Start of the Show: Theme Songs and Opening Credits

A good theme song or set of opening credits sets the tone for a show. They are one of the first things you associate with that show and when done well, just hearing the music will bring you back to the show again and again. While they have gone slightly out of style in recent years, at least on network TV, they seem to be holding strong on cable. These are 10 of my favorites, though of course, there are some I have left out or else this list would become unwieldy.

Gilmore Girls The opening credits of this show are very traditional and made up of a collection of shots from the show while the actors name appear on the screen. The theme song, however, is one of my favorites. Carole King’s “Where You Lead” was a great choice for the show and it sets the warm, fun tone for the rest of the show.

Growing Pains Yet another theme song that I can’t help but sing along to. This one was one of my favorite shows growing up and so the theme song has a lovely nostalgic value to it.

Friends This theme song is a classic. It makes me happy every time I hear it and I think it just suits the show so well. I’ve been known to listen to the full song often for the happiness boost.  

Parenthood I love the combination of photos taken specifically for the credits and photos from the actors’ childhoods. It creates an immersive world where it is even easier to believe that these people really did grow up together and have a shared history.

Game of Thrones Everything about the theme and opening credits is brilliant and conveys the feeling of an epic story. I love the map of Westeros with all the moving pieces (even though it’s no longer an accurate indicator of the locations seen in that episode). It doesn’t do me much good as an actual map, since I still have only vague ideas of where things are located in relation to each other but it’s pretty to look at.

The Fosters This is probably my favorite theme song with lyrics at the moment. The theme song is the thesis of the show – it’s not where you come from, it’s where you belong. It’s about the idea that family doesn’t have to mean the people related to you by blood. It’s the people who love you and the people with whom you feel safe and like you belong. It’s a beautiful song and a beautiful message.

Bob’s Burgers I watched the first four seasons in a month and as anyone who has ever watched a lot of a show over a brief period of time, the credits can get awfully monotonous. Not true with Bob’s Burgers! The store next to Bob’s and the pest control van that appears both change every episode with company names that take advantage of wordplay and puns to make every credit sequence entertaining.

Battlestar Galactica I should find the plot summation at the beginning of every episode repetitive, especially since I watched the whole series over a month, but I don’t at all. I love that it sets the stage from the first moment of the episode and draws you back into the world of BSG. I also love Bear McCreary’s compositions, so the actual theme is pretty amazing too.

Firefly Yet another great theme song that fits the show perfectly. What better way is there to capture Mal’s attitude toward captaining the Serenity then “You can’t take the sky from me”?

Lie to Me I’m so fascinated by these credits. I don’t know a lot about microexpressions (not my area of psychology) but I find the idea behind them so amazing and so seeing them illustrated in the credits just wows me every time.

What are some of your favorite theme songs or opening credits? Do you prefer more full opening credits or would you prefer a simple title card?

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5 thoughts on “Start of the Show: Theme Songs and Opening Credits

  1. Yay theme songs!

    I have to say, I am one of those people that think the ‘Game of Thones’ theme is a work of pure genius. Its both visually interesting with an epic score. After 4 seasons, I still look forward to watching the opening theme just as much as the episode every single time. And I have heard covers of the theme in every way you can think of (metal gutair, burps, cats, kitchen utensil, 8 bit..) and I think I have decided its downright impossible to butcher this piece of music. It gets me excited in any way shape or form.

    Other themes I love include ‘The X-Files’, ‘Friends’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Sesame Street’, ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’, ‘Star Trek TNG’, and ‘Full House’, and of course the theme music for the Olympics primetime telecast. But really, none of them come close to the epicness that is the GoT theme. My love for it kinda borders on obsession.

    1. The GoT theme really is genius. I’ll have to start listening to covers of it now because I need more versions of it!

      The Fresh Prince theme is also classic and I’m now slightly embarrassed that I forgot about it.

  2. I love this topic. Sadly, they have gone out of fashion as a necessity to make way for commercials which is why cable still has them. I will co-sign on the Game of Thrones love affair. It is by far the best opening score in recent years certainly and one of the all time greats. In its visual mapping and majestic march it is powerful and sinister all at the same time. I liked many of the ones you selected. I remember well the phenomenon that was the Friends opening and many others.

