So.. my cousin, Sven, and I headed out to Indiana the other weekend to go golfing with our friends from out that way, and I forgot my golf clubs at home because I’m retarded. While driving out there, we ran into the awesome flooding going on in Indiana and Illinois, and as a result, they shut down the highway, leaving us parked/crawling on it a short ways past the Indiana/Michigan border for about an hour or so. All this to say we had some time on our hands, and Sven is [thankfully] the sort who puts up with [perhaps enjoys?] my fairly inane observations and questions. (inane –> Fascinating and Awesome) So I brought up something I had been thinking about a bit earlier, when trying to sleep, and I’ve decided to mention it here as well, because I don’t feel like working.
We had been talking about TV shows, and I mentioned that TV Themes/openings seem to have changed as TV Shows themselves have changed. In 80’s and 90’s (and I’d imagine before that as well) you had two main types of “standard” TV show : The Family Sitcom/Drama, and the special Situation/Gimmick Comedy/Drama. To go with these 2 main types, you had 2 main types of opening theme.. what I’d call “The Explanation” theme, and “The Introduction” theme.
The Standard Family sitcom was a show that required no explanation, as it took place in a setting we were already familiar with: A family’s home, School, etc. As such, the theme just had to introduce you to the main players, and usually gave you a quick setup for what kind of character they were. Examples: The Cosby Show, 90210, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Friends, The Simpsons… You get the idea. I think the best example of this is a more recent show: Freaks and Geeks. After watching that opening theme, you get a great idea for what each character is like, and the theme song gives a great idea about the overarching theme.
The Explanation theme was required whenever the show had some gimmick or special circumstances that need to be explained for the show to make sense, or if the setting is just foreign enough to require explanation. That can either mean the theme song explains the premise, or the opening theme visuals show you exactly what’s going on. Now, if the theme song explains the show, you can go two routes with that: Either you just have someone say the point at the very beginning, or you have a song that describes it. Examples of just explaining it: Dragnet, Law and Order, Star Trek and The Next Generation, Quantum Leap, My Two Dads, The A-Team, Sliders, Knight Rider, etc. Examples of singing the explanation: The Brady Bunch, Dukes of Hazard, Green Acres, Gilligan’s Island, Beverly Hillbillies, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Then you have the shows where the visuals explain it, that this can be something like MASH, where you are just shown the main people doing their doctor things, so by the end you know that they are working at a army hospital during a war (you’re given no clue if this episode is one of the funny ones or the sad ones). Or it can be more direct, like Who’s the Boss, where (until the later seasons, I think) you are given a full run-through of Tony showing up, getting hired, then we see all the characters, and then you see that Tony is the house keeper, and that he has the hots for Angela. Story explained. Other examples of this type: Mork and Mindy (Thanks Alan!), Perfect Strangers, Just the 10 of Us (the early seasons), Mr. Belvedere, X-Files, etc..
Okay.. so that’s what themes were like… and for the most part, shows (not counting Soap Operas) were of a sort where you could just watch a single episode and follow along no problem. There was continuity, but it wasn’t vital to your understanding of the show. I think that’s changed. A lot of the shows now, if you didn’t watch from the beginning, you’ll have no idea what’s going on, and no introduction is going to help. (Think : Alias, Lost, Prison Break, Arrested Development, The West Wing, Ed..) Some of them will have a “previously on X” spot, but that’s clearly meant for people who’ve been watching since the beginning, as you’d be even more lost trying to follow what they’re explaining in those clips than the show itself. I think that, coupled with the fact that shows are even shorter now, in order to squeeze in a few more commercials, means we just don’t have time or need for long opening themes explaining the show. Either they skip the opening theme altogether (e.g. Lost, Seinfeld), or you shrink it way down, and just throw the actors/actresses name out there, and call it good. You still get some shows that can pull off the “introducing the key players” thing (e.g. The Office, 30 Rock), but man, they zip through those characters really fast. A few notable exceptions: The various Law and Orders still on and My Name is Earl.
So what was the point of all that? There wasn’t really a point… but I managed to delay working for like, 2 hours.