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Kylee Peña
TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 4:53:57 pm

Yesterday I was watching an interesting thing about the history of film title sequences. While it was interesting enough, it led me to pondering what I found to be even more interesting, especially after the previous thread about the most effective first scenes in films -- television title sequences.

As I understand it, film titles started off as more a utilitarian thing and got more elaborate over time, due in large part to competing with television. More awesome titles for films because films are more awesome and expensive and television is the lowest form of life, I guess. Television title sequences intrigue me more than film for a few reasons: lower budget, less time, and you're committing to a certain sequence usually for at least a whole season, which means you're committing to this certain thing to set the tone for your story over 10 or 20 episodes.

(Actually, I was berating people on Twitter for skipping title sequences. I feel like they should be watched every time. I'm not really willing to argue about this unless the titles are really bad for an otherwise good show. Like season 2 of American Horror Story. Then again, maybe that should have been a warning to me to stop watching because yikes, but that's another thread entirely.)

There's also been a huge variance in TV titles over the years. Same with film, but again, it's a little more interesting in TV because I feel like more risks have been taken and more ingenuity is at play. There's everything from a straight up theme song about the main character with a montage of silliness to edgy motion graphics with hidden meanings and subtle changes to a simple title card.


Question: just like the beginning of a film defines the language of the film, does the TV title sequence carry this same kind of significance? Also, because show and tell is fun, what title sequences do you think work best?


I personally have a love/hate relationship with Doctor Who's title sequence. I love it, but they change it almost every series and it drives me crazy. I LIKED THE WAY IT WAS, I HATE CHANGE. The original concept of this sequence is older than even some of you (haw haw) so they just kind of went with it I guess, and it always works for me.



I'm going to steal the obvious one: Game of Thrones. This thing blows my mind, mostly because they change it every week to show the geography for that week's episode. There's a pretty awesome Art of the Title Sequence article about it with the creative director (freakin 2-time Academy award winning editor Angus Wall, if you didn't know. Also Emmy-award winner for this and Carnivale. Save some for the rest of us!) It does a great job at reminding you that this world you're about to enter for an hour is expansive, kinda medieval, and way more awesome than the one you live in.



And you know what else? I've been watching way more X-Files lately than I'm comfortable admitting, and I LIKE THAT TITLE SEQUENCE. It was so ridiculously cheap looking and bizarre even when it was new, but it played perfectly into the character of the show. When they changed it for the last season (maybe the last two seasons), it was the worst! Especially because they didn't make it feel shiny enough -- they updated some things to look modern (and I guess giving Scully a new picture was good for her because she got much hotter after season 1), but they still left in some weird kitsch stuff. I don't know, maybe I just hate change. Then again, maybe I should have also taken the hint here to stop watching while I still could. Nope, that was a train wreck I just couldn't take my eyes off.

I can't find the X-Files intro anywhere. Just a bunch of student film and parody junk. Ya'll know it, whatever.

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Scott Roberts
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 5:11:55 pm

Maybe it's just because I rewatched it all last week, but I absolutely love the title sequence for Clone High. It made me laugh all 13 times I watched it last week, I never skipped over it. And now it's stuck in my head. And now it's stuck in YOUR HEAD!








But I agree, Game of Thrones theme is awesome, I've had a tendency to skip it in the past, but I've since changed my ways. It's too cool to skip. I think I just wanted to get to the episode faster back then.

Dexter was one that I thought was really clever as well, playing with the notion of grisly things in his everyday morning routine. I thought it set up the tone of the show pretty nicely. But it's really long, and I don't like the song very much anymore, so I usually skip past it...







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Stephen Smith
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 5:14:48 pm

I don't watch a lot of TV because it can be a big time commitment. However, I do love to watch the open title sequence of TV shows. Since I haven't actually seen some of these shows I can't comment on if it sets the mood for the show. Here are some fun opens I like:

Chuck:



Yes, this title sequence does a great job of setting the feel for the show.

Human Target:





Criminal Minds:





I'm a big fan of the X-files and think the opening is crazy in a way that works with the theme of the show.

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Tim Wilson
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 5:42:17 pm

I win!




Haha! There are a bunch of others, but I'll add more after a couple of victory laps.


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Stephen Smith
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 6:11:27 pm

While choking on Tim's dust from his victory lap I thought of some other. By the way, I was surprised at how many I couldn't find.

The Simpsons (probably one of the most famous ones):





Mad Men:

Rubicon:

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Kylee Peña
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 6:19:42 pm

Everyone is scoring low on my rubric for not answering my original question along with the visual entries. I'll accept resubmissions by the end of the day. This counts as 30% of your final grade. 300 words minimum (except Tim: 1000 words maximum.)

But seriously, does the TV title sequence carry the usefulness or significance that the beginning of a film does in terms of establishing a language, or is it merely a commercial thing that people do because of marketability and stuff?

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Scott Roberts
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 6:35:49 pm

Well, here's my example of how a TV sequence could, in fact, actually play into the episode and set a language for the show: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Every week, the show has a "cold open" (is that term correct for outside of SNL?), and the title sequence usually appears to punctuate a joke by showing the title of the episode, then blasting you with the happy music, knowing that awful things are about to happen for the next 30 minutes. For example, and episode will have a the gang getting ready to become celebrities, and Dee will say "Well, what could go wrong?", followed by the theme song with the title card "THE GANG SETS DEE ON FIRE". Stuff like thaaaaaat. Hard to explain, maybe, and there are no clips on the internet... Oh well.

But as a whole, with title sequences (for the most part) never changing from week to week, they are just a TV tradition that has carried over. In most cases, TV title sequences serve as as the credits, because almost nobody watches credits AFTER a show. They can either introduce a new person with a quick 45 second pitch, or they entertain long time viewers with a catchy song each week. Or you can take the Seinfeld approach and put up a little graphic in the bottom right of the screen with a funky bass riff for 3 seconds.

Another good example for title sequences being for good use to a show: I always liked how The Cosby Show changed their title sequence every couple of seasons. Now when I watch reruns, I can tell what era of the show they are in just by the dance sequence I'm watching. So then when I see Raven Simone dancing, I can change the channel!

I hope I answered the question right this time... If I didn't, well... I was never that good at taking tests...


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Kylee Peña
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 4, 2013 at 3:43:14 am

I've never watched It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but that sounds like the kind of thing I would find hilarious.

I'm going to argue the opposite. I think that TV show titles were a tradition, just like film titles were a thing people did because it's what they did. But I think there's been a big trend in elaborate title sequences that set the mood of the world and establish the overall language. If they were merely a tradition, I feel like the opposite would be true -- it's just a thing, let's try to get away from it and save the money.

Obviously TV is a continuation of a story from week to week, so I guess the opening titles aren't so important to explain to the viewer how to watch the show so much as they work to remind the viewer how to watch the show.

And the way they tell you what's about to happen can be different, as Tim has mentioned in part one of his 10,000 word answer. But however they do it, I think it's, for the most part, integral to the story. Even simple titles like LOST. It lasts for like 15 seconds, it's one word, but I can't imagine the show without the rhythm it builds into that animated title card, and the sound design associated with it.

I guess in a way, over time, the mere existence of the titles whether they relate to the show or not end up triggering a part of my brain that says AH YES, X-FILES AGAIN! It's all kind of weird: let me suck you into this world where you will accept everything as absolute fact... and let me do it with nondiegetic music and a bunch of visuals that have no foundation in reality.

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Mark Suszko
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 6:44:30 pm

The TV opening credits set the tone as well as generally lay out the overall idea of the show, almost like preview trailers do for movies.





Some great TV title sequences:

Hawaii Five-O (original) (You don't need a link: it's already in your head)

Cowboy Bebop:








"Branded"









"Archer" on FX

Carnivale on HBO(?)







The intro to "The Walking Dead" is great at conveying the atmosphere of the zombie world.


Hey, try some of these:







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Stephen Smith
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 7:26:16 pm

For me, lots of TV show credit sequences don't add anything to the show, the shows I grew up with just had shots of the actors with their names and then the title of the show. For example, Alf and Full House. Very simple cookie cutter ideas...that being said, TV is changing. It is getting hard to see the difference between a great TV show and a movie. Have you every watched an episode of a show and thought, that would make a great movie? In addition to better shows we are seeing some amazing title opens. A good one will set and/or reflect the tone of the show. Lost is just the title of the Show where as Chuck is a long vector art animation that is visually interesting. I think both work which shows there is not a right or wrong way of doing things.

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Paul Forte
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 2, 2013 at 10:34:36 pm

I love the style of the True Blood title sequence. Captures that mysterious darkness.







http://www.artofthetitle.com/title/true-blood/


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Tim Wilson
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 3, 2013 at 4:29:18 am

True Blood is a great choice, Paul.

Justified is very similar, but different enough that we'll still call them in the same genre. (Not, alas, online.)

I think of both of them as descendants of The Sopranos. Long, loping, all about the groove.



It's interesting how well this sets the table for the show, even though it doesn't really tell you anything at all. I certainly can't imagine Tony Soprano liking that song even a little.

Scott, since you mentioned Cosby, I'm going to mention The Bill Cosby Show, debuting in 1969. The opening titles are among the first examples of motion graphics in this setting, scored by Quincy Jones with ad-libbed "lyrics" by Bill.



It was actually released as a single in 1969 called Hikky Burr, and the full length version is included on Quincy's 1971 album Smackwater Jack, which ALSO featured his terrific theme to Ironsides. I did well and truly love Hikky Burr and The Bill Cosby Show, and have always remembered that opening fondly.

Also debuting in 1969: The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The theme song was terrific, Cuddly Toy, by Harry Nillsson. This was the same year he was riding high (hahaha) on Everybody's Talking from Midnight Cowboy (peaked at #2, won Harry a Grammy). As far as I can remember, excluding shows STARRING pop stars (Doris Day, The Monkees), this was the first time that a show used a pop song by a well-known pop star as a theme.

But it's not just the theme. It's the footage. You learn a lot about the relationship between the boy and his father, and the rhythm of the show. Each episode started with a philosophical discussion between Eddie and his father that rolled straight into the titles, and the fading notes of the song laid on top of the opening scene.



You can't help but notice the fishing pole working its way in. Absolutely not an accident. The Andy Griffith Show created the "father + son + surrogate mother figure to BOTH" template...and the 1963 MOVIE version of The Courtship of Eddie's Father starred Ron Howard as Eddie. :-) (Bill Bixby was played by Glenn Ford, so to speak. Really nice movie.)

And yeah, I think Andy Griffith has to go near the top of a list that includes either theme songs OR title sequences.

Anyway, there are at least 3 ways coming at this. There are theme songs, which I think are worth keeping separate from openings. And to Kylee's first point, there are definitely a handful that TELL you how to watch the show.

Some of them right up front. The Twilight Zone is the earliest I can think of that actually EXPLAINS what you're about to see. The Outer Limits goes even further, by forcing your attention that this is a TV show. The Twilight Zone was, formally speaking, part of the world of film, but not The Outer Limits. You, personally, are in front of a TV set. You are seeing the native visual language of TV, complete with wobbly vertical hold, the Indian Head test pattern, the white dot in the center of the screen -- so it's not just FORMALLY a TV show. (Arguably the first.) This could be MY ACTUAL TV.

Every Saturday morning before Crusader Rabbit, I saw a white dot, a wobbly picture, and that test pattern. It really was some kind of dark wizardry to see those visual elements cycle through onscreen by themselves. Then to throw in some oscilloscope images -- those and TV itself went back nearly 40 years, but were so rarely seen that the combination of them felt futuristic.



There were other pedagogic intros -- Dragnet would be next in line -- and bunches more that used a theme song rather than a narrator. Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, It’s About Time (a forgotten nugget that’s always been a favorite of mine), The Flintstones and The Jetsons (both of which debuted in prime time a la The Simpsons)....it's a long damn list.

I love that you mentioned Branded, Mark, another great example, especially as we celebrated the 15th anniversary of The Big Lebowski a couple of weeks ago (or at least I did). The show plays a good-sized role in the movie, and its theme makes a brief appearance at the beginning of this clip.


To up the psychotic ante, here's The Who's cover of the Batman theme from 1966, introduced by GEORGE HAMILTON on Hullabaloo. This only begins to describe how psychotic this clip is.





HA! 700 words, give or take.

Of course, I have two more posts coming. LOL The total for all three should still be under 10,000 words, just like you insisted.

It was TEN thousand, right?


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Kylee Peña
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 4, 2013 at 3:53:04 am

Throwing another explainy title sequence from the 21st century - Arrested Development. I can't think of any others that use a narrator like this, in the titles or within the story itself.



[Tim Wilson] "here's The Who's cover of the Batman theme from 1966, introduced by GEORGE HAMILTON on Hullabaloo."

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Tim Wilson
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 4, 2013 at 4:37:21 am

Having mentioned Ron Howard a couple of times in the last post, it's worth mentioning that he's the narrator of Arrested Development.

Thinking about narration in a comedy, I'm always going to think of The Wonder Years. Having not made it through an entire episode of Arrested Development (I know, I know, I've tried many times), I don't know how similar it is....but it also made me remember how powerful I found the opening titles. GREAT use of pop music, which counted for a lot of the power, but also a very nice introduction in general.




We were also talking about cinematic pilots in another thread -- The Wonder Years made a compelling movie in 30 minutes. Netflix that thing.


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Kylee Peña
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 4, 2013 at 12:04:10 pm

The Wonder Years is narrated by an adult Kevin, right? Arrested Development is narrated by a third person omniscient narrator. I can't think of any other shows recently that do that, but I'm sure there are some.

A question that kind of derails the thread, but whatevs.

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Mike Cohen
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 4, 2013 at 2:08:51 pm

60's

The Munsters
Classic format - introduce each character with their real name with some slightly amusing nod to the character's personality, with a catchy theme.

I Dream of Jeannie
Animated intro for a non-animated show with a catchy theme

70's
The Brady Bunch wins every time. There is not a person living outside of Uzbekistan who cannot sing every word.

Runner up
CHIPS
Sets the tone of the show, although not every episode had the action of the opening titles

80's
Miami Vice
Catchy synth music and scenery from the modern version of a city that was once kind of a dump. They painted the buildings of South Beach for the show and simply realized that the town never looked so good.

And Miami Vice did not show pictures of the actors in the opening sequence, something new I think.

I'll stop for now and come back for the more recent decades.

But I will say how much I love the Walking Dead, the way it starts the music about 3 to 5 seconds before the title sequence starts. Most shows nowadays have a tease or opening scene that leads into the titles. I really like shows that go from the titles not to a commercial but back to the action. Of course pay tv series do this.

Mike


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Stephen Smith
Re: TV Title Sequences
on Apr 9, 2013 at 3:06:37 pm

For theme songs I would put Cheers at the top of my list.
And Saved By The Bell J/K.

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