The 20 Best Opening Scenes in Television

Although we’re about settled into TV’s second wave of summer programming — namely, Breaking Bad, Louie, and Political Animals — it’s impossible to get too comfortable. Thanks to Comic-Con and the TCA tour, buzz for fall 2012 is nearly in full swing and has us bracing for the series of snap judgements we’ll have to make about the new season of television. As many showrunners have pointed out, it’s unfortunate that a TV show only has a limited window to prove itself. At the same time, we can’t complain when a series starts out with a bang. And, as shows like Breaking Bad have proved, a stellar start and well-plotted story development don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To follow up our recent look at the best opening scenes in cinema, we decided to recall some of the best TV pilot opens, taking into account style, innovation, and sheer ability to capture the attention of easily distracted brains. Have a favorite we missed? Please let us know in the comments!

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is known for stellar cold opens that range from the mystifying (the pink teddy bear throughout Season 2) and genre-bending (the “Negro y Azul” music video or Los Pollos Hermanos commercial) to the expository (all the flashbacks), but the pilot’s in medias res start is, IOHO, still the most memorable: Walter, plowing through the desert in his camper, bodies in tow, followed by a heartfelt confessional to his family on a videocam. The last image of the sequence — Walter on the open dirt road, clad in his tighty-whiteys, aiming a gun — is indelible to fans (and even those who don’t watch the show), and for good reason.