Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bionic Woman
The Incredible Hulk
Wonder Woman
BJ Mckay and the Bear
Beverly Hillbillies
Miami Vice
Greatest American Hero
The Wizard
The Flash intro
The Fall Guy intro
Remington Steele

Why I Love Main Titles

Main Titles create an emotional link between the viewer and the show. But for a writer, they are so much more. Here is an excerpt from SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING, the book I wrote with William Rabkin. The excerpt will be followed by three examples, along with text from the book.

Main titles are created to introduce the audience to the show they are about to see. But for the writer, there is much more information to be gleaned. It is a chance to read the mind of the executive producer. How does he perceive the show? How does he perceive the characters?

How does he perceives the tone? What kinds of stories does he want to tell? Most main title sequences will answer all those questions and more.

There are basically three different kinds of main title sequences: Format sequences, that actually tell you in narration and in writing what the show is about; Mood sequences that convey the type of feeling and tone they are going for; and Character sequences, which delineate who the characters are and how they interact. Many main titles are combinations of these three sequences.

Since TV changes so fast, we’ve chosen some examples from some established series you probably know very well and, if not, can easily find in reruns...

CSI -- Example #1 from Successful Television Writing

CSI Season 3 Intro

The title alone should tell you a lot. But beyond that, the brilliant main title sequence does an exceptional job selling the mood and format of the series.

Part of the brilliance of the main title sequence is that it goes against everything we’ve been taught about what is dramatic (not coincidentally, much like the show itself). While other main titles are full of slickly edited explosions, car chases, amazing stunts, and scenes of conflict, this one features shots of evidence being collected and analyzed.

How exciting can looking at a piece of lint under a microscope be? Very exciting, judging by the way these shots are cut into the main title, which also tells you something about how the producers approach story. The forensics are the story.
We see quick shots of crime scene tape, finger prints, broken glass, drops of blood, a strand of hair, a bullet moving through water, a guy setting his equipment case down beside a body. Here, the mundane is edited like a martial arts sequence.

The producers could have included shot of cops kicking down doors, buildings exploding, moments which have happened during the course of the series. But those action-packed shots aren’t in the main title. Why? Because while those were exciting moments in the show, they aren’t what the series is about. It’s a show about forensics.

Look at the way the characters are introduced as compared to, say, the main titles of any other show. No attempt is made to reveal character, to tell us who they are as people, or even to make them look particularly heroic or attractive. Each character is introduced peering at some tiny piece of evidence under a microscope or between a pair of tweezers, squinting at some computer print-out, crouching over a corpse, or aiming a flashlight into a dark corner. Because, like Law & Order, this isn’t a show about the characters. It’s a show about forensics.

The series also takes place in Las Vegas, but with the exception of two quick night shots of the city, you don’t see the typical glittering footage you’d expect of the Strip, showgirls dancing, and roulette wheels spinning. Why? Because this isn’t a show about Las Vegas. It’s a show about forensics.

And if the visuals didn’t pound home the point hard enough, let’s consider the theme song, The Who’s “Who Are You?” The cost of using that song every week is probably larger than the national debt of several third world countries, so it’s obviously important to producers. The fact that it’s a classic, and catchy, song by a legendary rock group doesn’t hurt. It sticks in your head. In fact, it was probably there long before CSI came along. That alone would probably be worth the hefty price tag. But what really makes this song worth every penny is the simple lyric: Who are you? Who? Who? I Really Want To Know. That lyric is repeated again and again over the visuals, combining with them to send you a message you’d have to be deaf and blind not to get.

It’s a show about forensics.

The producers don’t care about car chases, or explosions, or gun-fights. They don’t care about romance, sex, and witty repartee. They aren’t particularly interested in moving, character drama either. They care about cool forensics and intricate mysteries.

You’ll notice that just about every scene in the main title was either shot at night, or in a darkened room, which should also tell you something about the mood. This is not a bright and cheery show. In fact, just about the only light you see is coming from flashlights. What are they saying? That the stories, and the characters, move in the shadows.

The title of the show is Crime Scene Investigation. The visuals are only about evidence collection and analysis. The song asks over and over again Who are you?
Someone who has never seen a single episode of CSI, someone who doesn’t even speak or read English, could watch the main titles and tell you what the show is about and what the center of each story is.

This is a perfect main title, and about as clear an indication as you could ever get into how the producers see their own show.

