"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You Should Have Seen the Atlantic Ocean in Those Days

My Grandparents were marked by The Great Depression, and my parents by the Second World War. With equal indelibility, your humble and obedient servant was marked by . . . television. Having been there at the beginning, my memory stretches back even unto the 1950s. And it recently occurred to me that there is presently no television show on the air that sports a distinctive, iconic opening theme. Even shows whose opening credits you might recognize (like House) ruin the whole thing by putting several minutes of the actual show BEFORE the credits. And even then, there's not a theme, just a bunch of music. There's no beat, you can't dance to it, and it doesn't get stuck in your head.

Back in the day, the purpose of the opening theme and credits was to alert everyone that the show they'd been waiting for all week was about to start. The theme was like an advertising jingle, locked into your subconscious, and forever associated with that show. While no longer the case, it was said of at least two generations that the definition of a serious person was one who could listen to the opening bars of the William Tell Overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger.

Herewith, our list of the 10 Greatest Television Opening Themes of all time.

Perry Mason was why I became a lawyer. He always knew more than everyone else, he always won, and Della Street obviously had a hopeless crush on him. Please also note that the papers Perry dramatically shows to his colleagues and the hapless prosecutor, Hamilton Burger, are blank. I mean, how much cooler can a lawyer be than to confound the bad guys with blank paper!

"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" sported perhaps the shortest introductory theme, but then Hitchcock's own introductory comments were an indispensable part of the opening, as were the ominous violins and drum as the episode itself began to roll. The caricature at the beginning was drawn by Hitchcock, and it was not difficult to imagine that he himself had a closet filled with body parts.

Gleason being Gleason gave himself the most lines and air time, but we all know that Norton (Art Carney) was the real star. One interesting aspect of "The Honeymooners" is that Ralph and Alice lived in a tiny city apartment, while the families in other (slightly later) situation comedies all lived in big suburban houses. The dads in those shows also always worked in (generic) offices, and wore suits. Ralph drove a bus, and Norton worked in the sewer. No one watched "The Honeymooners" and became frustrated with their own apparent lack of upward mobility.

Do I really have to say anything?

"Dragnet" had been a very successful radio drama, and the opening was carried over. Sure, it's not a theme as such, but those four notes mean "Dragnet." This was an iconic show in many ways, and gave us "Just the facts, ma'm," and "The names have been changed to protect the innocent."

Is there anyone on earth who doesn't know that whistled theme? I've often heard this show criticized as presenting a middle-American fantasy-land that never was. Well, of course that's true, just as it is true of Norman Rockwell's work. This is a simple, idealized version of what the lives of regular people should be like. A friend opines that one can learn everything necessary to lead a righteous life by watching this show.

Are these the coolest guys ever, or what? Finger-snapping, horns, cigarettes, it's got everything. Where do you think Don Draper learned to dress? And we all know that Henry Winkler's "The Fonz" was a Kookie wannabe. The writers were perhaps on (then legal) LSD when they wrote Kookie's dialogue, which was always liberally sprinkled with "Daddy-O."

If skinny-tie city cool wasn't your thing, then Cowboy Cool might be for you. The show featured a young Clint Eastwood, the theme was sung by Frankie Lane, and even Elwood and Jake know the song.

We don't know if this theme will be used for the revival TV series, but without it what's left? Who can possibly be as wooden and pompous as Jack Lord, and who more of a suck-up than Helen Hayes' little boy, Danno? "Hawaii Five-0" brings us into the '70s, but one can't help but notice that the governor, McGarrett and Danno are all haoles.

There's no denying that the theme of M.A.S.H. is iconic, and the show itself certainly expressed the pervasive mood of anti-military ennui that drenched post-Vietnam America. 'Nuf said. What we've always wanted to know is the identity of the adorable dark-haired woman running toward the helicopter at about :23. We remain deeply in love with her.

Gabe Kaplan turned out to be a no-talent bum when he wasn't Mr. Kotter, but the theme was by John Sebastian, and the show was "with John Travolta as Barbarino."

Our list now brings us to the 1980s, the last time a television show had a truly great opening theme. We're sorry, but the last 20 years has been a barren wasteland, and so we end with the greatest opening credits of all time:

For the culturally impaired, who fail to understand the title of this post, see HERE at 1:17.


Comments on "You Should Have Seen the Atlantic Ocean in Those Days"


Anonymous TV Guide said ... (9:02 AM) : 

You're not doing your homework, GF. The lead nurse in the opening credits of MASH is Kathy Fradella.



Blogger Sandy said ... (6:16 PM) : 

17 September 2010

Great post. But, if you do not add an 11th to your greatest list, you'll have missed the mark. Listen to this opening theme:


Re-heard this about a year ago for the first time in several decades; full orchestra, layers and layers of different tracks, and artistry which just will not quit. Sure, it was a cartoon show, but wow, simply WOW, what a great opening and the crescendo leading to the end is great.

Listen to it again, for the first time.

Enjoy !

Take good care,


Blogger shmoozo said ... (11:04 PM) : 

The opening theme music for another cartoon was especially hip.



Anonymous Uncle M said ... (6:25 PM) : 

Four words:

Leave It To Beaver


and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver!



Anonymous Uncle M said ... (6:33 PM) : 

Here's a passage from Cinnamon Skin (one of the Travis McGee novels) by John D. MacDonald:

"In the left center of the screen a young woman runs toward you, slightly ahead of the others. You see her for four and a half running strides. Dark hair. Face showing the strain of running and her concern for the wounded. A pretty woman, maybe even beautiful, with a strong, lithe, handsome body. She is in uniform. A gleam of dog tags at the opening of her shirt. I wonder about her. When they filmed that introduction she had no way of knowing that she would be frozen there in time, anxious and running. Does she ever think about how strange that is? Multiply viewers times original episodes and the countless reruns on hundreds of stations, and you can see she has been looked at a billion times. What do you pay a person to be looked at a billion times? How many thousand miles has she run? Maybe she never thinks of it these days. Or yawns when she sees herself."


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