    As a child of the 70s/80s I miss the opening jingle. I remember all to a fault from The Brady Bunch to Gilligan’s Island to Eight is Enough. But my all time favorite remains The Love Boat. It is lounge lizard cheese whiz on a ritz cracker and I can’t get enough of it. In high school I was known for randomly breaking into that melody for no apparent reason. I love it and it simply makes me happy to recall it.

    I do like a strong opening credit. In no particular order my favorites are:

    Mad About You — partially because I enjoyed the funky, non-traditional song and because I adored the black and white stills they used to show this couple obviously in love, but in the most ordinary and intimate of ways. If you were to storyboard the ideal relationship it would be the opening credits to Mad About You.

    Hill Street Blues — Aside from Mike Post providing the bulk of the soundtrack of my childhood this instrumental theme screamed cop show and remains near and dear to my heart.

    Greatest American Hero — I dare you to sing this theme song and not be happy. It is lyrical joy for a show I adored. It is hope personified.

    WKRP in Cincinnati — a show about a radio station. Who knew? This song makes me nostalgic. It is whimsical and irreverent for the mundane that is living life in the daily grind. I loved it when I was a kid, I emotionally connect to it as an adult.

    Downton Abbey — You don’t have to love period pieces or this show to love this luscious opening score. It is in a word fantastic and stands alone as a piece of music. That it visually connects to the delicacies of class and order that frame the themes of the show is a piece of brilliance.

    Welcome Back Kotter — I was never a huge fan of this show. But I would listen and watch the opening credits on a weekly basis. I loved the cadence and rhythms of this theme which spoke to the idea of the show which was a man who was the kid who ‘got out of the neighborhood’ only to return as a teacher. The opening shot images of NYC’s outer boroughs while it chimed along and it remains the embodiment of what it means to go home again.

    Friday Night Lights — I am a sap. I loved everything about this show and the opening credits gave you precisely what this show meant. It meant belief and hope, in yourself and those around you. It’s hard to have an opening credits be inspiring. Friday Night Lights was.

    Cheers — Where everybody knows your name… is simply beautiful. It worked for the show, it works as a life lesson and it is a classic moment of television.

    I Love Lucy — The big brass horn section of this theme is synonymous with TV for me. It is my favorite show of all time and even in its simple brevity embodied what the show was and remains.

    The Muppet Show — A variety number, for a variety show put on by puppets. What was their not to love? The tune is one that causes instant recall for an entire generation like me that was blessed to grow up with this show and for whom each wondered what would come out of Gonzo’s horn at the close of each opening for the show.

    There are two opening credits I have to separate out from the rest. The Wire and The Cosby Show. The Wire’s opening credits were a work of art. Each season you would get a visual thematic placement of the ravages that plagued Baltimore that would serve as the underlying theme of cyclical despair for the season whether it was violence of the housing projects and the ravages of poverty or the failing public school systems. The Wire’s tone and mood were established in bold capital letters each season by it’s opening. The other is The Cosby Show. Iconic for many many reasons. My favorite is that the basic melody of The Cosby Show theme was transformed each season into a different genre that came with an adjoining new musical skit. All of them were inventive and wonderfully joyous. Find a child of the 80s and they will have a favorite among the African Dance, classic jazz, Bobby McFerrin tune.

    And finally among the many iconic opening themes and credits over the years I am a sucker for the two shows that used sound bookends to set mood and often fear in the viewers. Yes I am talking about the ticking clock of 24 and the ominous chords of LOST with the close of what sounded like the sound the poof would make when something disappeared. It was all atmosphere and it worked perfectly thematically. I loved it for immediately dropping the viewer into the moment/world of the show from the second they began.

    1. I never made the connection that theme songs were cut from network TV to make room for the commercials. I feel like I should have caught on to that so I’m glad you mentioned it!

      I really love how many different shows you have come into love over the years and the joy with which you talk about all of them. All of your recollections of these theme songs just come across with such fondness and it made me smile to read about them all.

  3. I love that your choices are so different to the ones me and my friend Julia thought of when we were discussing this! My ‘unforgettable theme songs’ would be (definitely in no order)
    * the OC
    * Roswell
    * Dawson’s Creek
    * X Files (a special memory as I used to always try to whistle along and then my Dad would make me laugh and thus, I’d fail at whistling)
    * Buffy/Angel – as I don’t usually dig instrumentals!

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