Transcriptional activation involves the regulated assembly of multiprotein complexes on promoter DNA in the context of the repressive effects of chromatin. How do activators orchestrate this complicated phenomenon in vivo? Recent genetic and biochemical advancements suggest that activator-dependent formation of the transcription machinery on the promoter involves at least two steps. First, the activator facilitates the recruitment of TFIID to the TATA element of the promoter. TFIID binding is then followed by the recruitment of the remainder of the transcriptional apparatus in the form of the RNA polymerase II holoenzyme.