Evolution of the Primetime Intro

You’re probably watching your favorite TV show tonight watching all the best part without thinking of one thing about the intro of the TV show that makes it what it is now. I’m talking about the opening credits of the TV show. The 2-3 minutes (yes some show intros go on for that long) that introduce the show and its cast. Now I’m only counting the live action shows not the animated features because those vary in length and there are too many far and few between. So you won’t see much examples out of the Flintstones, The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead or many others, they won’t stick. I’ll give some examples. In the early 70’s and 80’s TV shows of any genre gives you a narrator (usually the cast member of importance) outlining the basic thought of the show. What it is, where its going to take you through and the like all ending with the sounding of a memorable song that till this day can still hum it through or even help launch the careers of several orchestration talents.

Sci-fi is often notorious for making such a delivery for intricate starts to a show whether it’s good or bad. These are the good ones such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

Moving forward, we often remove ourselves from having to be told what the whole show is about and just want to get to know the scenery and the cast call of your favorite stars. Like the examples I mentioned above except no narration. Dallas is what comes to mind making from the iconic dramas….

…To quirky comedy fare like Mork and Mindy

Then the late 80’s-90’s came and with the advent of so many family friendly sitcoms coming into the fray, catchier theme songs with the characters doing wacky things that makes them what they are. It wasn’t soon long for what’s to come in the form of the program blocks that litter the networks from TGIF to “Must See TV!”. Ignore it as you can, this was the age of the singing intro.

Shows like Full House, Step by Step and Family Matters are good examples is an example of how you can use original composition and lyrics to make a great song that makes up the whole of a 90 second piece. Then when you look back at them, you can see how embarrassing it was. Which ends up making them more awesome.

NBC does go the same route with the original composition. But when the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Friends came on they took it to the next level. By having original artists that have you know, are not just one-shot  commissioned people who sing the theme for the sake of it.

Then comes along Fox and CBS with examples that show that if you can’t find an unknown artist to sing an annoyingly goofy song, or a popular band or artist who stars in the show to sing it for them, you go the next route, finding an already existing song and use that as the context for the show. Case in point:

Into the 2000’s and beyond where a few shows left and often change their model completely just to get through the product as fast as possible. Notice I said product, not show. They do take elements from the past where you now have shows that play original compositions, and other times you get the composition-cast call combo or even have the original artist play out the theme of the intro. But with the end of the live audience shows, sets now driven more to real locations and the need to squeeze more story than there is the opening such as the matter of some shows speeding through the credits before the show even starts so they can get to the next one as possible.

The result being that the intro has now been reduced to either one of these models:

The Artist-Based Faceless Cast Call

This is where song plays but the intro is nothing more than a collage of images and motions that get the viewer pulled into the overall atmosphere of the story while doing the cast role call but you can’t see their faces because in the age of the Internet, you probably already know their faces by now so why not.

The Title-Flasher

In this piece like Revenge, Fringe, Lost and many other shows including comedies, the long song, the cast call and are out and the simple showing of a logo with the creator’s name is the thing now because the audience wants to get to the show as fast as possible.

The In-Credit Cold Open

There’s the one that is hard to find because it’s a simply not really notable of mention because either it’s barely noticeable or just pure laziness. I’m talking about the in-credit intro where during a show they don’t bother going to the cost of composing music, getting the cast ready in one place or even play to make shots of a logo. The creators just throw their hands up in the air and say with a collective “fuck it!” and give you the in credit cold open. This is where in the cold open. You know the stuff that happens before the opening credits become the opening credits itself.

The show starts, the name of the show shows up in plain, unimpressive font and roll the credits of the stars and upper echelon staff all before fading into black.

This is what it has come to people. Where we went through long and complicated intros to lazy run-through that just want us to get it over with before getting to the meat of the story we watch every night on TV. Ad if this trend continues, we may see the same effect on the hour-long shows and movies. Which by the way in some instances just go right for the story and put the title AT THE END OF THE MOVIE!!. This is the outline of the evolution of the opening credit. From masterpieces in of themselves to just a flash-in-the-pan pasties that just makes you miss the point of why you’re into the show in the first place.


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