Opening Credits: The Lost Art

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author: Michael

It comes as no surprise that many shows now bypass the traditional intro sequence for a creatively placed title card, keeping resources and time strictly devoted to telling the most efficient story possible. Still, some shows take the opportunity to hype up viewers for the coming action, and the best ones even manage to educate in the process.

The landscape of broadcast television has changed drastically in recent years, arguably beginning with the introduction of TiVo back in 1999. This not only allowed viewers to record their favorite programs in a much more convenient way, but also afforded the opportunity to skip the bane of every television watcher’s existence: the dreaded commercial break. This feature alone could convince consumers that an increased television bill was worth the price of entry into this new age of television. The TV experience would never be the same again.

An unfortunate victim of the power of the DVR, though, is the television opening credit sequence. I’m sure it was never TiVo’s intention to destroy this important facet of the experience, but its influence persists. More often than not, viewers quickly begin their skip-ahead after the cold-open, completely missing what was once the ushering in of a nightly television event with a catchy jingle or full-fledged musical piece. It comes as no surprise that many shows now bypass the traditional intro sequence for a creatively placed title card, keeping resources and time strictly devoted to telling the most efficient story possible. Still, some shows take the opportunity to hype up viewers for the coming action, and the best ones even manage to educate in the process.

One such title sequence uses its weekly time allotment to foreshadow plot points and themes that occur throughout the upcoming season. MTV’s Teen Wolf is arguably one of the most overlooked supernatural dramas on television, and its opening sequence not only appropriately hypes the viewer for the impending werewolf action, but also offers some hints at future events through clever symbolism and foreshadowing:

With the start of each season, fans take to the internet and begin their detective work, attempting to crack the code hidden behind every cut. When an opening alone can send the fanbase into a frenzy, someone is doing their job well.

And the music is pretty great too.

Another example of a current opening sequence that is effective and educational is that of HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on the renown book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George. R.R. Martin. When David Benioff and D.B. Weiss decided to adapt the behemoth fantasy series into a serialized format, they were entering into uncharted territory. Typically, books are adapted into feature films which only span 2-3 hours. Many corners must be cut and story compromises made to tell a cohesive and complete story with the format. Instead, they chose to break the series up into 10 episode seasons, providing them more time and freedom to tell their tale. Though, there was another hurdle to overcome in portraying the size and scope of the world to an audience that did not have proper maps of Westeros and Essos as reference during their viewing. They took this opportunity to create one of the most effective opening credits of any show on television:

This at first comes across as a heavily stylized sequence that portrays the various cities of the world being built before the viewer’s eyes, but multiple viewings actually instills a sense of place for every location and paints a more complete picture of the landscape for the new audience. Without realizing, they are subconsciously becoming aware of the layout of the world and can more accurately follow along with the story, without having to study the maps included within the books. Not to mention, the score from Ramin Djawadi is absolutely superb, and overlays the entire sequence with a scale so grand one cannot help but be sucked into the world, politics, and intrigue of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Opening credits can be an important part of any television experience if executed correctly. Of course, great examples are not limited to the two previously mentioned, as many of the popular theme songs of the 80s and 90s are stilled burned into the collective consciousness of society to this day. One would be hard pressed to find someone that cannot hum the tune of The Simpsons, or single along perfectly to Friends or the Golden Girls. While they may not be as popular or prevalent as in years past, intro sequences can still be memorable and many of the more popular ones will stay in our hearts and minds for years to come.

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