When I was a kid, I made a TV theme song compilation with my cassette recorder. In my teens, after we acquired our first VCR, I committed a long string of show openings to video. In my 20s, I purchases more than one theme-song compilation CD.
From these facts, you can deduce two things:
- I’ve always been kind of a loser.
- I’ve always really loved theme songs.
Recently, I started thinking about my favorite TV show openings. The perfect opening combines music and visuals to tell a story, set a mood, and prepare the viewer for their imminent TV experience. These five openings do their job well.
(The first two shows on this list are celebrating anniversaries today. The Addams Family debuted September 18, 1964, and The Patty Duke Show premiered on that same date the previous year.)
The Addams Family
Composer: Vic Mizzy. Vocal Performer: Ted Cassidy.
Who can resist that finger-snapping rhythm? Recently, I saw a touring production of The Addams Family musical, and the crowd came to life as soon those familiar notes rang out. No wonder the tune is a favorite at sporting events. The lyrics are fun, too, with words like “kooky” and “ooky” to contrast with the deadpan visuals.
The Patty Duke Show
Composers: Sid Ramin and Robert Wells. Vocal Performers: The Skip-Jacks.
In classic television, the stranger a show’s premise was, the heavier a burden its theme song bore. For a premise like “this is a family with three kids,” you don’t need words at all. But if your show’s about a group of passengers on a three-hour cruise who get shipwrecked, you have some explaining to do. Few premises are as unlikely as “identical cousins,” but The Patty Duke Show theme does a good job laying out the situation and distinguishing between the girls. This opening also gives us fun lyrics like “Our Patty loves to rock and roll/A hot dog makes her lose control” over images of teenage life.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Composer: Earle Hagen.
The tune is as jaunty as Van Dyke himself, and the producers’ clever ploy of filming two opening sequences (used during seasons two through five) kept viewers guessing from week to week–would Rob Petrie trip over the ottoman or deftly sidestep it?
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith.
I have a soft spot for this one. The recorder-laced melody captures the mingled excitement and ennui of a new school day. Besides, the mini-skirt-and-knee-socks fashions are adorable.
All in the Family
Composers: Lee Adams and Charles Strouse. Vocal Performers: Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton.
As a kid, I didn’t know who Glenn Miller or Herbert Hoover were, and “Gee our old La Salle ran great” was a undecipherable string of syllables. Still, I understood where these characters were coming from. Maybe it was the line “Girls were girls and men were men” that gave it away. Like my own blue-collar grandparents, the Bunkers were pining for a simpler world that was slipping away. Even the visuals of Queens reminded me a bit of my grandparents’ neighborhood outside Pittsburgh. And Jean Stapleton’s tortured high note sums up her character beautifully.
What are your favorites?
Other posts you might enjoy:
Spin Again Sunday: Addams Family Card Game
Spin Again Sunday: Patty Duke Game
Room 222 Call Sheet: A Day in the Life of a 1970s Sitcom
The Addams Family theme stay in your head all day 🙂 My faves are themes like Lost In Space and Land of the Giants by John Williams. Stingray and and its closing song Aqua Marina. Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who. And later themes like Hill Street Blues, Starskey and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey.
Those are some good ones. I wasn’t familiar with Stingray so I watched the closing theme on YouTube–wow! That show looks interesting.
I just realized that I unintentionally focused on comedies. Maybe someday I’ll do a post on drama themes.
Dear Amy–I have been enjoying your excellent blog for some time–particularly your Family Affair posts, but everything else too. This was a very imaginative entry, and I loved your set up. Also wanted to point out that there was actually a third variation on The Dick Van Dyke Show opening in which Rob sidesteps the ottoman without tripping–and then trips over his feet. Interestingly Carl Reiner has said he thought it was such a clever idea that they would have different versions of the opening because each week the audience would be in delighted suspense over what would happen–and they they pretty much forgot to show the different variations from week to week. The version most often shown? The version in which Rob neatly sidesteps the ottoman.
That’s interesting about Carl Reiner’s observation. I do remember that third version now. Thanks for a very informative comment! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.
Great list, Amy! I’ll admit to being partial to the original opening of The FBI (in which we see Washington landmarks such as the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the FBI Building) and the third opening for Perry Mason (where the animated, statue-like figure of Mason stands alone before the bar). One of the things we lose with the abbreviated openings we have now.
Those are good choices. The Perry Mason theme is a cool piece of music. I’m definitely going to have to post a list of favorite drama themes someday.
Hogan’s Heroes. Hated the show, but liked the theme song.
I feel the same way, on both counts!
An African-American had top billing in Room 222? Was he the star of the show?
I don’t watch a lot of current TV, but is there a show today where a black man/woman has top billing in an otherwise all-white cast?
I don’t watch much current TV either, so the only example I can think of is a Disney Channel comedy my daughter watches–ANT Farm.
Room 222’s cast was pretty well integrated. Two of the four adult stars were African-American, as were several of the teen characters who appeared regularly.
I think the central character, Mr. Dixon, owed something to the Sidney Poitier character in To Sir, With Love.