With the start of the new fall season, we’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic for what used to be a TV-show staple: the intro. More and more shows are nixing the intro and jumping right into the action, in fear of losing “clicker-happy” households to other channels. Gone are the music, the montages, and the visuals that atmospherically guided us into our favorite shows. So, in response to the lack of effective intros in the new fall lineup, we carefully selected six television-show intros that were visually ahead of their time:
Year of Debut: 1966
Why? Space may be the final frontier, but Star Trek‘s inventive use of outer space as a backdrop for television credits would be “borrowed” for years to come, including by the original Star Wars trilogy. Throw in an ominous voiceover, hypnotic music, and innovative title transitions via a whizzing USS Enterprise, and Star Trek‘s intro boldly goes where no TV show had gone before.
Year of Debut: 1966
Why? Pop Art was all the rage in the early ’60s, but the intro to Batman went a step further. Putting this style of art in motion, yet keeping the action more stop-motion than animated, the show’s intro allowed it to stay true to its comic-book roots. Batman also created one of the first pop-culture earworms with its one-word eponymous theme song (the same word, repeated 11 times).
Year of Debut: 1976
Why? Let’s first remember that Family debuted four years before the Oscar-winning film Ordinary People. The long, slow dolly shot of a “perfect home” suggests that not all is okay in the Lawrence household. (If you watch it with the sound off, it’s like we’re spying on them.) Later, when Sada Thompson enters the house, the scene continues the voyeuristic tone. The viewer’s p.o.v. begins behind a tree and continues from behind a sofa, about to watch a private family and its intimate struggles. Creepy.
Year of Debut: 1982
Why? Long before TV’s Freaks & Geeks and film’s Heathers and Mean Girls, Square Pegs showed a darkly comic view of the pressures and social angst of high-school students. Using murky time-lapsed footage, the intro of Square Pegs presented a different kind of high school; a grim, noisy battlefield where only the popular survive. (Hence the line: “This year, we’re going to be popular … even if it kills us.”)
Year of Debut: 1983
Why? No one can ever say that Automan didn’t try. The concept itself could’ve been created by a couple of eight-year-old sci-fi geeks. (One part Knight Rider, one part Tron.) But what made Automan even more ahead of its time was an original futuristic font that zigzags throughout the intro. Oh, and Cursor gets his own billing, as himself — a feat not even ALF could achieve.
Year of Debut: 1967
Why? Using the color red — particularly blood red — in the opening credits of a TV show is a bit of a gamble. (Quick — think of another.) Starting things off with a bang, as it were, Ironside‘s intro is blunt, intense, and a total downer. But it’s that edgy, over-the-top use of color and tragedy that perhaps went on to inspire Quentin Tarantino, who would himself go on to use the intro music in Kill Bill. The intro still manages to startle, and we’ve yet to see anything like it since.