One of the most undervalued formats in television is the opening credit sequences. Within just a few minutes that set the tone for a series that last for years—even decades. They can reveal a backstory in a song (Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres), create a aural hook (Peter Gunn’s theme for Mission Impossible, Quincy Jone’s music for Sanford and Son), or simply create a comfortable familiarity for the viewer (Friday Night Lights is one of the best examples).
But sometimes—on very rare occasions—they can become more; sometimes they can become their own miniature masterpieces. Even when a television show isn’t worth watching (see #2, 6, and 7 on this list), a creative intro can stand on its own as a minor work of art.
Here are eleven examples of opening credits that transcend their humble genre:
The theme song can’t compete with its contemporaries (The High Chaparral, Bonanza), but the clever line drawing in the visuals helped set the tone for a show which was conceived by its creator to be “James Bond on horseback.”
The home video montage sets just the right tone for the nostalgic look back at the late 1960s, early 1970s. The Joe Cocker cover of the Beatles shouldn’t work, but somehow fits perfectly.
HBO could fill every entry on this list (Oz, Deadwood, True Blood, et al.). So why choose an example from one of their least watched series? Because it’s one of the most visually interesting that doesn’t contain offensive imagery.
At 13 seconds, it’s one of the shortest and most mysterious intros in TV history.
Familiarity has dulled its effect, but this is one of the most creative backstory sequences in TV history.
#3 The Simpsons
The opening sequence has been through so many changes that it has it’s own Wikipedia page.
#2 Mad Men
The show itself is one of the most overrated and overhyped in history. But the opening credits is worthy of much praise.
(Note: The only embeddable version I could find contains annoying subtitles. A better version can be found here.)
If you’re not a fan of this series then it might be hard to understand why it deserves the top slot. The intro is actually broken up into two segments: a brief backstory clip that precedes the first scene and a more traditional opening credits within the first few minutes. The haunting music and visuals make it worthy of being on a list of “Best Intros Ever.” But its the way that each intro ends with foreshadowing scenes from the episode you’re watching that makes is a model of creativity. I watched all 75 episodes and not once did I fast forward through the credits—it hooked me every time.
What TV intros would you add to the list?
The Twilight Zone
Monty Python’s Flying Circus