HDTV forces change in opening credits

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Posted by Interesting on June 01, 2009 at 11:45:33:

TV opening credits deserve our attention, too
Nicole E. Rogers May 29, 2009

It only took 20 years, but the opening sequence of "The Simpsons" finally saw some change.

Well, beyond Bart's chalkboard assignment, Lisa's sax solo and the ending bit with the couch, anyway.

So when "The Simpsons" aired its first show in high-definition on Feb. 15, a brand-spanking-new opening sequence came with it. The theme song didn't change, but little things were added throughout, like Kearney and Jimbo sawing off the head of Jebediah Springfield, and Bart weaving through more characters on the sidewalk -- yep, that's Moleman under the manhole cover -- and Grandpa riding in the car with Maggie and Marge and, well, lots of other tweaks and additions.

Written on the chalkboard was "HDTV is worth every cent," and for those of us freaks -- er, devoted fans -- who had a finger on the pause button, dissecting and studying every frame, the HDTV delivered. Call it a reward to the faithful, this whole new world in the preamble to the main event.

Yet it seems so many shows these days are short-changing the opening act. Instead of a well-planned trip through the title, actors and creators, often accompanied by appropriate music, some programs are taking the easy way out, slipping in a title plate and simply scrolling the stars' names on the screen while the action starts.

On ABC, the main title sequence is an endangered species. "Lost" is just a glowing, twisting word on a black screen. "Ugly Betty" gives us a garishly colored title screen, followed a bit later by short sliding combinations of eyes, noses and mouths, finishing with the title above a smiling set of braces. "Private Practice," "Brothers and Sisters" and "Castle" both feature the title and a background scene, and not much else. Even "Desperate Housewives" has cut down from a clever and amusing parade of iconic images of romance and temptation to a single scene featuring just the title and main characters.

It's understandable, this trend to truncate. To most viewers, the opening credit sequence is superfluous, an unnecessary gap between the brief introductory scenes and the meat of the show. We've been trained to skip commercials by our TiVos, and the opening credits can easily get passed by in the mix.

But as I find myself watching more shows online, I've noticed that I'm a captive and focused observer of opening credits. I've discovered a renewed appreciation for them, so much so that there are some for which I lay off the fast-forward button altogether.

Like the one for "Breaking Bad," which wraps up its second season tonight (May 31) at 9 p.m. on AMC. It's simple; the title appears on a blotchy greenish screen following images of chemical abbreviations and a periodic table, and then there's a wisp of smoke. Later, we see the screen's greenish background as a chemical reaction in progress: the crystallization of the methamphetamine cooked by the main character, a high school chemistry teacher.

Great opening titles tell you what you need to know about the show they precede. Remember "The A-Team"? From the opener, we knew they were righteous fugitives for hire. And who didn't get the setup after watching "The Brady Bunch" intro?

Today's intros are more subtle, more metaphorical, but still as effective: Tony Soprano, heading home to New Jersey, goes from industrial big city to upscale suburban neighborhood, all the while lost in a haze of cigar smoke, in "The Sopranos" opener. Death, -- of a flower, of a tree, of people -- is up close and clinical in the Emmy-winning opening to "Six Feet Under." The intro to "The Wire" changed each season, with images and icons strung together from the show, accompanied by different versions of the song "Way Down in the Hole." Showtime's "Weeds" used a similar idea for its first three seasons, with the same scenes -- images from homogenized suburb Agrestic -- set to different renditions of "Little Boxes."

The moody montage of "True Blood," which returns to HBO June 14, evokes the dark and dirty nature of the vampire series. As the theme song "Bad Things" by Jace Everett plays, images of swamps, religious rituals, roadkill and scantily-clad women result in a creepily disturbing -- and mesmerizing -- peek at what might come next.

The bright and ambitious opener to CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" sums up a few billion years of progress in a mere 22 seconds. Scenes from Scranton, Pa., help set the mundane mood in NBC's "The Office." And a gritty, post-9/11 Manhattan with the fierce, driving beat of the Von Bondies' "C'mon! C'mon!" create the tone for FX's "Rescue Me."

Considering how much information is packed into these short bursts of creativity, maybe viewers shouldn't be so quick on the fast-forward trigger.

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