Walker: Example #2 from Successful Television Writing

Walker Texas Ranger TV Intro

This is a Character and Format sequence. This main title features Chuck Norris, the star of the show, singing a song against a backdrop of big action sequences. The song goes like this:
In the eyes of a Ranger
the unsuspecting stranger
had better know the truth of wrong from right,
because the eyes of the Ranger are upon you.
Any wrong you do he’s gonna see
When you’re in Texas look behind you
because that’s where the Ranger’s gonna be.

Without even seeing the main title sequence, without even reading a script, you know that this guy is a Texas Ranger and he is the center of every story. He’s a man of action.

And as if the lyrics aren’t big enough clues, Walker himself sings the title song and his face is in almost every single shot.

So you know that Walker, just like Hunter, is the center of every story. You also know that action and physical violence are a major part of the show. And you know that he’s always going to be one step ahead of the bad guys.

We have only watched a few episodes of Walker, for a cross-over episode we did on Martial Law, but we can tell you that from just watching the title sequence and listening to that horrible song, he never makes a mistake. He is the nicest guy on earth, the best fighter on earth, and the best cop. He’s almost super-human.
Criminals are either good or bad. There is no in between. And Walker, like Santa Claus, omnisciently knows which is which.

Chuck is the star, the executive producer and he sings the song. What more do you need to know about what a Walker story should be?

X Files Example #3 from Successful Television Writing

X-Files intro

This is a mood and format sequence. The main title sequence remained unchanged until David Duchovny left, and that alone should tell you something about how important it is to the producers in stating what the show is about (and the fact that show tanked after Duchovny left should tell you how much more important characters are to viewers than the stories).

First of all you know right away that the format is science fiction, horror and fantasy. You know that the show is scary. That means your stories also better have a scare in them.

You can also tell from the main title sequence that the style and tone – and the feelings they evoke -- are very, very important, more so than the minutiae of the story. That main title is all about creating a feeling in you before the show even begins.

You also know right away that this is a show about two FBI agents that investigate paranormal activity. The title sequence tells you in big print exactly what they investigate and suggests that it involves conspiracies about which the government denies all knowledge.

The music is creepy and distant. You know it’s not a show that is going to be fun and games. There is not a lot of humor and high jinks. It’s about government conspiracies and the supernatural.

So you know the tone your story has to have. You know the two of them have to be at the center of it. You know that there had better be some scares in it. You never have to watch an episode of the X Files to know all of that -- you just have to watch the main title.

Welcome to Main Title Heaven

For the most part, I'm staying in the background and letting these great (and memorably awful) main title sequences speak for themselves.

Some housekeeping. To date, there are about 90 main title YouTube links on the blog. The blog was taking forever to load, so I am only showing four posts per day, but you can access everything by clicking on the archive links in the column to the right.

Have fun!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Starsky and Hutch Tv Show Intro 1st Season

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Harry O

one of the greatest PI shows ever. The theme and main title sequence were tweaked several times during the show's short, two-year run.

Fantastic Journey intro with narration
The Rookies

This features a kick-ass Elmer Bernstein theme.

Whistlers Main Title

Temp main titles for an unsold spin-off from DIAGNOSIS MURDER.
Shazam intro
Helltown intro
Star Trek Animated Tv Cartoon Intro
The Wiseguy Tv Show Intro
Nanny and the Professor TV show intro
Kojak (70's) Tv Show Intro
Police Woman Tv Show Intro
Original Emergency! Opening Theme
Firehouse (1973) - OPENING

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Spenser for hire intro

I will always have a soft spot for this was my first produced teleplay. I ended up writing three episodes.
Search main titles

I thought this show was so cool when I was a kid...
Magnum titles

Another version of the Magnum main titles.
Magnum P.I. opening

The revised main titles with the classic, Mike Post theme.
Magnum p.i. original titles

The original Magnum titles with the original, awful theme.
Simon and Simon intro
Banacek - Opening Titles
Harry O (Season 1) - Opening Titles
The Streets of San Francisco
The invisible man (1975) Tv show intro

This was later revamped and became GEMINI MAN.
Love and Curses intro
Martial Law intro year 2
Missing 2 intro
The Lazarus Man

Monday, October 09, 2006

Gemini Man Intro

Gemini Man (1976) Sci-Fi Tv show intro
The Fantastic Journey TV intro (1977)


Flipper - Opening Titles
T.J. Hooker (1986) - Season 5 OPENING
T.J. Hooker (1982) - Season 1 OPENING
Emergency +4 (1973) - OPENING
Robocop: The TV Series (1994) - OPENING
Baa Baa Black Sheep - Intro