How To Make A '90s Teen Sitcom Opener


Sure it’s 2011, but it can’t hurt to know the ins and outs of summing up a 30-minute 1990s teen sitcom in 30 seconds or less. Just to keep it in your back pocket. In case it comes up.

Obviously, there were certainly plenty of great openers to choose from, but I always had a soft spot for California Dreams so let’s follow it wherever it may lead.

Right off the bat: Pastels. Anything that makes your opener look like a dentist office painting is coming to life right before your very eyes is a great place to start.

Next, take your show premise and exploit every possible cliche therein. Is your show about California? Words like surfs up, surf dudes, attitude, groovy, laid back, sky and sand, good vibes, feeling mellow, sleeping in, and dreamin’, are all totally usable options and no one will fault you for settling on a theme song that is basically all of these words strung together and added to a midi file.

You gotta start somewhere! (And then never return to improve upon your work.)

Now, you’ll want to introduce your characters in the most formulaic way possible. Pigeonhole them immediately.

Are your characters in a band? Have them awkwardly and earnestly play their given instruments in the opener (and if some of them don’t play an instrument, have them stand in the center of the green screen like a high school choir in a group photo).

Seriously, make the most of your green screen. If someone has a surf board, have them peak out from behind it to illustrate the show’s playful side. Actually, the entire point of an opener is to do just that, so take every opportunity you can to make that clear.

Then, in keeping with the “I am blowing your mind right now” concept of ‘living photographs’, have all the characters pose for yearbook photos, but in real time.

Is one character materialistic? Let your audience know that in 3 seconds or less by having him throw money in the air and then dance around in it.

Is one character African American? Have him do a sassy dance real quick.

Take the resident bad boy and put him on a motorcycle. Have him run his rebellious fingers through his pretty hair, play guitar while wearing pink, and then add in some shots of him nodding as if he’s whispering, “Yeah. That’s right. I’m this cool”, without even saying a word. They’ll get the right idea.

At the closing of your theme, just replay some of the earlier moments that really tie the whole thing together. Boil it down to the essentials. Bubbly girl with that surf board again, Asian girl throwing a ball for some reason, ball jumps into a picture of the cast smiling, which goes back to a still-life photo just like in the beginning. Done.

Peter Engel would be so proud.

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