Setting the Mood, or The Art of a Title Sequence

A sucker for a good awards show – although they quite often leave me underwhelmed well before the final winner is announced – the Emmys will kick off the season in September with golden bar standard, and personal fave, 30 Rock leading the nominee pack (record-setting 22 for a comedy series – who says women aren’t funny!?) and while anxiously anticipating how many statues Fey & Co walk away with, the real category of intrigue is one that I, admitting with great shame, had no idea was even a part of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences – Outstanding Main Title Design.

Perhaps this is one of the “technical” (aka, snooze-worthy-so-let’s-sex-it-up-with-this-year’s-It-starlet-announcing-the-winners) awards they give away prior to a telecast, but please TV Academy let’s give some primetime credit where credit is due to a category with an amazing history of well-deserved winners, most recently last year’s Mad Men.

Its return with the third season premiere on Sunday reminded me how a brilliantly-executed title sequence can immediately capture the mood of show. Here the orchestral, Hitchcockian music and style/color design and most poignantly the use of a faceless man endlessly falling Vertigo-style through era-specific advertisements that feature a bevy of scantily-clad women, tumblers of drinks and a final image of the “perfect” nuclear family that sets the stage for vice-indulging, secret-keeping ’60s family/ladies/ad man Don Draper. Those MADison Avenue men are proud.

Being a research-loving fact-finder, I’ve discovered that the Main Title Design’s category inception was in ’97 and since then the Academy has bestowed wins to a number of shows that top my personal list of favorite opening sequences (yes, such a list does exist along with favorite font — for the record give me something in a serif any day). In 2002 a little network called HBO received its first win in this category with Six Feet Under.

Haunting theme music from Thomas Newman and artful images (love those chiaroscuro hands) that highlight preparation for one’s eternal dirtnap (thank you HBO for showing me the embalming process) encompasses the juxtaposition of beauty and decay found in death, and life, that the series so adeptly captured.

For a series focusing on the cause in addition to the effects of death, Showtime’s Dexter has a title sequence befitting its dark yet playful world — turning the mundane, morning routine of cop and serial killer Dexter Morgan (the amazing Michael C. Hall’s 180 degree turn in character from his David Fisher on Six Feet Under) into a menacing montage.

Finally, jumping back to HBO/Alan Ball collaborations and the jewel of this year’s Title Design noms, True Blood‘s opening sequence is an amalgam of dirty, swampy, sexy, fire-and-brimstone imagery coupled with twangy rockabilly song “Bad Things” (by Jace Everett, a decent alternative to Chris Isaak) that encapsulates the soapy, southern gothic nature of the supernatural saga.

See the complete list of this year’s Emmy nominees here .

2 thoughts on “Setting the Mood, or The Art of a Title Sequence

  1. “The X-Files” might have been your time 🙂 but I also loved that intro sequence. I remember that was the first title sequence I ever paid attention to, and the spooky music intro (later a remixed dance hit, if you can believe it) was unnerving and really set the mood for me.

    1. Hmm, early-90s right? I think I was in middle school, that sounds vaguely familiar 🙂 I am considering crafting a part 2 concerning pre-Millenium shows (although I might dedicate one to my fave comedies as part 2) – I’ve totally got Twin Peaks in my pocket and will have to add Mulder & Scully now. I smell a multi-part post series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s