Resurgence Requested: TV Opening Credits

I’ve decided to add another semi-regular feature to Pop Culture Problems. With “Resurgence Requested” I’ll look in to something that has been sorely missing from the pop culture landscape and deserves resurgence. First up: Television Show Opening Credits.

Once a staple of practically every tv show, prime-time network television opening credits have become an endangered species. This has most likely stemmed from the big 4  (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) fearing that any supposed downtime between the ending of one show and the beginning of the next on their schedule will result in viewers instantly grabbing their remotes to check out what’s on any of the other bajillion channels at that time. So instead of a catchy theme song and cast member clips n’ credits, what we’re seeing more and more of these days is a quick title card accompanied by a musical “sting” and then actor credits discreetly displayed over the opening scene. Bleh.

While they may think it’s smart to economize their running time, doing away with opening credits not only does a disservice to viewers who enjoy them, but also a disservice to the show itself. Here’s why:

  1. TV themes and/or songs can help set the tone of the series as well as be a convenient way to provide pertinent backstory. Shows like Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angels and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gave viewers all the info they needed to know about their show’s premises right in their opening songs or voice-overs.
  2. Opening credits instantly give name-to-face recognition, especially useful for creating a viewer-actor connection, especially in shows with large and/or unknown casts. Take Beverly Hills, 90210 – its opening made certain that their target teen demographic knew exactly who was who in their largely unknown cast – and their popularity instantly skyrocketed when the show became a hit.
  3. TV themes and songs help build brand recognition (and the catchiest ones can become just as – if not more – popular and iconic as the shows themselves). The theme from The Twilight Zone is instantly recognizable – even to people who have never even seen the original series – while lines such as  “Who can turn the world on with a smile”, “Come and knock on our door”, “You take the good, you take the bad”, “Where everybody knows your name”, “Thank you for being a friend” and “I’ll be there for you” are all many viewers need to hear to quickly connect them with Mary Tyler Moore, Three’s Company, The Facts of Life, Cheers, The Golden Girls and Friends.
  4. Opening credits are the perfect opportunity to sell your show to new viewers – essentially turning it into a “greatest clips” montage that will engage and excite. Set perfectly to The Who’s “Who Are You”, the quick-cut opening credits of CSI still manage to get me excited for an upcoming episode, even after 14 years.

And just for kicks, here are a few of my favourite opening credits, the last one is a classic, the others are what I consider to be “hidden gems”:

The Colbys – the theme for this Dynasty spinoff about the rich and powerful Colby clan of California is sweeping, thrilling and majestic. While I could go with never seeing another episode of The Colbys for the rest of my life, this theme will always be my go-to instrumental quick-fix.

Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries – the theme music evokes the feel of eerie mystery and adventure and in a brilliant stroke of branding genius, the likenesses of stars Pamela Sue Martin, Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy were superimposed onto actual covers of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, making it so that to a generation of young viewers, they were those famous teen sleuths.  (Below is a clip from a season two, Nancy Drew-specific episode, followed by the lesser-quality -but spookier!- combined credits used for season one).

Batman (1966) – Classic theme, classic look – nails the fun and campy comic book vibe of the series perfectly.

Like CSI, though, these days most of the network shows with opening credits are veteran series. But, I was pleasantly surprised when I tuned into what became my favourite new series last season – Elementary – and was greeted with honest-to-goodness opening credits. And apparently others were to, since it was nominated for an Emmy in the Best Main Title Design category (not surprisingly, it was the only “big network” show nominated). And imagine my delight when my favourite new show of this season – Sleepy Hollow – also came complete with great opening credits! And funny thing about that – Sleepy Hollow is also one of  the highest rated new shows this season and was the first one to be renewed for a second season. Looks like opening credits aren’t going to give people an excuse to channel surf if they’re actually watching something that’s grabbed their attention. Now there’s a thought – if the networks just focus on creating shows that people will be interested in, then opening credits can be brought back without any worry of viewer migration…right?

One last thing – without opening credits, we would never get rare treats like the one The Simpsons offers us around this time every year – their Halloween “Treehouse Of Horror” Special Edition opening credits. So in the spirit of the season, here is this year’s mini-masterpiece, brought to you by Guillermo Del Toro: