TV Intros

As requested by Ben Masters on Facebook, I am following up on my TV themes post and have a look at the visual aspect of TV intros. I don’t know about you, but if an intro is well done, I’m already getting into the mood for a show I want to watch. If the music and visuals match, the better the effect. So when I think about intros without primarily listening to the songs, the shows that have had a lasting effect on me with their introductions are definitely Charlie’s Angels, Bewitched and (you probably guessed it) Perry Mason. Like many other fans (so I’m sure), I’ve always wanted to know what was in that silly script that brought out Raymond Burr’s handsome dimple smile.

Charlie’s Angels, like Hart to Hart or Babylon 5 used narration to add to their pictorial introductions, explaining the background or premise of the show. While Lionel Stander introduced his screen bosses with scenes from the Hart to Hart pilot and only slight textual changes in the five years the show was on TV, Babylon 5 used a different introduction every season. Merging scenes from the show with the voices of lead characters, the season intros offered an outlook on the individual seasons, as well as a quick summary of what you needed to know to follow the plot of this complex show. And since I’m speaking of the 90s, who could forget ER, Home Improvement, Touched by an Angel, The X-Files or Chicago Hope – all equipped with visual intros that made clear what to expect from these specific program. Friends and Mad About You, two sitcom flagships of the era, also put us right into a quirky, urban mood, something Sex and the City would perfect in 1998 by making Manhattan a visual main character.

Looking at the evolution of these TV intros, in the 1980s, Cagney and Lacey and Scarecrow and Mrs. King already used their urban setting (New York City and Washington DC), as well as scenes from episodes to give the audience an idea of the content and nature of each show. The Golden Girls and Who’s the Boss did the same while The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Roseanne or Valerie primarily introduced us to the type of family we were about to visit for half an hour every week. In the 70s, the intros of Happy Days, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Family set the tone for very different shows while the 60s had already distinguished themselves from the often sponsor-laden intros of the 1950s. As the first era to introduce color TV, the 60s loved to use colorful effects and a contemporary style of music that showed a development away from family-friendly entertainment to more adult-oriented shows. While Hazel still proved to be traditional and rather quiet in the early 60s, Ironside‘s intro made clear the show was going to be filled with action, not unlike Adam-12.

In the new millennium, The West Wing tackled the unthinkable and turned politics into popular TV, the show’s intro already setting the mood and quality of a show that had a good run of seven seasons. The original CSI uses a similar pattern, creating a symbiosis of music and images, teasing the audience without giving too much away while the intro to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica did not only set the tone for a dark-edged series, but also treated its audience to a glimpse into each new episode. Whether you enjoy the classic style of merging video material with a catchy tune like Trapper John M.D. did in in the late 70s and early 80s, prefer graphics as used in Cheers or are fond of the genuine way The Closer interlaced its credits with an already commencing episode – TV show intros are a like a good business card. Selling your product without being obtrusive while making a lasting impression on your audience.

5 thoughts on “TV Intros

  1. Thanks for putting this up! I thought that it was a very well-written article about television’s title sequences, of which “Trapper” and “Hart” are still (and will still be) among my favorites. “Mason” wasn’t bad either, and for that matter, neither was the original “Five-O.”

    • My pleasure! 🙂 And thank you for the suggestion and your lovely comment.
      Hawaii Five-0 is such a great addition, you’re right. Iconic melody and rhythm, beautifully matched to the intro images. I mean, who could forget those waves in the beginning and not get in the mood for an hour of Hawaiian action?!

  2. There is one more that is among my favorites: “Dallas.” Why, you might ask? Two reasons: the skyline shot and Texas Stadium. Both had two varieties. The skyline shot went right-to-left for the first seven seasons from 1978-84 (miniseries included), and then was a straight-ahead zoom-in for the remainder of the series and the reunions. The Texas Stadium shot went diagonally right-to-left for the first 8 seasons (1978-85), and then became similar to the skyline, in that it became a straight-down zoom-in towards the field.

    • You don’t only have a good memory for engaging themes, you also pay a lot of attention to detail. Thanks so much for the additional info. I didn’t get past the first season of Dallas, so I had to google what you mentioned above. Bless Youtube users for providing so many TV goodies. I actually found the intros of all 14 seasons put together in two videos. So much fun to watch.
      Now that you mentioned Dallas, I also remembered Dynasty whose intro served as a nice mixture of Coloradoan scenery and upper class imagery. On another note, I Dream of Jeannie, the first season intro of Wonder Woman and The Nanny all had iconic musical themes, as well as memorable graphics. Funny how more and more intros are now popping up in my head. 🙂

  3. Just found another one that I like a lot: that one of L.A. Law, NBC’s hit 1986-94 legal series. What I have most liked about that one is the very top of the sequence, when that trunk lid was slammed down and the personalized license plate reading “LA LAW” was shown; the plate also had a validation sticker that changed at the top of every new season. The title track also went a long way towards making it one of my favorites; not to mention that the first cast card didn’t come in until almost 50 seconds in (45 or 46, IINM).

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