Where Do You Prefer The Main Titles To Be?


This isn’t the most pressing of TV-related issues, but: isn’t it a little surprising that there are so few network shows that have the opening titles at the beginning? I always assumed that the habit of putting the opening titles at the end of an act (or sometimes, today, in the middle: a cold open followed by the main titles followed by a few more scenes) developed because networks were afraid we’d switch the channel if they started with the titles. But most pay-cable shows, plus basic cable shows like Mad Men, begin with the main title and don’t seem to lose many viewers because of it. It just seems like no matter how short the titles are for a network show, they’ll put them after the first scene; How I Met Your Mother and The Office both started out with the theme song at the beginning, only to move it to after the first scene. In the case of HIMYM, the theme song worked much, much better at the beginning; that’s the only respect in which the first season is superior to the second. Family Guy and The Simpsons and other animated shows still (usually) have the titles first, and that’s almost it.

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I have to admit I don’t quite understand the advantage of putting a 10-second main title five minutes into the episode, where it can seem like a jarring interruption, instead of at the beginning, the way Frasier and other shows without full-scale opening theme songs used to. Maybe it’s the influence of movies; there are more and more films like The Dark Knight that don’t give us the title until the end, and this has rubbed off on network TV a bit (IIRC, Pushing Daisies did that in some episodes, doing without any title card at all until the very end). But while I know the days of the one-minute title sequence followed by a commercial break are pretty much done, what would be so wrong with putting a short title sequence at the beginning and going directly into the first scene? In structural terms, that technique helps a show like Mad Men because the writers don’t have to come up with a stand-alone scene that can be interrupted by the title. And it also helps the show by setting the tone instantly, rather than requiring the opening scene to do all the work. There must be logistical reasons why this isn’t done on the networks, but I don’t know what they are exactly. Even screenwriting software assumes that every network sitcom script has to have a cold opening, as if unaware that most successful sitcoms had nothing of the sort.

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Where Do You Prefer The Main Titles To Be?

  1. The first thought that comes to mind is that this is an effort to preserve any lead in. You watch your favourite show at 8pm, then with a little 5 minute scene they have a chance to hook you on the episode. It just seems like it's easier to change channels when you don't know anything about the story.

    It's interesting to contrast the cold open with a tag/coda at the end of an episode. It seems like the cold open is there to get you hooked, but the tag at the end is a chance to include a joke that didn't really fit into the episode anywhere else.

    One last thought about the migration of the theme song in shows. I think a lot of shows use the theme song to establish the characters, setting etc. Once we're past the first season, they don't really need to establish those things all that much, and are 'free' to move the theme song to five minutes into the episode.

  2. Reaper's 4-second (or so) sting title always caught me by surprise (in a bad way). I hope that's not the future of shows.

  3. The teaser at the beginning of an episode, before the opening theme song, didn't really start until the mid-60s (Bewitched and Get Smart employed them), and even then was used rather sparingly until…actually, I think until the '90s (Cheers had an opening teaser, but a lot of '80s shows — Family Ties, Facts of Life, Golden Girls, Cosby, ALF, etc. — did not). Nick at Nite — and later, TV Land — got around this by showing the opening theme song, but then instead of airing a commercial dove right into the show, giving nobody a chance to change channels during the 2-3 minute interlude between the credits and the first scene.

    It was pretty effective, and, in fact, Simpsons (modern-day Simpsons, anyway), Family Guy and King of the Hill do it just this way. The networks could at least try that for all their shows, and thus resurrect the theme song without giving people time to surf around.