Welcome To My Opening Act
A television show has to appeal to the viewer on many levels. True, the TV program has to cater to the type of genre that the audience desires. Aside from that obvious fact one can probably pin-point the key ingredient that draws them to the type of primetime entertainment that inspires the creative juices.
The one main selling point for an individual to gravitate to a particular television show is probably the inviting opening credits and the accompanying theme music. Well, at least this is my assessment that makes a certain TV vehicle somewhat appetizing. Nowadays, television programs of all varieties barely feature a distinctive opening credit sequence or a catchy theme song to boot. It is a crying shame because the prime time ditties of yesteryear had verve and creative spontaneity in the way they presented their opening sequences.
Personally, my consensus is that a compelling opening sequence AND finger-snapping TV theme song brings an impish and intriguing personality to the proceedings. Sometimes the show itself is not worth the 30 or 60 minute segment but one still looks forward to that festive introduction.
In Opening Act, the purpose is self-explanatory — we will nostalgically look at some of the all-time best TV opening credits/theme songs in an assortment of science fiction and action adventure (intrigue, detective, spy, etc.) series. Certainly no one can resist the charm and inventive flare of these boob tube ditties from yesteryear. Hey, you may agree with my selection or you may not! Nevertheless, I am sure that a few of my choices will have you nodding your head in agreement.
Frank’s top ten selections for OPENING ACT TV introductory sequences/theme songs are (not in any particular order or preference):
1. THE PROTECTORS: In 1972, creator/producer Gerry Anderson developed the UK-based action adventure crime series The Protectors about three suave and wealthy international private detectives hired to protect the safety and interests of their clientele. American Harry Rule led the trio that consisted of him, Italian Countess Caroline di Contini and Frenchman Paul Buchet. Together they jet set to lavish European locales amid the intrigue and sophisticated baddies. The opening credit starts off with a flipped car as the infectious instrumental theme song, ‘Avenues And Alleyways’, sets the posh escapist mood. The ending credits is even more stimulating as all three Protectors are in dark silhouette images planted against an exotic European city background as singer Tony Christie soulfully belts out the powerful lyrics to his hit tune in the aforementioned ‘Avenues And Alleyways’ which shamefully never quite gained any pop chart notice in the United States. The Protectors was only a 52-episode blip on the radar but that opening/closing credit and jolting Christie tune gave that short-lived actioner its pumped adrenaline and credibility.
2. THE AVENGERS/THE NEW AVENGERS: The 60s British ‘spy-fi’ action adventure series The Avengers about a dapper secret agent John Steed and his numerous feminine sidekicks epitomized the mod era of sophistication and quirkiness in the TV spy genre. The opening credits showcased the proper older Steed in frenetic theatrical vignettes with Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, Tara King and later Purdy and Mike Gambit. Plus that pulsating and melodic Avengers theme song had an urgent jazz-oriented serenity that catered to the colorful eccentricity and offbeat sci-fi/espionage vibe courtesy of John Dankworth and later, Laurie Johnson’s score. The prologue involving champagne bottles, chess boards, knights, karate moves, flowers — all were instrumental in the stylish irreverence of The Avengers.
3. THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E: Counter espionage cutie April Dancer was teamed up with British male transfer spy Mark Slate in the short-lived campy The Girl From U.N.C.L.E, a spin-off from the hugely popular The Man From U.N.C.L.E.Actually, both show’s opening credits concentrated on a blue and yellow world map as the logo of a globe and darkened caricature of April Dancer’s svelte spy stood to the right side of the black globe graphic. The U.N.C.L.E words are situated underneath as the pulsating music plays intensely in the background before showcasing stars Stephanie Powers, Noel Harrison and Leo G. Carroll (along with the show’s guest stars) in live headshot form.
4. IT TAKES A THIEF: I defy anyone to argue with the cool and breezy theme song and psychedelic opening montage of the 1968-70 international espionage show It Takes A Thief which boasts one of the most animated and toe-tapping theme songs to ever be heard on television. The program told the story of suave professional thief Alexander Mundy released from prison and recruited to work for the SIA governmental agency. His mission: to put to use his thieving skills for the top secret agency as he combs Europe with his sticky hands in tow. The beginning credits combine live action and animated stills of Mundy’s trade—lifting merchandise, cracking safes, scaling walls, courting the ladies, flying airplanes, etc. Mundy’s tagline: ‘Let me get this straight…you want me to steal?’ Guess what Alex…that’s an emphatic YES! A television theme song and opening for the ages!
5. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: This is by far my all-time favorite theme song and TV show opening credits. Lalo Schifrin’s ‘Mission: Impossible’ recognizable music sizzled and scorched with gusto and imagination. This CBS network 60’s espionage series chronicled the adventures of the IMF government agents led by Daniel Briggs (in Season 1) then Jim Phelps afterwards. The show opened with IMF leader Briggs/Phelps receiving their verbal assignment through a tape recorder that self-destructs. Next the rousing opening credits begin with a mysterious hand lighting a match (in a dark background) and igniting a fuse that is transposed over that particular episode’s random sequences as the music pounds its thriving jazzy beat making the credits soar with rhythmic vibrancy. No television theme and/or opening credits can touch M:I in intensifying spirit and wonderment.
6. MANNIX: The 1967-1975 detective series Mannix was another show that employed the cunning music by Lalo Schifrin (‘Mission: Impossible’) and had a kinetic opening credits that was similar to the boxed sequences and protagonist omnipresence as demonstrated in the mentioned It Takes A Thief section. In the beginning hard-boiled private investigator Joe Mannix worked for Intertect that leaned heavily on computers and other sci-fi technological flourishes. The opening in Mannix is impulsive as the charging jazzy theme blends in with him running across a bridge and engaging in Judo, race car driving, dodging helicopters, swimming, jumping, kissing women, gun pointing and fist fights. Indeed, Joe Mannix was a man’s man and his theme music and show’s opening credits was the bomb!
7. SPACE 1999: Producer Gerry Anderson (“The Protectors”) was involved with this cheesy British syndicated 70s space-age epic about scientists living on the moon when they are sent adrift beyond the Earth’s orbit due to an incredible explosion. Interestingly, the opening credits resembled the likeness of Mission: Impossible (Space 1999 did star former M:I husband and wife tandem Martin Landau and Barbara Bain) as the prologue was laced with a funky-sounding jazz instrumentation. Curiously, the second season’s opening and theme changed dramatically and wasn’t as involving as its first musical blueprint.
8. LOST IN SPACE: Basically, I want to cite specifically the third season TV opening and theme song of Irwin Allen’s Lost In Space as the best versions in the show’s 3-year run. The newly vamped opening started with a number countdown from 7 as the theme song’s tempo was faster, bouncier and earthier than the tinkle toy-sounding theme in the first two years. Different shapes morphed on screen as the actors/characters were revealed in situational poses. The upbeat theme and snappy opening credits of the Robinson clan and Major Don West/Dr. Zachary Smith is a livelier and preferable take.
9. THE MUNSTERS: The original 1964 opening credits and theme song of the freakish The Munsters was quite awesome in its swaggering usage of organs, trombones and percussion felt bold and befitting for these monster misfits. The opening showing Lily Munster greeting her family individually in front of the staircase as they prepare for the day is comical and creatively staged. Try not shaking your head or humming the theme to The Munsters and see how far you get in resisting this temptation.
10. LANCELOT LINK SECRET CHIMP HOUR: Okay children of the 70s…put on your memory caps as you recall the groovy-sounding theme song and opening credits of kiddie spy spoof series Lancelot Link Secret Chimp. The introduction spoofs 60’s spy programming such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Get Smartas it tells the lyrical tale of APE (Agency to Prevent Evil) superspy Lancelot Link and his bid to expose the illegal activities of rival evil-minded spy organization CHUMP. The Lancelot Link theme was certainly a worthy sing-a-long that was snappy and infectious for TV viewers of all ages.
HERE ARE A FEW REACTIONS TO “WELCOME TO MY OPENING ACT” ARTICLE:
The other one that I keep coming back to is Johnny Quest. I don’t know if you ever got the originals in the UK, but don’t settle for the rebooted theme, go for the original. (Trivial Aside: many of the visuals from the opening credits were actually created for a DIFFERENT show that was morphed into Johnny Quest during the development process.)
*…which my dad, though he watched it regularly, insisted on referring to as “Mission: Improbable.” I still find myself calling it that by accident.