The Jan. 6 hearings as must-see TV
House select committee official photo.

Among the factors leading to "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" becoming the talked-about dramas of their debut season, as in 2004-2005, was their novel usage of bodies and questions in their respective premieres. "Lost" opens with wide shots of bodies scattered on a beach amidst a plane crash's wreckage. "Desperate Housewives" shocks with just one, that of the omniscient narrator who dies by suicide without warning.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Each show could have rolled along as straightforward relationship-driven dramas from there, save for the questions ending each pilot: "Oh Mary Alice, what did you do?" "Guys . . . where are we?" These simple queries establish there's something bigger going on than any individual character's story arc or their conflicts – a potential threat that supersedes individual problems.

I can almost guarantee that nobody on the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection thought about either of these shows or the many subsequent series influenced by them when they laid the groundwork for their televised hearings.

Scratch that – I'm positive of that, given the straightforward presentation witnessed by more than 20 million prime-time viewers on Thursday, June 9. None of the committee members made extra efforts to play to the cameras, and at times its chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson, D-Ms., stumbled when reading his lines from the teleprompter.

The unspoken understanding, at least among viewers watching in good faith, should be that none of these people were elected based on their acting ability. But the committee does understand how potent a tease, cliffhanger, and "coming up this season" montage can be to persuade a skeptical viewer to stick with the story. Rather, the man producing these televised hearings, former ABC News president James Goldston, understands this.

This approach is necessary given the grave danger the Jan. 6 insurrection represents and its relationship to a slow-moving, ongoing coup. Our entertainment landscape is awash with alternatives more exciting than a stodgy congressional committee hearing run by a bipartisan committee – a team of Democrats and two Republicans who, can you believe it, appear to respect each other.

But that also means not enough people are paying attention or simply won't, abetted by Fox News' refusal to carry the first prime-time hearing live in favor of featuring Tucker Carlson deriding it as propaganda.

Thus, last Thursday's episode served as a plainspoken table-setting chapter and an educational reset for any tuned in to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, C-SPAN or MSNBC, with Thompson explaining why the committee embarked on its investigation against the wishes of nearly every Republican member of congress.

"I come before you this evening not as a Democrat but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution," Thompson said, explaining that every member of Congress swears the same oath upon taking office: "to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The prime-time opener of the Jan. 6 committee's hearings demonstrates comprehension of dramatic structure, not only regarding episodic presentation but in terms of spelling out a full season arc. Mind you, it was devoid of puzzle-box flourishes or the type of juiced-up "Desperate Housewives"-style heat that amplify unscripted reality and episodic true crime.

Cheney introduced the committee's aim in these hearings to clearly spell out "plots to commit seditious conspiracy on Jan. 6" by explaining exactly what each episode is going to show us. Monday's second hearing presented recorded testimony from campaign chief Bill Stepien and aide Jason Miller, who told the committee that they informed Trump the election was lost and advised him against making any statement on the night of the election.

The next hearing is a dive into Trump's efforts to corrupt the Justice Department, a development about which former Attorney General Bill Barr has already dropped hints.

Some of its "loglines" were teased before the hearings began, mainly the revelations that in the days leading up to January 6, 2021, former President Donald Trump pressured his Vice President Mike Pence to assist him in overturning the election results. Because of this the first Pence-centered hearing, originally estimated to be the fourth, will probably be a popular one.

Other were announced by Cheney during the first telecast, along with scheduled appearances such as Monday's main "get": live testimony by former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, the man behind that network's controversial and ultimately correct decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night.

The coda of its curtain-raiser featured committee Vice-Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wy., spelling out the themes of each hearing to come and, where relevant, announcing corroborating testimony from a variety of witnesses – many of them former members of Trump's inner circle.

Before that came the drama's introduction of its first hero, Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, and a few of this story's monsters, including the Proud Boys meeting and the Oath Keepers.

It injected unintentional comic relief in the guise of Barr's taped deposition in which he described Trump's claims about the 2020 election having been stolen as, among other epic terms, "crazy," "garbage," "idiotic" and "bulls**t."

In the telecast's closing moments, their members' words speak to the question driving the season, the hearing's "Guys . . . where are we?" equivalent. At the root of all of this, the premieres spell out, the committee endeavors to prove, is Donald Trump's desire to hold on to power at any cost.

To some, describing this historic televised chronicle in the terms of scripted drama may seem to cheapen the proceedings. The opposite is true – it's a highly rational strategy to meet the audience where it is.

Goldston's hand in the hearings' production is light enough for the viewer to appreciate how easy-to-follow each installment is. For the most part, the committee has delivered as promised, save for a last-minute cancellation by Stepien, whose wife went into labor. Even then, his video deposition was edited in a way to fit within the flow of the committee's script.

It's also present in the "casting," as it were, of the committee's witnesses. Footage of Ivanka Trump's agreement with Barr made headlines, understandably. However, the conscious decision to call upon Edwards to testify is particularly savvy.