Culture Crash 17-26: TV Theme Songs

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TV theme songs: they’re the soundtrack to our childhoods, adolescence, and Sunday nights. But have you ever stopped to think about their evolution… or how many of them you know well?

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film and entertainment.

Our senses can trigger all kinds of nostalgia. Maybe the smell of your mother’s cooking reminds you of childhood or the sight of your high school brings back memories of the awkward years. But most things pale in comparison to the sound of an old TV show’s opening credits song.

For you, it may be Full House. If you’re like my dad, it’s the whistling from The Andy Griffith Show, but all of us have some show’s song that got lodged in our heads and stayed there for life.

More recently, the Mad Men opening song had the strange ability to drop us into the 1950s world of Don Draper and HBO’s Game of Thrones takes audiences on an epic journey throughout Westeros at the start of each episode. But have you ever stopped to think about the evolution of opening credits?

They used to be set to cheesy made-for-TV music, feature silly yellow fonts and exist just to credit the cast. Each character would turn, face the camera and smile while their name appeared on the bottom of the screen. Then, shows went mainstream. Who could ever forget the iconic Friends sequence where the characters danced in a fountain to the tune of “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts? The Friends credits were such a hit that the song, which was written for the show, ended up on the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

As TV grew more serialized and darker, these sequences grew up with them. They became more artsy and cinematic in shows like Six Feet Under or The Wire. And now shows may not even include opening credits, opting instead for a simple title card. But many shows, especially on Netflix and HBO, have learned to set the tone for their show with beautiful opening credits.

The internet went crazy for Stranger Things‘ simple credits which featured spooky music and a closeup of the retro font coming together to spell out the show’s title. And who hasn’t sang along to Orange in the New Black‘s Regina Spektor opening as picture of inmates fly by?

Whether you fast-forward through them or find something new to enjoy every time, opening credits occupy a lot of time for any TV watcher. I particularly loved the 11-second opening to NBC’s short-lived The Black Donnellys and the various versions Boy Meets World ran through over its run.

TV credits are so simply but have somehow come to mean so much.

I’m Evan Rook.

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