Networks Really Don’t Want Long Title Sequences

One thing about Fox’s experiment with longer running times (and shorter commercial breaks) is that it’s given us a chance to see that the shortening of main title sequences is not just due to the ridiculously short running times: networks really don’t seem to want full-length title sequences. Even with 49-50 minutes to fill, Fringe has a main title that runs under 30 seconds. And while the main title of Dollhouse has not been completed yet, the screener DVD has a caption in the appropriate place that says “30 second title sequence” — meaning that the amount of time they’re planning to devote to the main title is less than the sequences for Buffy or Angel, which had much shorter running times to worth with. These shows have enough time to fill that a traditional main title, of a minute or more, would actually help save money and perhaps cut down on redundancy in the episodes themselves — Fringe episodes could stand to be a little tighter — but they don’t. Which suggests that the network genuinely prefers short title sequences, regardless of how much commercial time they need to sell.

If networks really do want short titles, the most obvious explanation is fear that viewers will change the channel during a long main title. (This is also one of the reasons why no show has the main title at the beginning followed by commercials, which used to be standard practice.) It’s short-sighted, though. You can get a good title sequence in a short space of time — The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s is only 20 seconds — but it’s harder, and it’s especially hard to develop a good theme song in that amount of time. A longer title sequence can do one of three things: it can give the show an epic, movie-like feel, the way HBO’s titles do; it can make the theme song a hit; or it can introduce the new viewer to the characters, actors and highlights from the show without the boredom of a “previously on…”. All this, and it saves some money on the amount of footage you have to shoot for the episode proper. If Fox continues its experiment, and I hope it does, I hope some producer talks them into giving him a minute’s worth of theme music and clips. It’s worth it.

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Networks Really Don’t Want Long Title Sequences

  1. Paramount used to be big on creating long and short versions of their opening theme songs/title seqences — “Cheers”, “Happy Days” and “The Odd Couple” all had the long form ones that are seen on the DVD sets, but also had shorter ones that still allowed you to get the gist of the music and the images, but gave the network an extra 30 seconds or so of ad time (even CBS in the final season on M*A*S*H had a truncated version of the opening theme created, in order to squeeze in one more commercial since they knew they wouldn’t be seeing those ad rate $$$ the following season from whatever show replaced it).

  2. What about Heroes with its like, 10 sec. title sequence?

    To be honest, with shows like The Simpsons, I’m happy that they cut the title sequence down in syndication. While the full sequence is okay, it gets incredibly tedious after a few hundred episodes.

  3. The opening for the new 90210 isn’t even 30 seconds, I think it’s more like 10, and that’s disappointing considering the theme song for the original was so memorable.

    I think those shortened version of the theme songs you mentioned, J Lee, were created when the show went into syndication, not for the original network run. The shortened syndicated openings are acceptable; that’s kind of the way TV has always been. But at least there was still the full-length one on the original network run. Now, not even that.

    • While some shows — “Cheers” being the best example — went for the shorter opening in syndication, there were shorter versions used during the original runs of that show, as well as for the others (Somehwere I’v got a 35-year-old audio from Season 4 of “The Odd Couple” that uses that year’s shortened version, and ABC seemed to be the most frequent user of the truncated openings — they also had them for “Coach” and earlier, even for “Taxi”, which really wasn’t a very long opening to begin with).

      • Wow, I’d like to hear that Taxi. I mean, I guess it wouldn’t be impossible to shorten it, but it was already so short, I wonder what a cut version would sound like.

        You know, I just remembered that TBS recently started running super-short opening sequences for its morning sitcom reruns. Shows like Saved by the Bell and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which never really had their openings hacked up in syndication, have been mutilated by the TBS folks. The new Fresh Prince opening is terrible. They run the audio of the closing theme, and only the parts of the opening sequence that actually show a cast member’s or producer’s name on screen. This, despite the fact that you can actually see Will Smith opening his mouth, so you know words are coming out.

        Between the super-short openings and running the end credits at the bottom of the screen while the next show starts on the top, TBS is really squeezing every last second of commercial time into its programs.

  4. This is also one of the reasons why no show has the main title at the beginning followed by commercials, which used to be standard practice.

    the simpsons? unless they’ve added before the titles content recently.

  5. The Wire is by far my favourite show by leaps and bounds but its various title sequences are way too long – so long that I actually start laughing.