Four Different Intros, Four Different Approaches

Having mentioned Rhoda in the previous post, I realized that that’s a good example of how shows used to have opening titles that reflected the way they were re-tooled. Unlike its more successful cousins at MTM, Rhoda had a different main title every year, because it was adding and dropping new characters every year and trying to reach a different demographic.

The season 1 intro is the type of main title that’s mostly given over to narration and exposition; Rhoda tells her life story and makes it clear who she is and what she’s like and that she has a tendency to make self-deprecating jokes and even that her mother is a possessive nut. This is done so that anyone who didn’t see her on Mary Tyler Moore will be up to speed, while the show itself won’t have to spend a lot of time inroducing her to new viewers (which would be boring for longtime Mary Tyler Moore viewers). Note also that the star is the only person mentioned in the opening titles; the same went for Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart only had billing for Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette.


But as often happens when you pay an outside company a lot of money to create an opening title, this one got dumped after only one year and replaced with lots and lots of clips. The second season keeps only a tiny bit of the Rhoda-through-the-ages photo montage, and instead uses clips from the show (plus a few New York location clips) to replace the rueful putdown humour of the first season intro with an illustration of how cool her life is: she has her own business, she smiles a lot, she makes out with her husband. The theme song, kept to a few bars in season 1, here not only takes up the whole minute but is sung by off-key children. I still don’t know what they were thinking with that one, but then, I never liked this theme song in any form.

Season 3 was when the show completely fell apart: the sensible decision to split up Rhoda with her boring husband was handled in the clumsiest way possible, and the ratings plummeted. The solution with the intro is to ignore plot elements altogether and focus on Rhoda the fashion plate; most of the clips seem to be about what she’s wearing, particular her trend-setting scarf habit. At least the arrangement of the theme song is more normal.

And for season 4 and the truncated season 5, tons of re-tooling takes place to make the show more like Mary Tyler Moore, with Rhoda being parachuted into a workplace setting and hanging out with new, generically audience-friendly characters including one played by the late Ron Silver. Now the clips have been eliminated from the intro and replaced with location shooting, to make the main title more like, yes, Mary Tyler Moore‘s. (Also, if they re-tool again, they won’t have to replace any clips.) It’s saying: forget about the characters, forget about that marriage thing; here’s a spunky girl trying to make it in the city, and didn’t you like that when we did it before? Also, because it’s 1977, the theme song has been almost totally disco-fied.

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