Monday, March 23, 2009

OPENING WITH A BANG



So me and my nerdy friends were sitting around the other day, lamenting the fact that most TV shows nowadays have CRAPPY opening title sequences. In fact, such things are non-existent on many TV shows (and that includes shows I love!). LOST? Yes, I love that show... but since when does four letters moving slowly over a completely black background constitute a title sequence? They're, by far, the worst offender of a show that I truly love...

Credit HBO with jumpstarting a movement for interesting opening credit sequences (I'm thinking about SIX FEET UNDER here). But their opening style for their programming was more about setting a mood. Folks, when I'm watching the first five minutes of a TV show, I don't want mood. It's too damn subtle. I need to be HOOKED. I want to know what the TV show I'm about to watch is all about. Period. End of story. And tell me a story in the opening credits, if possible, too!

Yes, some of this moody crap in title sequences (BIG LOVE, anyone?) is just too confusing, or worse... BORING.

Mind you, shows can be brilliant and have boring titles. (Again, see LOST and BIG LOVE). But I want my cake and I want to eat it too.

The other thing that's gotten lost in the mix of "no title sequences" are THEME SONGS. You know them... those catchy tunes that you can sing along to, because you know all the words. Or at least a ridiculously memorable hook or riff that--when coupled with cool opening images from a show--make for an instantly recognizable (and sometimes iconic) signpost that quality TV viewing is up ahead...

Well, this debate lead to an inevitable question: "What is the greatest opening TV title sequence of all time?" The winner must have unforgettable or badassed imagery and a cool theme song (lyrics/singing is optional). And you know what we came up with? All the best theme songs are for sitcoms, specifically those from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Admit it... you know the words to "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Gilligan's Island." But you also know "The Brady Bunch," "Happy Days," and "Cheers." Yes, when it comes to theme songs for opening credits, comedy has it down pat.

But what comedy show can you name today that has a truly brilliant memorable theme song or--at the very least--SUPER COOL opening credits? Folks, "The Office" and "30 Rock," the two best comedies on TV--have crappy openings. OK... I do actually like the theme song from "The Office," but the images that accompany it are kinda average. My votes for best comedy opening credits these days?

WEEDS.

Now I have no idea who wrote that "little boxes, little boxes..." song. Maybe it's a real song from the past that I don't know about. Maybe not. Who cares? All I know is that when coupled with some very clever opening images, it makes for a truly memorable opening. And the fact that someone different sings the same song every week?

GENIUS.

Check out one version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiemKqQUbH8

But you know which comedy actually gets my top vote for Most Memorable and Enjoyable Opening Credits Overall for a Comedy Currently On Air? (Hmmm... should this be an Emmy category? Is it already?!)

CHUCK.



I LOVE the credits for CHUCK. I love that catchy tune, and I love the animated bullet holes (which remind me of the opening titles for Woody Allen's BANANAS just a bit), and I love that the creators of that show spend 20-30 seconds SHOWING THE AUDIENCE how fun their show is going to be via their opening. It definitely makes a difference in making me stick around.

Check 'em out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0nJGRnobXE

Now that's comedy. But what about drama?

Heh.

After much debate, my friends and I came to the conclusion that SCIENCE FICTION SHOWS have the best opening titles, by far, when it comes to dramatic shows. Think about it. Beginning in the 1950s with THE TWILIGHT ZONE, then STAR TREK's unforgettable opening in 1960s, through the fun Glen A. Larsen openings of the 1970s--THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, BUCK ROGERS (God, I love that opening!!!)--into the 1980s with the original KNIGHT RIDER, then the masterpiece credits of THE X-FILES in the 90s. I'm telling you, sci-fi knows how to introduce a show, tell a story, AND set a definite mood in 30 seconds or less!

And no, sci-fi opening title sequences are definitely not subtle...

Now there was much debate when it came to discussing what was the GREATEST opening titles ever. And while, yes, STAR TREK and THE TWILIGHT ZONE were pretty much everyone's top choice, I argued for another. A show that I loved soooo much during childhood, I even had a lunch box from the program. A show that--at the time--gave "Star Trek" a run for its money as The Greatest Sci-Fi Show Ever (at least in it's first season). A show who opening credits still send a rush of excitement through my body any time I see them. Yes, folks... I'm talking about...

SPACE: 1999

Sure, some of you might think I'm crazy. Others have probably never even heard of this show. But man, I'm telling you, check out the title sequence people and tell me it doesn't make you wanna watch!



Oh, and for the record, UFO was another close second choice. Turns out GERRY ANDERSON really understood the power of captivating an audience with a KICK ASS opening title sequence. 21st TV shows take note... perhaps we could all learn something from the lack of subtlety a bitching Gerry Anderson opening provides.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go have a SPACE: 1999 marathon.

1 comment:

Sarah-Enid said...

In one of the most useless media classes ever, we were required to write a semiotic theory analysis of opening credit sequences. Someone actually got to the 10 page minimum dissecting the 5 second opening of "Lost", proving theory is what you make of it. (I've still got 20 pages of why the Firefly opening tops them all.)

I would agree sci-fi shows have some of the strongest opening credits, but even your show, Eureka, has gone to the 10 second send up too, which I think says something about networks and shows making more space for advertising. (If I were less cynical I might say making room for more story. =P)