I like a good opening title sequence. In fact, they often shape my view of a show, as I’m sure they do for most people. That’s why they’re so important to get right. Get it wrong and you have to do a lot more work to get me back on board.
For me, the best ones will encapsulate the show’s themes, and speak to me at a visceral level that gives me a better understanding of what I’m watching. The best example I can think of is this:
It tells us everything, and reinforces our preconceptions. Indeed, the first few minutes of the show work together to settle us into the concept. Starting with the title, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, we can already expect something that mixes genres, and has some humour to it. The teaser sequence plays with our preconceptions of the horror genre, leading us to believe a blonde schoolgirl is in danger, being stalked by a vampire, then turns around and literally bites us in the neck. Women won’t be the victims here.
We’ve been primed now, and so the titles kick in and reinforce it perfectly. The stuffy and clichéd images of the moon, the pipe organ and howling are brushed aside by some kick-ass guitar riffs, and we meet Buffy, kicking vampire bottom from the get go. We know we’re in for a treat. And lots of kicking. And it ends with a hero shot, leaving us in no doubt who Buffy is or what she does.
Let’s take another example, this time, one that doesn’t quite work. Veronica Mars is a brilliant show (indeed, Joss Whedon called it the best show no-one was watching), but it makes life harder for itself. The title for one doesn’t give us any indication of the wonderfully layered noir elements of another genre-bending show. Maybe if it had been called Veronica Mars PI …
Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, seek it out. It’s great. But here are the opening titles:
While that song insidiously grows on you, turning into an ear-worm of the highest order, I don’t know if it really sells the show. It certainly speaks to one of the main themes, and fits the images we’re watching, but together they’re not priming us for what’s ahead. If you haven’t seen it, what do you think it’s about? Don’t waste any more energy on the thought, just go and watch it, it’s worth your time.
If you’re not sure that my premise is correct, that a title sequence has no impact on your perception of a show. Try this one:
That’s a bloody Star Trek show.
I get that the images are showing us the pioneering spirit, and that fits, but what the buggery munch are we listening to? Star Trek has memorable anthems, not shitty pop songs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the show didn’t last as long as most of the others. Play a Jerry Goldmsith score across the top of the same montage and see what happens.
(God I wish I had a clip of that to put here).
Apparently, The West Wing was originally going to have twangy guitar music underscoring it. Luckily they saw sense and nailed the titles:
Lest we think title sequences are only important to American shows, here’s a British comedy that nails it:
We know this is NEWS. It’s big, it’s important, it’s global. And it’s bluster is winded by the brilliance of the extra few bars of music at the end.
People do judge a book by its cover, but equally, we judge a show by it’s title sequence.
I’m off to watch Buffy.