Monday, March 31, 2014

My favorite TV themes

The A.V. Club runs a feature called AVQ&A, where staffers offer answers to various pop-culture questions. I'm sometimes inspired to offer my own answers, and here's the latest. This week's question is: What's your favorite TV intro?

My answer:

My favorite TV themes are tied only loosely to my favorite shows. For example, two of my favorite cartoon themes of all time are Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears and The Get-Along Gang, and yet I couldn’t tell you much about either of those series. Conversely, while The Dukes of Hazzard was my favorite show as a small child, and I remembered it very well, it wasn’t until I watched a rerun at 16 that I recalled Waylon Jennings’ legendary intro. The original Transformers series, my second era-defining show, also had a theme I apparently didn’t bother to remember (though the post-movie theme that replaced it is a stone-cold classic that I've never forgotten).

As far as my favorite shows that have my least-favorite themes, Family Guy ranks at the top. It’s not that I hate that show’s catchy showtune theme (I don't), but I won’t be seeking it out on YouTube and jamming to it anytime soon.

For the most part, though, my favorite shows had my favorite themes. There are too many to count here (let’s just say most of NBC in the 1980s and ABC in the ’90s, and also Square One and Greatest American Hero, of course), but there’s only one that I ever centered my entire week around: Family Matters. Though the series began in 1989 with Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” that was quickly replaced with “As Days Go By” by Jesse Frederick (who is also responsible for Perfect Strangers, another all-timer). In 1990, “As Days Go By” wasn’t just one of my favorite theme songs; it was one of my favorite songs, period. And Friday night at showtime was the only time I’d hear it, so it was always worth the wait. Shame on ABC for shrinking it along with all other intros; the long-form version is still the best.

While I bemoan the trend of shrinking and nonexistent opening cards (again, thanks, ABC), I can’t say I miss two-minute opening extravaganzas with stock clips from the show and lengthy exposition. They just aren’t necessary in the era of binge-watching, IMDB and TV menus. Nor do I miss the no-theme aesthetic that hit its stride in the late 1990s and was obviously in the interest of advertisers. Many of today’s shows get it exactly right, such two of my favorites, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Workaholics, whose quick openers I love for different reasons — Workaholics because it establishes the bro vibe and the title’s irony in just a few seconds, and Sunny because its funny episode title juxtaposed with standard nightlife B-roll and patriotic music accurately illustrates the show’s silliness.

Bonus answer: I also really loved the game-break music CBS did for NFL games in 1990-91, but the only YouTube video I could ever find of it was taken down. I filmed that clip with my phone, though, so at least I have it for posterity.

Inverse answer: My least-favorite theme at the moment is South Park, both because it's overloaded with what I hate most about the show (the voices) and because it's a total earworm.

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