The Lost Art of the Opening Credit Sequence

Have you noticed something about TV shows lately? It wasn't so very long ago that you could get excited at the beginning of your favorite show, watching clips of the leads, and maybe even singing along to a memorable theme song. Now, you're lucky if your favorite show has a title card that comes up after the initial teaser.

More and more shows don't have an credit sequence at all. Lost's cryptic zoom-in on the title of the show was put together by J.J. Abrams on his home computer. Heroes has an equally minimal opener. Ugly Betty's Day-Glo credits are considerably more cheerful, but no more elaborate. Dirty Sexy Money and Pushing Daisies both have never had a credit sequence, and Grey's Anatomy has abandoned its initial hanky-panky in the hospital sequence in favor of a simple title card. These are just a few examples of shows with simple openings.

In the past several years, television has undergone a lot of changes. A show where the title characters smile and ape for the camera in an opening sequence just wouldn't fit in today's TV landscape. There are a handful of shows on that do have opening sequences that are works of art.

My favorite, even though I think it is totally revolting, is the credit sequence for Dexter. It perfectly fits the tone and theme of the show; Dexter Morgan's morning routine is shot in such grisly detail, drawing parallels between everyday routine and acts of violence. Shoelaces look like a garrote; Tabasco sauce and orange juice look like blood. Dexter is a murderer whose life, really, is all about trying to appear normal. How appropriate that the opening of the show reverses the concept, making ordinary acts look horrific. Another show with a great opening sequence is also on cable. Weeds' "Little Boxes" theme song and images are a humorous commentary on living in a McMansion community.

Opening credits function as an introduction to the show you're about to watch. They say something to you about what you're about to see. That statement can be as simple as an introduction to the main characters, provide necessary exposition (think the explanatory credits of Arrested Development), or they can even be a more abstract expression of the thesis of the show, as in the cases of Dexter, Weeds, and Six Feet Under. To put it simply, the credits tell you what the show is about. Perhaps in that case, Lost's bare opener is appropriate, since we have just started to know what that show is really about after season four. But what about all those other shows with no opening credits? Wouldn't Heroes be cool with comic book-inspired opening credits? Surely Pushing Daisies could come up with a sequence that compliments the show's whimsical aesthetic. I'm hoping that opening credit sequences will experience a renaissance.

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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.