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.

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Getting in the Mood

TV themes. Do you remember when they lasted longer than only a couple of seconds? When the sound of your favorite show put you in the mood for an episode of fun, suspense or tears? Did you know the lyrics by heart? Did you recite them or sing along? Do you still find yourself humming those songs while you cook, do laundry or are cleaning up? Do they still put you in a good mood like they used to? Bring back memories of characters once dear to you like friends or relatives?

Today, a lot of shows save up time by using trademark teasers rather than songs that last longer than a mere moment. Castle, Malibu Country, The Good Wife are some of my favorite examples. If you sneeze, you may miss the catchy intro. Sad news for anyone who suffers from hay fever or catches a cold. There are exceptions no doubt: Elementary Downton Abbey or Rizzoli & Isles. I enjoy all of these shows once in a while but the less new programs offer a catchy melody or song, the more I miss that positive trigger classic television used to lure me in. Granted, for the sake of commercials, screen time has been cut down over the years. While a Perry Mason episode still lasted an average of 50 minutes and Bewitched an entertaining 25, most shows only get 43 (or 21) minutes today. So while it was great to hum along to Family Affair or Hart to Hart in the past, it makes sense for Go On to save up time and use those theme song seconds for the storyline.

Although I know the reasons and appreciate a couple of contemporary programs for their beautiful tunes, I still miss those beautiful TV songs that used to stick with me all week. Bugs Bunny, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Flintstones. I Love Lucy, The Muppets, Bill Cosby, Growing Pains. Murder She Wrote, Family Ties, The Golden Girls. Love Boat. Cagney and LaceyScarecrow and Mrs. King. Even shows I didn’t like for anything but their catchy themes such as Family Matters or Full House. Do you still remember your favorite melodies?!

The Lucy Show

TV classics: The Lucy Show

USA 1962-68, six seasons, 156 episodes 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white (first season) and color (seasons 2 through 6). Narrated by: Roy Rowan, Cast: Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Gale Gordon, Mary Jane Croft, Candy Moore, Ralph Hart, Jimmy Garrett, Dick Martin

Plot summary:  Lucy Carmichael, a widowed mother of two, lives with her divorcée friend Vivian Bagley and her son. Together, they master the ups and downs of everyday life, including money troubles and men.

Review: On Monday, Lucille Ball would have turned 101. In loving memory of a comedienne who has remained popular for many decades on television until today, I have decided to have a look at her first show without Desi Arnaz, The Lucy Show which is available on DVD (some of you may be pleased to know).

Two years after the completion of Lucy-and-Desi-Comedy-Hour in 1960, Lucille Ball returned to playing another incarnation of her famous Lucy character on CBS. Starting out in black and white and insisting on her original I Love Lucy time slot on Monday nights, Ms. Ball and her network did not expect her new show to last longer than a season. Reunited with co-star Vivian Vance from her previous hit show, her new format, however, was instantly embraced by her audience, as well as by the industry, rewarding her with a two Emmy awards and two additional nominations.

Starting out as a widowed mother of two, the new Lucy lived with her best friend Vivian, TV’s first divorcée mother, and had to face the challenges of everyday life as a single parent. Undergoing many changes in casting and plot throughout its six successful seasons, The Lucy Show proved to be a steady favorite on CBS and featured guest stars such as Ann Sothern. Shot in color from its second season on but broadcast in black and white till 1965, the show also did well in ratings until Lucille Ball bowed out of her own show after selling Desilu Productions. She moved on to star in Here’s Lucy for another six years, a show her new production company Lucille Ball Productions owned the rights to and thus continued the tradition of Lucille Ball having control over own program.

The Lucy Show sample episode

My Friend Irma

TV classics: My Friend Irma

USA 1952-54, 2 season,  episodes approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Marie Wilson, Mary Shipp, Sid Tomack and others

Plot summary: Irma Peterson lives with her roommate Jane Stacy who has many stories to tell about her sweet but simple-minded friend.

Review: Like many of its contemporary hit shows, My Friend Irma started out as a popular radio program. Created by Cy Howard, the show was on the air for seven consecutive years before it found its way to television in the last two years of its enduring success, starring Marie Wilson as Irma Peterson. Introduced by her savvy roommate Jane Stacy (Mary Shipp), each episode covered a mishap adventure of the show’s title character Irma. Sweet but not the brightest bulb in the city, the ingenuous secretary from Minnesota easily stumbled into trouble with her boss, her nitwit boyfriend or other recurring characters on the show, a fact that amused her roommate as much as the audience. With her simple mind and sweet nature, the character could very well have been an inspiration for Betty White’s beloved Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls, a show that’s still popular amongst fans of all ages. As a lighthearted comedy program, My Friend Irma also has the potential to entertain old fans and new ones, especially those who are interested in classic comedy and storytelling. Although sometimes silly and over the top, the show is entertaining and a lovely distraction for anyone who is tired of the anything-goes plots and reality TV of today, and one of those gems from Hollywood’s golden days a lot of us have a great time exploring again in public domain or on DVD.

My Friend Irma sample episodes “Irma Gets Engaged” and “Dating Barrington”

Side note: For movie buffs, the show also had two successful spins on the silver screen, introducing Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin to an adoring audience in My Friend Irma (1949) and My Friend Irma Goes West (1950).

Another Season finally over…

Last night, I watched the finales of my on-and-off guilty pleasure program, Grey’s Anatomy, and its creator’s new brainchild, Scandal. I sat through ninety minutes of drama and mayhem until the inevitable cliffhanger concluded both shows for the season. I felt so dissatisfied and drained afterwards, the ups and downs in storytelling were just too much. The unnecessary drama, the pseudo realism and romanticized adultery – it all affected me in an exhausting way. After all, that’s not why I tune in to watch a show. What I’m looking for is entertainment and not an overexposure of depression.

In the 50s and 60s, Our Miss Brooks managed to mention her bad finances, work issues and relationship struggles without making the audience feel bad. She allowed us to laugh with her and didn’t put herself down, nor any of the other characters. On Perry Mason, it was also clear that nothing really bad ever happened to the main cast. No matter how bad a case, Perry, Della and Paul always came out on top and never turned against each other. On I Love Lucy, the main characters fought on occasion, but in the end it was always clear that Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel were friends no matter what. Donna Reed also smiled through every mishap and Alfred Hitchcock tested his audience’s nerves but never showed gritty details of his murder victims’ gruesome deaths.

And that’s what I miss these days – a mixture of suspense, humor and entertainment without the frustrations of a dysfunctional life. I don’t want to see my favorite characters die, nor do I want to hear their constant moaning. What I want is to be able to relax and revisit a storyline I can trust will keep me on my toes. I want dialog and uplifting action, and twists that don’t disgust or traumatize. I don’t want the endless cancer battles, broken heroes and close-up cruelties. I don’t want constant changes in structure and storytelling. So please, stop numbing me with your “anything goes” lack of imagination, dear writers, producers, network execs. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.