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Whatever Happened To Helpful TV Credits?

If there’s one thing that 1980s television was good for, it was opening title sequences. Shows back then didn’t just have titles that told you what the show was called, they had the presence of mind to tell you everything you needed to know to watch an episode, even if you’d never heard of the show before. Why don’t more shows do that anymore?

Don’t get me wrong; even with the reduced running times of shows these days, there are still some wonderful examples of opening credits – Fox’s Human Target being just one, although I prefer the Season 1 version:

– but very few opening titles these days really try to actually introduce the concept behind the show in anything other than an abstract way. The one example that springs to mind is Battlestar Galactica:

But just look at some of these openings from the 1980s – Yes, they might seem dated in terms of fashion and/or concept, but damn, if these don’t (a) tell you everything you need to know, and (b) make the shows seem like fun ideas.

Each one, a perfect distillation of the charms of that particular show or – in the case of the Hart to Hart one, for example – much better than the show ever managed to be. I get that a lot of television has moved away from spoonfeeding audiences in this way, but I really miss this kind of catch-up intro (Now that I think about it, Leverage has something similar these days, doesn’t it? Another reason to love that show!). Just imagine how many shows could pick up new viewers if their openings were just a little bit more inviting?

Okay, maybe not.


  • Josh K.

    Battlestar is kind of funny example, because I don’t really think of that bit as opening credits. An opening sequence, maybe… but don’t you think that that, combined with the sequence that is actually the opening credits, does a pretty good job of distilling what the show is about?

  • stealthwise

    Eh, after a show’s been on the air for a couple of seasons it seems really unnecessary, kind of like the recap pages in Marvel comics. There’s a case to be made for both sides, but spending/wasting even 30 seconds on a sitcom that could be better used for the story itself seems silly.

  • Seamuskeaneart

    what about Burn Notice, I love that opening “My name is Micheal Weston, I used to be a spy….”

  • Michael Sacal

    The Pretender had a cool intro.

    “There are pretenders amongst us…”

  • Hijosderoddaria

    The Pretender had a cool everything.

  • Kcorstel

    Plus I always thought it was fun watching the episodes to try to spot the clips used in the opening montage! Still do.

  • Rob

    Two more great examples: Magnum P.I. and Simon & Simon

  • Tpk1019

    Thanks for the love for Automan (!) and Streethawk!! God bless the 80’s.

  • Thx1138dk

    how can you not have the airwolf intro in here for being informative?

  • Flip Maker

    Street Hawk gets posted, but not Knight Rider? SHAMEFUL! ;)

  • Fury

    i love the disclaimer on those Lost titles. ‘don’t sue us, we’re broke!’ LOL!!

  • Bill Reed

    Castle’s keeping this tradition alive, as well.

  • BT

    Blame the advertisers. All the shows are shorter so they can play more commercials.

    And the coolest opening was The Six Million Dollar Man. “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.”

  • Joe

    Another show that told you everything you needed to know in the title sequence was the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. :D

  • demoncat_4

    another reason that shows do not do opening credits like they used to is proably due to audiences attention span and the studioe’s not wanting to spend the money to do so figures the moment the show starts if some is watching they will tune in opening credits or not.

  • Ghost

    The Automan one isn’t especially informative. I have no idea who the guy is or what powers he has or what the hell cursor is. If I wanted that information, I’d have to look up the Wiki. All I can tell is it’s some sort of SFish thing about a guy who can either produce vehicles or turn into them or control them (which conclusion you come to depends on your blinking schedule).
    Basically it’s just your everyday opening credit sequence, no masterpiece of condensed storytelling to introduce people to the concept.

  • RC

    The opening/intro credits seemed to be under the old school premise ‘this is SOMEBODY’S first exposure/episode to the show.’ In today’s 24/7, spoiler driven, attention deficit viewer – still useful in some less viewed, less popular cable channels, but mostly instead of neccessary – just quaint.

  • Atomic Kommie Comics

    Every episode is somebody’s first…

    This was the way the first few eps of Man from U.N.C.L.E. were introed…
    It was shortened after several episodes.

  • Derrick Fish

    My thought is that the older style opening sequence that gave audiences a basic synopisis might be pointless after a few seasons for regular viewers, but like Stan Lee used to say when he was still EIC at Marvel, every comic is someone’s first.

    Likewise, while you or I may have seen all 200+ episodes of Whatever, tonight’s episode might be the first time ever for countless viewers, and if a short intro let them know the basic concept, the it might make it easier for them to jump into a story already in progress.

  • Whosnothere

    The one that was a classic for me was the opening for “Manimal”. No matter how bad the show was, you have to admit, having William Conrad narrate your opening doesn’t suck.

  • Zen Strive

    Who wants an automan remake?

