Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The lost art of the TV main title sequence

I remember the heartbreaking moment, about five years ago, when the first broadcast network announced that its sitcoms would no longer have main title sequences and full-blown theme songs.

It was the day I lost my faith in God.

The voracious expansion of commercial time had finally squeezed out one of the best parts of the television-watching experience. And I knew it wouldn’t stop at sitcoms. Hell, “ER” doesn’t even do a main title sequence anymore.

As a lifelong TV geek, I have sweet memories of the wonderful title sequences of the ’60s and ’70s. A well-designed title sequence, along with a kick-ass theme song, puts your mind in the right space for being told a story. It can make you tingly all over.

Thankfully, there is HBO, where the art of the main title sequence lives.

And thankfully, too, there’s YouTube, where you can find some of the classic ones. Here is one of the all-time greatest:

Now… tell me that didn’t make you feel good.


justjudith said...

ok, ubm -- so glad u hit upon this topic. i thought it was just me. i am so annoyed that the title sequence and theme songs have all but disappeared. the office still has its opening, thank goodness. but don't the suits realize that this is an important part of the show? just off of the top of my head -- what would good times, the jeffersons, all in the family, one day at a time, the cosby show, a different world, cheers, roseanne, hill street blues or miami vice have been without title sequences and opening themes???? crazy. everything shouldn't get tossed for the bottom line. why do they think people are tivo-ing? Commercials are mostly annoying -- perhaps it is time to review the business model not chop more out of the shows...

Elwood said...

It's not just the title sequences that get lost, but overall program length. Watching my dvds of Hill Street Blues, or even shows as recent as Homicide, I'm seeing 48-50 minutes per episode. But a 42-minute runtime is almost too long now, and a LOT of plots get dumbed down as a result.

I always enjoyed the everchanging credits of shows like The Cosby Show, Roseanne, The Drew Carey Show, to name a few.

Eric said...

As great as that title sequence is, I don't think you can say it's perfect.

Diana Rigg's not wearing the Black Leather Catsuit.

S.O.L. said...

Thanks for the memories, UBM. What a sequence. Is not Diana Rigg the perfect woman? I mean guys want her and girls just want to be her.

Undercover Black Man said...

S.O.L. wrote: I mean guys want her and girls just want to be her.

... and 11-year-old boys are just mesmerized by her without knowing quite why. I speak from experience.

Diana Rigg was the bomb! Brushing the hair out of her eyes with her gun hand... I mean, wow!

Eric: As for the leather catsuit... I ain't mad at 'em. They had to hold something back!

Undercover Black Man said...

Judith: That's exactly what I thought five years ago. Don't these TV executives realize the magic of a good theme song and main titles??

It's like they didn't grow up watching TV.

Elwood: You put your finger on it. Over the past 15 years or so, the "story lenghth" of the average hourlong drama has shrunk by like 5 or 6 minutes.

Another ramification of that, which sucks (from a TV writer's point of view) is that the networks have added another commercial break within the hour. Back in the "Hill Street" days... and on up through "NYPD Blue" and the early years of "ER"... the "story time" consisted of a teaser (before main titles) and four acts.

Now it's a teaser and five acts. That means the narrative is chopped up into six little pieces. You can barely get a good head of steam going before you have to slam on the breaks for more commercials.

Just one more reason why life was better in the '80s.

Elwood said...

If you don't mind having "Suicide Is Painless" stuck in your head for a week, check out this site (found through an article on TV Squad) on the year-by-year changes to the theme/credits on M*A*S*H.


Even this great show suffered from a shortened title sequence in it's final year.

SJ said...

Thank god for cable eh? Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter, Weeds, Rescue Me, and others still provide some great sequences.

Undercover Black Man said...

"The Sopranos"... one of the best title sequences ever. You can see it 100 times... and on the 101st, you're fired up and ready for a show all over again.

Anonymous said...

I love The Wire's intro and outro music. Three different but equally awesome version of Down in The Hole at the beginning and some spooky ass bass and drums at the ending. Also, many themes from the seventies and eighties were and are downright awesome displays of 'fusion'. Barney Miller, Taxi, Barreta, and I am sure many more.

Anonymous said...

Two words: Peter Gunn.

justjudith said...

ubm: the sopranos theme is one of the best table-setters. i watch the whole title sequence every time and even look for writer and director credits. i love that show!

Anonymous said...

Meh. Title sequences are a waste of space. I'm not happy that they're replaced by commercials, mind you - I'd rather they got replaced by the show.

Especially when I'm watching DVDs, and I have to keep fastforwarding through the title sequences.

And frankly, I found the Avengers title sequence that you posted to be sexist. He gets to show off his fighting style in silhouette, She gets to pose sexily. He gets to play about with a sword, she gets to catch a flower and pin it in his lapel. He gets to look like a dangerous professional, she gets to point a gun - as long as she plays with her hair in a kittenish unprofessional way instead of paying attention to covering the bad guy with the gun.

But what else can I expect from the 70's?

Undercover Black Man said...

Uhhh... you really mean all that?

I guess that's why there's chocolate and vanilla. I've got the first two seasons of "Hill Street Blues" on DVD, and I gotta tell you... without the title sequence, it just wouldn't be the same.

You're telling me the "Mission: Impossible" titles didn't make your pulse quicken?

The hula dancer in the "Hawaii Five-O" titles didn't make your pupils dilate?

These are precious moments, my friend.

And Diana Rigg does that thing in silhoutte with her arms, like WHAP!... with her fists balled. That was pretty butch.