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A cold open (also called a teaser) in a television program or movie is the technique of jumping directly into a story at the beginning or opening of the show, before the title sequence or opening credits are shown. On television this is often done on the theory that involving the audience in the plot as soon as possible will reduce the likelihood of their switching away from a show.

The term "cold open" refers to the opening pre-credits scenes of a film. However, in some films – such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Apocalypse Now, The Dark Knight, many Michael Mann films, as well as Mel Gibson's Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ – the title card does not appear until the end of the film. In such cases one cannot refer to the entire film as the "opening" of the movie, and the term "cold open" in these instances refers to the opening moments or scenes. Likewise, in films with long pre-credits sequences such as Leaving Las Vegas (15 minutes), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (18 minutes), The Departed (18 minutes), or Blissfully Yours (45 minutes), the "cold open" does not necessarily refer to the entire pre-credits sequence. James Bond films tend to use pre-credit sequences, sometimes as MacGuffins.

History

Cold opens have been popular on television since the 1950s. They became widespread by the mid-1960s. Their use on adventure serials was an economical way of setting up a plot without having to introduce the regular characters or even the series synopsis which would typically be outlined in the title sequence itself. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964–68) and Star Trek (1966–69) are good contemporary examples in the United States while in the United Kingdom it was usually series destined for American export that reiterated the format, such as The Saint (1962–69) and The Avengers (1961–69).

In the early 1960s few American series used cold opens, and a half hour comedy program almost never made use of them prior to about 1965. But, many American series (even sitcoms) which ran from the early 1960s through the middle years of the decade adopted cold opens in later seasons. For example, Gilligan's Island did not use cold opens during its first two seasons, but did use them in its third and final season (1966-67). Similar patterns can be seen with sitcoms like Bewitched and The Beverly Hillbillies.

British producer Lew Grade's many attempts to break into the American market meant that many of the shows he was involved with incorporated the cold open such as The Persuaders! (1971) and Space: 1999 (Series One only, 1975). Later, many British action-adventure series employed the format such as The New Avengers (1976–77) and The Professionals (1977–81).

Toying with many television conventions Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–74) played around with the concept of cold opens, sometimes having an entire episode before the starting credits, and, in two instances, (The Cycling Tour, the first episode to have a full-length story, and The Golden Age of Ballooning, the first episode of series four) having no opening credits at all (the former has a brief title card with the episode's title, and the latter because Terry Gilliam had not finished the new opening sequence).

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, daytime soap operas became the main user of cold opens, with most American soaps employing the format. While several soaps experimented with regular opens in the early 2000s, all are currently using cold opens. Typically, a soap opera cold open begins where the last scene of the previous episode ended, sometimes replaying the entire last scene. After several scenes, usually to set up which storylines will be featured in the episode, the opening credits are shown.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, some shows began with highlights from the previous episode.

US sitcom and drama episodes often have a traditional cold opening, which usually sets up the plot using the main cast members. However, the opening of a sitcom may offer comedic banter without setting up the plot. In the US, TV shows will occasionally forgo a standard cold open at the midway point of a two-part episode, or during a "special" episode. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fourth season finale lacked a cold open, as it was an unusual dream-centric episode.

The legendary NBC sketch variety show Saturday Night Live always employed a cold open throughout its history (except for season 7 and other rare exceptions). The cold open usually ends with someone breaking character and proclaiming "Live, from New York, it's Saturday night!"

Documentaries do not use cold openings as frequently as fictional shows. The World at War is one famous exception, where in a few short minutes an especially poignant moment is featured. After the title sequence, the events that explain the episode are outlined more fully.

Modern video games have included cold opens, either beginning with a lengthy opening sequence or, like the Metal Gear Solid games, including an entire level before the titles. Both Wild Arms and Kingdom Hearts II went as far as including an entire subplot, often taking upwards of three hours to play through, before showing the game's logo.

Nomenclature

Cold opens employ a first act or segment known as a "teaser". The following memorandum was written on May 2, 1966 as a supplement to the Writer-Director Information Guide for Star Trek, and was authored by Gene Roddenberry, describing the format of a typical episode. This quotation refers to a cold open, commonly known as a teaser:
a. Teaser, preferably three pages or less. Captain Kirk's voice over opens the show, briefly setting where we are and what's going on. This is usually followed by a short playing scene which ends with the Teaser "hook."


The "hook" of the teaser was some unexplained plot element that was alluded to in the teaser, or cold open, which was intended to keep audiences interested enough in the show to dissuade them from changing stations while the titles roll. Star Trek writer David Gerrold, to tweak William Shatner on set, once told Shatner that he was writing a Star Trek episode in which Kirk lost his voice in the teaser (the hook), and didn't get it back until the tag.

In television series, a similar technique called cliffhanger is often placed before commercial breaks, to keep the viewers from changing the channel during the break. For instance, in Law & Order, this second hook is often the arrest of the suspected perpetrator of the crime committed in the cold open.

Newscasts

Cold opens and similar teases are also used in many television newscasts, including the major United Statesmarker network newscasts. In news cold opens, anchors begin introducing stories in a brief, tease-like fashion. If two newscasts are back to back they can have a "toss" between shows, where the hosts talk to each other briefly.

See also



References


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