What: The three-minute opening sequence of the 1967-1968 drama The Prisoner. In this montage, Patrick McGoohan's unnamed character resigns from his British spy agency, only to be gassed and kidnapped to a mysterious prison called "The Village." Despite his insistence that he is not a number but rather a free man, he is dubbed "Number Six." He matches wits with a villainous Number Two, almost always a different warden than on the last episode. He attempts to escape, but is run down by a white weather balloon called Rover, as the current Number Two laughs maniacally.
Why: There's a strong argument that The Prisoner is the best TV series ever, but it's unfair to compare a series that ran for four months with one that, say, had to come up with new ideas for a decade longer than the Korean War it was set in. So I'll simply say that no series has ever had a more impressive opening sequence. In those three minutes, you get Ron Greiner's lively theme, a fine view of a Lotus Seven, and a strikingly compact tour through what you could imagine was another entire series. (And many did, insisting it was McGoohan's character John Drake from the series Danger Man, despite his claims elsewise. You'll never get me to pick a side on that, no matter how many Rovers you send after me.) The constant swapout of Number Twos, and their chilling walkthroughs of the same interrogation, made you believe that by hook or by crook, the irresistible-force/immovable-object waltz of The Village and Number Six would go on forever.
Impact: Obviously, it did not. McGoohan only wanted the series to run for seven episodes (fairly common for British series back then), but CBS coaxed him to stretch it to seventeen. But those seventeen bizarre episodes hit a chord, brazenly embracing themes of drugs, politics, and rebellion. The series is now considered one of the greatest cult shows in television history. It will soon be remade into an AMC miniseries starring Jim Caviezel as Number Six; the selection of Sir Ian McKellen as Number Two makes this not quite as blasphemous an idea as it sounds. But you don't have to settle for a knockoff, as you can watch the entire original series on AMC's website. Be seeing you.
Personal Connection: I watched the series in its entirety when I was too young to understand it, a statement which has applied to every other time I watched it. For seventeen consecutive Wednesdays, I showed it at lunch at Wizards of the Coast. My favorite moment was when someone came into the breakroom right around Episode 14 and said "What the hell are you guys watching?" and one person who'd been present for all the episodes said "Dude, I have no idea."
Other Contenders: the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppet-ational curtains-up of The Muppet Show; The Simpsons' chalkboard-, sax solo-, and couch-altering intro, here shown alongside the jaw-dropping live BBC version; everything wild about espionage stuffed into Mission: Impossible's 5/4 theme; our weekly playback of Jim's answering machine on The Rockford Files; the HBO double-shot of The Sopranos' cool menace and Big Love's freaky surreality; the apocalyptic bombast of Life After People's opening, with its gut-punch tagline "Welcome to Earth, Population: Zero."