The Lost Art Of The TV Title Sequence

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Can you count ten television shows currently on air with amazing title sequences? Chances are you might struggle. Game Of Thrones might be top of that list. Perhaps Mad Men or True Blood. Or something catchy like The Big Bang Theory. But you might struggle to hit nine or ten. The sad reality of modern television is that there aren't enough great TV title sequences to choose from anymore.

Television today is a very different beast to how it was a few years ago. Audiences can now fast forward, rewind and pause TV or record a series to binge watch at a later date. No longer do you have to sit through tons and tons of adverts. You can even skip the bits you're not interested in. And by that, I mean the TV title sequence...

...Assuming the show has one. With adverts taking more and more chunks out of TV programs the easiest way to squeeze in more story is to cut back on the title sequence altogether. Compare an episode of something like Star Trek: The Next Generation with a modern show like Agents Of Shield and you'll notice easily five minutes difference in length and most likely no title sequence. Several years back Lost did away with this altogether in favour of a moody ten second floating logo and suddenly title sequences were the easy target. Even shows that had titles began to fade them out over time. Does anyone remember that Greys Anatomy had a title sequence in its early years?

This amount of dissipating title sequences on TV is a great shame because they can be an integral part of the show as the stories themselves. Whenever I'm watching a show with my wife on TV or DVD she always asks to skip the titles (if the show has them). I love them. They are a wonderful method to remind me of everything I like about the show – my eyes and ears as a viewer so to speak.
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So what is about title sequences that so many shows seems to have forgotten and why so many audience members are so willing to skip? First and foremost it has to serve as an introduction to the show, a weekly reminder of what people love about it. It has to hook you in and the best way to do that is with theme song; it’s one of the biggest things fans remember about Doctor Who and we all remember and love Mark Snow’s atmospheric theme for The X Files. The auditory reminder that your favourite show is on – what better advert is there than that?

The simplest way in which a show can sell itself is with a title sequence that presents a montage of series highlights. Take Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Not only did it have an incredibly catchy theme tune, but each year it gave a mix of the highlights from the previous season, to remind us what we love about the show. Friends was another prime example. Incredibly fun song, well timed moments and a chance to highlight its very best moments. Heck, it even it mixed it up mid-season just to keep it fresh.
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But it doesn’t just end with the classic montage. Done creatively, a title sequence can serve as a metaphor for the show. Dexter was a prime example of this; the brutality of every day actions performed as if they were out of a horror movie. Wasn’t that exactly what the show was about; a killer in our midst that we could relate to? You have to wonder whether we’ll see a title sequence quite as brilliant again now that we’ve left Miami’s favourite serial killer for good.

The biggest strength of any title sequence is to serve as a piece of storytelling in its own right. There are a couple of shows that still adopt this approach, like the cruelly cancelled Intelligence which told the audience all they needed to know about Gabriel Vaughn and Cyber Command. But we tend to forget that this was a great tool used by many TV shows back when title sequences were still common.
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From the simplicity of The Twilight Zone, which set the scene for the unexpected to the epic, season-changing titles of Babylon 5, a show that would offer a gripping entry point into the current events of the show. The year to year changes were epic, reintroducing us to the principal characters and offering a mini-narrative within the show itself.

Title sequences can really sell a show and perhaps there is a trick being missed in simply discarding them. They are an auditory and visual experience that has always been a wonderful part of our TV viewing experience. Shows like Game Of Throne and True Blood may be flying the flag, but those flags are becoming far more solitary as TV shows move on.

Perhaps you would prefer more story for your buck, so to speak. If that is the case, the TV title sequence is the obvious casualty. But if you, like me, enjoy revisiting your favourite shows with a catchy theme song and a gripping narrative…well then perhaps you should just enjoy them while you still can.

Last updated: 04/05/2018 06:47:45

The X Files

Chris Carter's The X Files was the cultural zeitgeist of the 1990s, turning Mulder and Scully into television heroes. With its mix of aliens, conspiracies, monsters and serial killers, it revolutionised cult television and returned for new six-part revival in 2016 and another 10 episodes in 2018. Check out our 'The X Files Revisited', reviewing key episodes from across all seasons and both movies and our weekly reviews of season 11.

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