer is building up to something he’s not going to deliver on. But like The Riches, this is a pilot episode that twists and turns and changes and throws you for a lot of loops.

For me, the most successful opening acts were long, entertaining and gave me a sense of what was to come. I like a teaser that has lots of character and draws you into the story to come. For me, FNL and Traveler both did that well, but on the other hand, The Riches and Jekyll were both able to redeem themselves with what was to come.