  • Mikerboarts

    I clicked on the story to see if you cited BSG as an example of a modern show that DOES use the credits as backstory. Shame you don’t think it achieves that. But my main point is that modern shows might actually have continual character development and storyline progression that making new credits each week would just get tedious? That’s why we have the “previously on” segments. Shows from the past probably didn’t change much in status quo week to week that you really could learn all you needed to know for either episode 1 or episode 22 based on the credits. In short, storytelling has changed (for the most part).

  • JimmyPSHayes

    These are all awesome!

  • Tomfitz1

    This has absolutely nothing to do with tv, but my favourite introductions that leads into the opening credits is the James Bond francise.

    In almost every JB film, there’s usually an long action sequence that eventually ends with you looking down the barrel of a gun and following a JB figure and he turns and shoots you. Blood trickles down, and then the film song rings out — usually with scantly clad (or nearly naked) women dancing or posing.

    For some reason, I’ve always thought the opening sequence was the best part of the JB films.

  • cookepuss

    Actually, “No Ordinary Family” has a decent opening sequence. It’s not an actual starting, but every episode starts with the same “we’re a family with superpowers” type of voice over by Michael Chiklis. It annoyed me at first, but I really started to dig it. Apart from making it much easier for new viewers to jump on, it does have that nice comic book quality to it. Sort of like Spider-Man or X-Men used to have one or two sentence blurbs at the beginning of each comic – explaining that Peter Parker was a nebbish youth until bitten by the radioactive spider or how the X-Men are disenfranchised mutants in a world that hates and fears them.

  • 70s & 80s RULED

    utterly PATHETIC that your average TV show these days DOESNT even have an intro AT ALL.

    it jsut starts and has credits while the show is starting. TERRRRIBLE

    this is why the 70s & 80s will FOREVER be THE ultimate age of TV programs.

    i can listen to TV intro theme songs all day. or watchem on Youtube.— but for the 2000s? NOTHING.

  • you are wrong

    From that point of view- a movie shouldnt waste time with company logo intros OR end credits.

    thats like saying a book is fun to read if you tear off the cover/ back & spine.

  • Omegasaga

    Dude the 80s are full of endless awsome intros. EVEN for stupid shows.

    Heck – youtube the intro to FALCONS CREST. ( a dumb CBS drama) but AWSOME EPIC introduction.

  • Zen Strive

    If street hawk is made by japanese, it would be forever known as Kamen Rider Black Mach (hey, that sounds cool, better call TOEI!)

  • Ciaran Statham

    What about the Prisoner, which told us everything we needed to know in the opening credits, and was actually a clever little nod to the show’s lead escaping and being put back every episode? I think that needs a little recognition, since it was doing it back in the 60’s.

  • Doug Ramsey

    Spider-man’s recap pages may as well not exists.”Everyone from 1964 to 2008 didn’t happen and the character’s an idiot now, so if you’re old fan, bite me!” Joe Quesada.

    X-Men recaps should be impossible. The Hulk’s should read “We did this really cool gladiator Hulk in space thing, but that doesn’t matter now so deal with it. There’s a Red Hulk but it wasn’t Glenn Talbot like it should of been.”

    Avengers “We change the line ups every year or two and act like we just gave our readers something big.”

    Not exactly going well on the recap pages.

  • R Farrell38

    These are bad but how about Knight Rider, Buck Rogers, and Airwolf to name a few. There is a classic one… “Law and Order”.

  • R Farrell38

    My previous comment should have said, “these aren’t bad”. My apologies.

  • Spardyman

    where’s the incredible hulk????

  • Sijo

    Funny how the reverse has happened with films, making their closing credits as interesting as possible to the audience (so they won’t leave without them at least taking a peek at them I guess) has become an art.


    I also enjoy the credits

  • Sydni's Papi

    Quantum Leap. ’nuff said.

  • Terrythielen

    Samurai Jack and the Power Puff Girls come to mind as great intros that catch you up on everything you need to know.

  • Seamuskeaneart

    sure does, another classic in the making.

  • Seamuskeaneart

    well the knightrider, voice over bit was actually at the end of the episode, which was a bit odd. “a lone crusader in a dangerous wolld….”

  • Seamuskeaneart

    well its basically Tron, so why not Automan Legacy, I actually have the entire run of automan and its bad, like really really bad.

  • Darkhawk

    It’s all about the opening to the original Prisoner.

    “Who are you?” “I am Number 2.” “Who is Number 1?” “You are number 6.” “I am not a number. I am a free man!”

  • R Farrell38

    No one’s mentioned Stargate or Stargate: Atlantis yet. These intro’s/themes captivate me everytime. Glad Magnum and Simon and Simon got a nod.