Post Scriptum: The Art of Premiere-making

And so September begins, bringing with it the usual slew of season openers that mark the month’s first few weeks. This is arguably the most anticipated time in a TV fan’s year. The months of waiting for the questions, cliffs and mysteries to be resolved and absolved finally arrives.

But premieres are more than just the stitch up of plot ends left by last season’s finales. The purpose of premieres is to keep viewers interested by foreshadowing story arcs and themes, as well as maintaining character continuity and originality. Doing all of this while keeping shows minty-fresh, approachable and genuinely interesting nails first-episode-making down to an art that is utterly irreplaceable in the balance of serial television.

As I rove over networks watching premieres of shows both old and new I can’t help but feel the pressure show runners must endure entering the landscape of primetime television. With such a diverse offering of shows ranging from plots involving doctors to demon hunters, it’s no wonder the art of premiere making hasn’t been completely mastered.

Here are some clear Do Not’s I picked up while actively premiere-watching this past week:

Back-story Me

This one pertains mainly to the new shows premiering this season. I realize writers want to dispense the back-story of their series’ as quickly and cleverly as they can so they can mosey on to the rest of the plot, but sometimes a little subtlety doesn’t hurt. As I watched WB’s new drama Supernatural about two brothers investigating their paranormal past and present, I couldn’t help but cringe at the blatant summarizing of important years of the sibling’s lives that obviously shaped them into he characters they are today.

“We grew up like warriors,” younger brother Sam says to his sibling of their tough upbringing after their mom’s mysterious death.

The problem is that I didn’t see that upbringing and television being the miraculous picture-sound phenomenon it is, screams for footage to illustrate just what Sam is talking about. Dialogue is great, but prime-time isn’t a detailed novel—every now and then a flashback will do a show good.

Anticlimax

I love confrontation, complexity and tension as much as the next person, but prolonging or omitting these aspects of storytelling could be potentially damning to a season premiere. Last week’s O.C. premiere deeply strived to provide payoffs to last season’s big drama, but managed to undercut every plot movement it had within minutes of its initial creation.
Allow me to summarize.

Gunshot victim Trey wakes up out of his summer-long coma.
Julie bribes him to indict Ryan, thereby betraying her daughter’s trust.
Ryan could go to jail, attempts geeky getaway.

Gunshot victim Trey is leaving town.
Julie’s bribe is thwarted by daughter, who barely says two words about mother’s treacherous betrayal of trust.
Ryan doesn’t go to jail, while geeky getaway (which could have sufficed at being one of the funnier moments on the show) is cut short when cops find kids within minutes of the onset of their plan.

Yes, anticlimactic convenience was O.C.’s poison this week. The episode’s odds and ends were sorted out so quickly and neatly I wondered if anyone considered reducing it to a 30-minute almost-drama. Let’s hope next year the premiere is not just the would-be second half of a finale that never came to fruition.

Music Montage

When aptly placed, music is essential in exemplifying cinematic emotion. I remember all too clearly what it felt like listening to U2 croon their hit With or Without You after watching Ross and Rachel break up on an episode of Friends years ago.

Things have changed however, because these days it seems show execs are throwing in light adult contemporary wherever they can find a spot, irregardless of what it does to a scene. I counted no fewer than four music montages on O.C. this past week, while last night’s series premiere of Bones had a near three-minute musical interlude of a forensic anthropologist reconfiguring a skull to a light rock love song. I was, to say the least, frightened.

I realize bands love the exposure of primetime and music solidifies a show’s personality, but if I wanted to watch a music video, I’d (insert gasp) change the channel to a music station. Yes, music is important but a writer/director should never sacrifice the opportunity for potential dialogue (and thus character development) for a fruitless attempt at becoming the Joseph Kahn of television.

Continuity

It is impossible for TV stars to come back from hiatus looking the same as they did when they left. In fact, Hollywood probably frowns upon it. But if studios can use their make-up and hairstyling expertise to bring life to demons and creatures of the night, then couldn’t they at least attempt to match a star’s June haircut with one they’ve acquired over the summer break? Luke on the Gilmore Girls rarely takes his baseball cap off, but I seem to remember his hair being nearly two inches shorter and alternately styled a few months ago. If Gilmore Girls had decided to move time with the hiatus this wouldn’t have been a problem. Picking up exactly where you left off however, can pose many a continuity issue (even as small as hairdos) that can throw viewers out of the believability loop of the story.

Here is to hoping next week’s premieres inspire a Do-list. Until then, Happy Premiere Week!