In a time when consumption of television shows is gravitating to instant gratification, when you can just marathon through an entire series on Netflix or YouTube, less time between episode watching ensues. So every time a new episode starts, you have to choose: zip through the opening title sequence, or watch it again because it’s actually quite enjoyable? Even though you just saw it like 50 minutes ago? What is it about this feature that is basically a title card with What This Is, Who’s In It, and Who Made It? The well-crafted ones use a distinctive piece of music, and an original, engaging visual narrative.
The following twenty are by no means an authoritative list, just another opinion by Johnny Cat, some guy on the Internet.
20. The Outer Limits
This was clever for its time, because in the 60s, TV sets would always be “going on the fritz” or otherwise losing picture quality. So when people first saw the intro to the show, they were creepily informed that the horizontal and vertical controls of their prized living room television were in the hands of some weird television show.
Filmed in the mountains of California, the famous intro to M*A*S*H describes a typical day for our friends at the 4077th. The helicopters glide over the “Korean” landscape, seeming to dance gently to the sweet music… um, yeah the song’s titled “Suicide is Painless” and had lyrics in the original movie version. But anyway, then the doctors run and whisk the injured away to go to work on them. Always fun to watch, never a chore.
18. 30 Rock
One aspect of an awesome intro is getting the information out to the viewer efficiently; entertainingly, as well. There are a few very short entries on this list, and third shortest is the zippy punch that is the intro to 30 Rock.
17. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Although I watched every episode of this dreadful show, and have previously named Dr. Theopolis as the most worthless droid, the best part of those otherwise wasted viewings was the opening sequence.
16. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Go on, sing along to the original, extended version and see how you do on that middle part.
15. The Simpsons
The show hit the airwaves running, and never looked back. Throughout the hundreds of episodes, the iconic opening sequence remains generally the same, of course with a different blackboard phrase, and a different couch scene. Here’s one with an oddly serious ending, and here’s every couch scene in a row.
The shortest one on the list, and included for its sheer simplicity. The show’s structure was one with an opening scene, which would usually end with some WTF moment or discovery, then – cut to this intro. It’s interactive, because the audience is simultaneous feeling what the word is saying. It’s effective.
The Malvina Reynolds song “Little Boxes” is one of the best choices for a show like Weeds. Nancy Botwin and her family feel so out of place in a gated community, and its ticky-tacky people. As the series went on, the theme song would be covered by various artists. This is the original.
12. The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling was a fan of anthology pulp fiction stories as a little boy. As an adult, he wished to write on social commentary themes such as racism, government, war, society and human nature in general. He decided to combine the two so he could not only indulge both of these passions, but also to get away with talking about these on television at a time when television wasn’t allowed to address such things.
Perfectly sums up one of the most loved TV shows, with one of the most unforgettable intros.
11. The Sopranos
In this intro, we simply sit shotgun and look around as Tony Soprano makes a drive from the city to Jersey, and finally to his nice home in the hills. With an edgy song as backdrop, the journey is a beautiful one of neighborhoods, people, and T smoking a cigar.
10. The Walking Dead
Riveting music, broken picture frames, the modern wasteland. It’s explanatory and beautiful in its depiction of the show’s premise. And I love how it always blends in with the opening scene.
9. Breaking Bad
Short, sweet, and to the point. Yo! Bounce!
8. Star Trek
Have you seen this? I mean, have you seen it? The ship flies from one end of the universe to the other, right in your face! Epic narrator, sweeping sci-fi-ish music, and The Enterprise swishing speedily across your face. It’s so… fascinating.
7. Rescue Me
Ostensibly filmed using actual FDNY guys. The song fits the mood of the show, and the cinematography is brilliant.
6. The Six Million Dollar Man
My friends and I were such geeks about this show, and would be upset if we somehow accidentally missed the intro. I love the high tech stuff, and the music, and the drama. Shucks, embedding disabled. Check out the HD version.
5. The Dukes of Hazzard
Sure, most of the beauty of this one comes from the car, but there’s also the kooky song, Daisy kicking some dude with her high heels, explosive arrows, breakfast… But yeah, it’s mostly about the General. Odd footnote: to my knowledge, Waylon Jennings never did appear in character as The Balladeer, he just sung the same damn song every week.
4. The Muppet Show
Gonzo’s finale was always different, so you pretty much had to watch each intro just to see that, and whatever else they sometimes threw in there.
3. Freaks and Geeks
This masterpiece of an intro never gets old. The setting of the thing takes place during school pictures, and we meet our characters as they attempt to pose for the camera while Joan Jett hammers out the angst musically. The song alone is probably the best on this list, but the editing is what really makes this one rock.
I know if you’re a fan of good modern TV shows, you knew this one would be on this list, probably near number 1. The tableau of our title character waking up and getting ready for work has all the right elements to describe the mood of the show, as well as the creepy undertones to everything Dexter does, no matter how mundane. The song is also perfect in those regards, and I’ll never have ham for breakfast again.
1. The Prisoner
If you were a fan of British scifi/spy shows from the 60s, you no doubt knew this one would be here, by hook or by crook, and especially had to live in the number one spot. Its epic scale exceeds all expectations of what a watchable (over and over) intro should be. It’s the Anti-LOST intro, in that it’s three and a half minutes long, but it’s sooo watchable (over and over).
There are many more good, re-watchable intros out there, old and new. I know it; it’s why I pinned a still from the Gilligan’s Island intro up top. So remind me, what’d I leave off this list?