The opening credits for a TV show is like its three-minute elevator pitch, during which you can sell a viewer on what the show is all about, who the star is and what the feel of the show will be. Today an audience has eighteen other things going on when they sit down to watch TV (and that’s even if they are watching it on scheduled time, as opposed to via a DVR). How do you really grab a new audience’s attention? Brand the heck out of your series!
Today’s shows use a variety of design methods that go above and beyond what used to be a “typical” intro. The majority of shows from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s follow one of two formulaic systems. Either they have staged film roll of each actor doing “normal character” things with his/her name in a traditional font over the visual, or they show clips from episodes for each main character in the series with one piece of music over it all and again, with bland white typography over each frame. This is best shown here in classic ‘80s sitcom, “Who’s The Boss.”
These days, producers and directors have gotten a lot more creative with their intros. Gone are the days of showing the actors in situ. Now it’s all about setting the tone for the show with some moody film reel as in former drama “Six Feet Under.”
Even the continuity between screens are a lot cleaner – sometimes it’s just one pan and highly graphic (only three colors) as shown below in adventure/comedy series, “Chuck.”
And again, showing the actors faces? Not even necessary when your heavy hitters are Jon Hamm and your plotline is all about an artistic office in the ‘60s as in “Mad Men.”
All in all, I think TV shows have realized the importance of making a good first impression and uniquely “branding” themselves to the new TV audience – a group whose attention span is much shorter than it has even been. So I beseech you to resist fast-forwarding the next time you DVR a show, and pay close attention to the opening credits. What do you think? Better than “Who’s the Boss?”