My Five Favorite…Classic TV Show Openings

This month, I am honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for episode recaps, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

This month, I am honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for episode recaps, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

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?

Room 222
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

Spin Again Sunday: All in the Family Game

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My Five Favorite…Gunsmoke Radio Episodes

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Over the next month, I will be honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for episode recaps, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

The classic Western Gunsmoke launched its 20-year TV run on September 10, 1955. To observe its anniversary, I’m cheating a bit and focusing on the radio version that pre-dated it. I always enjoyed TV’s Gunsmoke, which I discovered while in my teens. (Mostly, I enjoyed watching for little shippy moments between Matt and Kitty.) The radio version, though, blows me away with its darker Western vision. Bill Conrad conveys an especially wide range of emotion as Matt Dillon.

I’m also cheating a bit in naming favorite episodes because I haven’t listened to the entire radio run. (I dread the day when I have no new episodes left to discover.) Furthermore, I love so many episodes that my “favorites” list could change from day to day. These five episodes are excellent, though, and each evokes a different mood.

1. “Home Surgery,” September 13, 1952

“I rolled a smoke and looked out across the flat distances of the prairie. And I wondered how anyone could survive in all that emptiness.”

When Matt and Chester come upon an isolated homesteader suffering from blood poisoning, Matt takes desperate measures to try to save him. Conrad’s performance is appropriately tortured, especially in the scene just following surgery.

2. “Kitty,” November 29, 1952:

“She was like a seventeen-year-old on her first date. She was like all the women you’d ever known or loved–soft and innocent.”

Matt asks Kitty to be his date at a benefit for the school. She appreciates the problems this will cause, if he doesn’t. This episode gives us a giddy and romantic side of Matt. He even sings at one point!

3. “There Never Was a Horse,” September 19, 1953:

“I sure don’t like the idea of dying…but I got over being afraid of it a long time ago.”

A gun-fighter rides into town, bent on challenging the marshal. Matt’s not sure that he can win a confrontation, so Conrad’s performance is a believable mix of vulnerability and strength.

4. “Fawn,” September 26, 1953:

“I never heard of sending a woman to Dodge, for her to be better off.”

A woman held captive by the Cheyenne for 10 years gets her freedom and travels to Dodge to wait for her husband. The daughter she had in captivity is with her, and they face hostility from many quarters. This episode has a good message, a sweet ending, and a nice supporting performance by John Dehner. It’s also a radio Gunsmoke rarity–an episode with no deaths.

You may remember Helen Kleeb, who plays the former captive, as Mamie Baldwin from The Waltons. Mamie was the darker-haired Baldwin sister who wasn’t obsessed with Ashley Longworth.

5. “Marshal Proudfoot,” July 20, 1958:

“Chester bordered on being ignorant, I think. I can’t imagine how he ever got to be a marshal.”

Chester’s father shows up looking his son, whose letters home have exaggerated his position in Dodge. This is a hilarious outing. (For personal reasons, I also like the PSA that mentions the land-grant act.)

Bonus Feature

Turning back to the the TV show, I present this article about James Arness from TV Star Parade, May 1963. As fan magazine stories go, it’s a dramatic one, and it would have sad echoes–Arness’ first wife later died of a drug overdose, as did his daughter.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Those Magnificent Cats in Their Flying Machines

A Snapped-Worthy 1920s True Story

CSI, 1940s Style