When it comes to television, it’s all about the hook. The premise and cast keep viewers coming back, but it’s the opening scene that makes you sit down and tuck the remote control away.
Over the years, we’ve seen great openers for television shows. Nowadays, cinematographers give more respect and thought to the opening scene for a television show. Here are 10 great opening scenes for equally great television shows (in no particular order).
Dexter (2006-present). He’s the serial killer with a soul. The opening scene features Dexter getting dressed for work which seems fairly uneventful, but it gives you a real glimpse into the personality you watch unfold each episode. We see him cut and squeeze a blood orange, very symbolic given his vocation and avocation. As he pulls his t-shirt over his rippling muscles we get a peek of his face which shows either no emotion or a smirk, depending on your interpretation. It’s tough to decipher and that’s exactly what you come away with when you watch the show. Sometimes you feel one way about him, other days you’ll reverse that opinion. It’s a perfect set up for what comes along with each episode.
Mary Tyler Moore (1970-1977). If there’s a number one in this field, it would have to be the opening scene toMary Tyler Moore where she throws her hat into the air. Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. Why, super single Mary Tyler Moore, of course. Her bit of throwing her hat in the air has been spoofed many times over the years as a symbolic gesture of power by single women everywhere, the feminist peace sign. Oprah did that bit in one episode, saying it had always stayed with her asa power symbol. You’re going to make it after all.
See the Mary Tyler Moore YouTube intro.
Fantasy Island (1977-1984). During the late ’70s, we watched a lot of ensemble casts pop up, dotted with guest-star actors on the D list, as Kathy Griffin would say. The opening scene of Fantasy Island showed Tattoo, the late Herve Villechaize and the late Ricardo Montalban watching as a plane circled the island, bringing in new passengers in search of a fantasy. Tattoo would run to the bell tower and scream the obvious: “De plane, de plane!!”
See the Fantasy Island YouTube intro.
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971). Before the Beverly Hills Housewives, there was another famous Beverly Hills group: The Beverly Hillbillies. The opening scene of a down-home family making its way in an overstuffed truck showed in microcosm the kind of fish-out-of-water story you were in for. New money only starts to define the crux of the show. That opening scene with Granny, Irene Ryan, perched in the truck driving to her new Beverly Hills digs wearing her Sunday-go-to-meeting hat, presented a foreshadowing of the push and pull you saw in any episode.
See The Beverly Hillbillies YouTube intro.
Happy Days (1974-1984). The record starts to spin on the jukebox, and we see clips of the boys being boys at the diner. Henry, the Fonz, Winkler attempts to run a comb through his slicked, perfectly-coiffed do but decides not to toy with perfection. He steps back and does the “Heyyyy” look we came to expect to see at least once an episode.
See The Happy Days intro.
Weeds (2005-present). Mary-Louise Parker’s quirky personality rules the show, but for the opening, you don’t see her once, or anyone else in the cast. Still the opening and closing of each episode pull you in and tie up the plot. The creators would have you believe Nancy Botwin (Parker) is a widowed soccer mom who turns into a drug dealer after her husband dies at an early age. If you watch the show a few times, you get the idea she has been holding back a fullback personality behind that soccer mom smile. The original opener for Weeds featured an old-style song, Tiny Boxes, done by a bevy of entertainers to fit the episode. It’s all about people stuck in the ‘burbs, living ordinary lives, doing the same thing day in and day out. Such was Nancy Botwin’s life before she discovered there was significant money to be made in the drug trade.
See the Weeds YouTube intro.
The Sopranos (1999-2007). Woke up this morning, and got myself a gun. That gritty line and many just like play over a scene of a driver on a New Jersey freeway. We presume it’s Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini, scoping out the streets for future waste management business.
See the Sopranos YouTube intro.
The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969). The intro. evolved from a simple black and white, multi-photo slideshow that introduced Robert Conrad as Jim West and Ross Martin as his faithful sidekick, and man of many disguises, Artemus Gordon. As the characters gained popularity, the intro pushed them upfront, but one image remained the same: the lone cowboy, presumably Jim West, leaning against a post, arms folded. Odd given that Jim West and Artemus Gordon weren’t cowboys in the real sense but G-men sent into the West to do some secret service activity.
See the Wild, Wild West YouTube intro. (from Seasons 3 & 4).
All in the Family (1971-1979). Archie Bunker, Carroll O’Connor, was born in Forest Hills, New York, just outside of Queens so seeing him perched at a piano in his tiny home in New York with his wife Edith, Jean Stapelton, seems natural in this show opener. She’s wearing her ’50s housewife attire and he’s gripping a cigar as they sing Those Were the Days, a song and setting that describes the show.
See the All in the Family YouTube intro.
Dragnet (1967-1970). Jack Webb’s droll voice paved the way for Law & Order. Dragnet’s opener panned the city of Los Angeles from an aerial view in a constant visual. The opening clip ended the same way with Sgt. Joe Friday proclaiming: I carry a badge, and then the dramatic dum, de, dum dum of the theme music. An announcer added: The story you are about to see is true.The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
See the Dragnet YouTube intro.
This is just a smattering of a list that stretches far as producers have gotten better with marketing their cinematic wares. Throw this topic out at a party, and I guarantee you’ll start a conversation. Everyone has a favorite.