A well-written cold open is a great way to hook your reader in the first few pages of your script. A cold open in your pilot or spec can drop readers into the world you’ve built, show character traits and points of view, and give a taste of your unique voice and sense of humor.
Here are 5 TV show cold opens examples for you to check out and pick up some pointers for your own scripts!
Fleabag (Series 2, Episode 1)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge begins the second and final season of Fleabag with expedient tonal whiplash. The script is almost Spartan in its efficiency. With only four lines of dialogue, we linger on each moment just long enough to set the mood. A warm and cozy Sinatra delicately transports us to a crime scene of a nosebleed for just as long as we’re able to ponder “how did we get here?” We meet Needy Waitress and Hot Priest, only briefly, but as Fleabag dabs her face with a wet napkin, we meet the gentle calm of a newly reformed, actively growing series’ two protagonists. One who just punched her brother-in-law in the face. The cold open finds humor in the growing pains and the messy bits. This is a love story: in romance, family, and self-love.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer S1EP1– Welcome to the Hellmouth
Buffy’s pilot cold open is a great example of a strong hook. By subverting 90’s slasher tropes, it quickly shows viewers why Buffy is new and exciting. It feels like an instant classic that viewers want to know more about. As the first minutes of the series, the pilot’s cold open serves to introduce us to the world and its idiosyncrasies just before we meet Buffy and her world. She’s an almost-normal student just trying to make it through her first few days at a new high school, cunning vampires be damned.
Futurama S1EP1 – Space Pilot 3000
Futurama’s pilot cold open builds a world and tells the story of Philip J. Fry in under three minutes. It’s a great example of efficient exposition: it paints the scene, shows us how Fry feels about waking up a thousand years in the future, and shows us the stakes of his success in the year 3000. It builds an expectation for his new life, only to tear it away when he’s assigned to be an intergalactic delivery boy.
The Office S5EP13 – Stress Relief
The Office has so many perfect cold opens, but the chaos of Fire Drill is an excellent tool for character building: we’re able to see the primal instinct and basest motivation of every character in the ensemble. Each character’s point of view is instantly clear: Dwight is lethally serious, Oscar fends for himself, Jim keeps his cool, and Michael blunders through. More than anything, I love this opener because it shows you how fun screenwriting can be! This script’s humor swings for the fences while still teaching us more about the characters and serving as an expositional tool as the episode’s inciting incident. Sidenote: I would give an arm and a leg to see the stage directions for this cold open.
Detroiters S2EP8 – Hark Moters
Speaking of fun screenwriting, Tim Robinson (SNL, I Think You Should Leave) brings his sketch comedy background into scripted TV. Detroiters inhabits a heightened absurd reality, and this quick 30-second cold open showcases it. His character and the mother and son duo trade-off presenting as the reasonable and absurd characters, subverting the audience’s expectations. TV writing can feel like sketch comedy! Trust your gut. When you write, write for yourself. Trust that your voice has its place in the world, and don’t try to fit into any box of what TV should look like.
What are some of your favorite TV show cold opens? Let us know in the comments below!