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.

New Vintage TV

To pick up on my nominations’ post on Thursday, I want to introduce a trend that’s been coming and going: revisiting bygone times and reinventing the past on TV. Happy Days did it in the 1970s, That 70s Show did it in the late 90s and early 2000s and Mad Man‘s been doing it since 2007, recently joined by Boardwalk Empire and Pan Am. The decades differ, as well as genres and style, but all of these shows have one thing in common: a look back at our past through contemporary eyes.

Mad Man is a popular example for reminding us of the early 60s, a program often praised for its authentic setting and style. Personally, I love the wardrobe, the acting and the music – my personal icing on the cake. I’ve not been all too impressed by the perpetual cynicism however, reflected in every storyline the show presents, nor by the depiction of either men or women. Not only does every character seem to have a fetish with smoking, blown out of proportion by our reversed reality in 2011, they are also easily engaged in sex, something I could live with (because yes, out of wedlock pregnancy rates already escalated in the 1940s) if only the portrayal wouldn’t leave such a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. It is one thing to present the uncomely truth of sexism in 1960 and the challenges for women back in those days, it is another to add to the cliche of the depressed houswife, the floozie secretary or the ever lewd male. Interesting way of pointing to the origins of our presentday societal issues, shortcomings or accomplishments, utterly simplified by ascribing everything to the “evil” influence of consumerism and advertising.

In the pilot, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) says, “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” Which is pop culture nonsense. What we call love today was invented by Jane Austen and her contemporaries. Before, people rarely knew anything beyond arranged marriages. But I forgive him his lapse, it only adds to the way the character treats the women in his life. He probably doesn’t even know who Jane Austen was or that women can spell without having a man showing them how. I’m sorry, but although some men used to be as smallminded as that (and some continue to be today), there were also others like Erle Stanley Gardner for example whose Perry Mason highly appreciated his office gem for both, her brains as well as her nylons. Granted, Della Street entered the scene in the 1930s, a good time for female characters, on screen and off. But the very same girl Friday was popular on TV in 1960 and never treated like dessert after lunch (how Peggy Olson played by Elisabeth Moss so nicely put it on Mad Men). So there you go, that’s what I mean: contemporary perception on new vintage TV.

Gail Patrick Jackson was executive producer of the Perry Mason show by the way, only to comment on influential women in and before 1960. There weren’t many, but they did exist, those ladies of power, some of them developing or producing their own programs. Now that would make a truly intersting show, off the beaten track of cliche flight attendants, secretaries and their male bosses seducing or abusing them.

The 70s

On the next couple of Fridays I will bring you information about and recommendations from beyond my favorite decades, starting today.

The 1970s

Fashion in the 70s was colorful with patterns that could make you dizzy. Skirts were super long or super short. You had knee-high boots and ethno-chic tunics. Trousers were flared and paired with platform shoes. Popular colors were hippie rich and often psychedelic. A deep rich brown combined with a bright orange and sunny yellow, or a combination of colors that weren’t necessarily easy on the eyes. 1970s fashion was about fun, second wave feminism and comfort. The music world presented ABBA from Sweden and Saturday Night Fever on dance floors worldwide. Glam rock and punk entered the scene, while microwave ovens became more popular in US homes.

On TV, Mary Tyler Moore had her successful debut, as well as The Muppets. Following affirmative action, Woodstock and the relaunch of an arduous gender debate in the 60s, 1970s television was the mirror of a society still heavily entangled in the Vietnam war. M*A*S*H was a direct answer to the pains and fears of an entire generation, inspired by its preceding feature film and novel. Other examples for successful shows from that era are Happy Days, my decade favorite Hart to HartThe Love Boat, or The Waltons with their rather classic entertainment qualities. New family realities and changing structures were picked up on The Brady Bunch, The Odd Couple, The Partridge Family or Three’s Company, the ongoing debate on gender equality on a variety of shows that circled around female leads. Not that TV hadn’t presented women as central heroes before, but the tone had changed and the atmosphere. Charlie’s Angels, Maude, Police Woman or Wonder Woman didn’t have much on Lucy Ricardo, Donna Stone, Samantha Stephens or Susie McNamara. It was a different fabric these “new women” were made of, independent and hard-boiled yet often sexed up. They were supposed to find their way in a man’s world, no matter what, and their wardrobe and wisecracking attitude helped them accomplish that goal.

On the silver screen, gritty, sexed-up, shocking or taboo-breaking was in vogue: The Godfather, The GraduateKramer vs. Kramer, Norma Rae, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Taxi Driver were big hits, as well as the emerging genre of disaster movies kicked off by the adaptation of Alex Haley’s Airport. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of either one of these films although I have always greatly appreciated each film’s stellar cast. Cabaret or Love Story  are more my cup of tea, along with the surfer movie Big Wednesday for three simple reasons: California, William Katt and his mother Barbara Hale. I guess you can see my priorities.