Credit(s) Where Credit’s Due

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television1It’s an old but true saying that behind every great television show is a great opening credits sequence. (What?) From I Love Lucy to Green Acres to Cheers; Lassie to Miami Vice to The Sopranos, shows that captivate viewers in the first thirty seconds have proven 83% more likely to retain their audience (and be good, too). That’s just statistics. A well-mixed cocktail of music, flashy imagery, and a dynamic typeface can even disguise the sometimes mediocre content that follows. People sat through two craptacular middle seasons of The O.C., they loved the song “California” so much. A strong credits sequence can render the audience putty in your hands.

Lifting Fog is today going to do something¬† we’ve always shied away from – making lists – and we’re doing so for two reasons (ha!):

1) The writing staff needs time to recharge after exerting ourselves, vigorously, on April Fool’s Day. The unicorn in particular was really kind of draining.
2) The economy and stuff.

After the jump, examination of some of the best opening credits sequences ever devised (at least according to Henning, and in no particular order, so…) with careful frame-by-frame analysis and applied Jungian theory. Or more just “this is what I am thinking about this.”

1) Charles in Charge

These credits would have you believe that Charles and his lover, Willie Aames, are au pairs to a family of deaf-mutes who remain indoors at all times. But you’d be sort of wrong! Charles in Charge ran for five seasons on CBS, largely (I think) on the strength of its theme song. “He’s there just to take good care of me / Like he’s one of the family / Charles in charge / of our days / and our nights” – subversive and sexually charged, these lyrics speak to the need for protection, a yearning to which every girl with daddy issues can relate. Timeless.

2) The Adventures of Pete and Pete

Talk to any older “Millennial” for more than five minutes and you’ll inevitably land on the subject of Nickelodeon, and how it made them the person they are today. Disturbing, but mostly true – shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, Wild and Crazy Kids, Doug*, and Hey Dude shaped our views on everything from dizzy bat technique to animal mating habits. (I learned how to be a dad from Rugrats!) No program meant more, though, than Pete and Pete. Want to know why we love “quirky” indie movies? And can’t stop listening to angsty alternative music? It’s all there in the opening credits.

* It should be noted that Doug underwent something of a radical transformation when he joined ABC’s “One Saturday Morning” lineup in the fall of 1996 and contributed not one, but two eating disorders to my childhood. Thanks!

3) John From Cincinnati

John From Cincinnati ran on HBO for two months in the summer of 2007 and largely sucked, but I was drawn in for at least half the series just hoping its episodes would live up to the preceding credits. The track is perfect (“Johnny Appleseed” by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros) and likewise the imagery, evocative documentary footage of SoCal surfing culture. I want to trash-pick in Imperial Beach! I want to hit the Tijuana Straits! … I want to turn off my TV!

4) The O.C.

A few hours north of Cincinnati lies Newport Beach, CA, home to The O.C. and its most perfect of opening credits. The familiar piano notes. Fresh-faced actor shots. Wailing “CAAALLIIFFOOOOOOOOORRRNNIIAAAA”s. I’ve sat through this thing at least 150 times, and I am supposedly an adult male. No shame here – The O.C. opened perfectly even when its episodes (seasons 2 and 3, at least) couldn’t follow suit. Josh Schwartz knows his way around a hook.

5) Pee-Wee’s Playhouse

Simply a great show. Often imitated (see: at least half of Cartoon Network’s “edgy” programming); never duplicated. Watch the ending credits and try to keep it together.

These may represent the apex of opening credits engineering (minus Friday Night Lights, which the generous execs at NBC had removed from YouTube), but there are no doubt many more shows that flirt with the craftsmanship on display here. What’s on your list?

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4 Responses to “Credit(s) Where Credit’s Due”

  1. Captain Jack Says:

    the actor who played ryan on the OC is in a new cop drama on Fox.

  2. DJ Steve Says:

    how about the Dexter opening?

    • Henning Says:

      I’ve heard the Dexter credits are good (and have a very Six Feet Under/True Blood vibe) but having never seen the show, I felt like it was sort of out of contention.

      … Plus these were just the first ones that came to mind. Hardly an exhaustive study.

  3. JES Says:

    The Electric Company (original edition).

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