Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Five rules for a great season premiere

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 4:12 PM

We TV watchers love our season finales. We celebrate them, we rank them, we debate them. But the season premiere — the time when our beloved show finally returns from its hiatus — can be just as vital. That first hour or half-hour are when viewers are lost or gained.

Fortunately, since Bloglander is the go-to guide for screenwriters and TV showrunners alike, we're here to help.

Five Rules for a Great Season Premiere

1. Remind us what we love about your show. Take this through more drafts than your mid-season episodes. Craft it again and again in the writers room. If the season finale is your best episode of the season (and it should be) the season premiere should be the second best. If it's a comedy, find the best premise you've brainstormed so far. If it's a serialized drama, give us major plot momentum, hint at the season's overall plot, establish the stakes, and tease the villain. If it's a procedural drama with no major serialized elements, well, then give David Caruso a killer cold-open one-liner, I suppose.

2. Don't cheapen the season finale. So you left viewers with a season finale episode. That. Changed. Everything. At least, according to the promos. Well, don't Change. Everything. Right. Back.

Too many shows do this. Everyone quits, then everyone is hired back on. The big cliffhanger is resolved within seconds. (The gun was full of blanks! Or the bullet misses! Or it was all just a virtual reality simulation the entire time!) If we return to Chuck to find the blown-up "Buy More" totally rebuilt, if we return to Jack Bauer to find that, hey, he's back from the Chinese prison he was heading for already, we lose the impact. If you advertise a game-changer, let it change the game. At least for a while. While a few shows (like Lost and Angel) reinvent themselves each season, most eventually need to return to the status quo. But give it some time. Part of Breaking Bad's strength this season is that it actually had the guts to spend half the season dealing with Walt fighting with his wife before he returned to the world of meth-making. The show had enough faith in itself to know that the "premise" didn't have to be a cage.

3. Savor the reintroductions. Every show is composed of little elements in the world that audience has grown to love. There's the setting. There's the little bits of inside jokes or call-outs that comprise the setting. And there are the characters themselves. Here's the opportunity to highlight the personality of each character and world. In each of their opening moments, remind us that Greendale is a crappy college, that Dr. House is acidic, that Christopher Chance is a badass.

A bit cliche?  Perhaps. But there's bad cliche, and then there's fun cliche. This is the latter. ---

4. Give us an actual episode. We want to see our television show. Our actual television show.  Later in the season, we don't mind if you give us dream episodes or musical episodes or what-if episodes or my-god-the-curse-turned-him-into-a-Muppet episodes. If it's a series that has an over-arching ongoing plot ("mythology," we like to call it) you better not give us a humdrum case-of-the-week and expect us to be satisfied. Advance the story in your typical format. No gimmicks.

5. Careful with the time skips, Skippy. Television loves to throw in a  "5 years later" between seasons. Makes sense. It gives the writers a fresh slate of possible plots to work with. They can change a character's personality to something entirely new and spend the rest of the season obliquely referring to "the incident." Sometimes it works. The time skip on Battlestar Galactica gave the show four of its best episodes. But most of the time it seems a bit lazy. The advantage of television over, say, a movie, is that it allows us to watch character development in nearly real time. Over five seasons, the wuss can turn into a bad-ass or the asshole can begin to discover the heart-of-coal. Whenever that happens off screen, we miss out on watching our characters become different people.

For more TV commentary follow @danieltwalters on Twitter.

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