If you’ve been on the internet even a little bit for the last five years, you may have heard complaints like these scattered throughout social media:
“Netflix why are your intros so long I just want to watch my shoooooow.”
“I’ve been binge-watching the same show for 6 hours I know what happened previously just let me watch my shoooooow.”
Netflix heard them, too, and now you can find a convenient “Skip Intro” button at the bottom corner of your screen, which lets you skip right past the opening theme and any recap* and get right into the action. If you’ve been having a marathon on something like an Xbox, sometimes it just skips ahead for you.
And I will fight Netflix and I will win.
Some may see television theme songs as just a short impediment to watching the “real” show, but they’re more like overtures before a stage show: the theme song is there to tell you what you’re watching, not just in name, but in story and in tone. They (at least the best ones) are a small encapsulation of what the show is about, a little sample before the main course.
Also, there’s a large percentage that are just really good songs. Whether well-composed or just plain catchy, tv theme songs are just good, musically speaking.
I mean come on, are you gonna call yourself a Friends fan and not clap along with The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” every episode? Didn’t think so.
Setting the Scene
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full episode of The Brady Bunch. Any of the show that I have seen would have been at my grandmother’s house because she was watching it. But I do know that it’s the story of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, the youngest one in curls, etc.
Many shows follow this example, where the theme song could essentially serve as the pilot. It makes sense for sitcoms with no real continuity to follow: take one minute to fill in the audience on the premise, and they can watch basically any episode of the show without really missing anything. Take The Nanny for example:
Here’s what this 47-second long opening teaches us:
1. The main character
a. Her name
b. How she came to her current situation
c. A character trait (“she had style, she had flair,” her bright
clothes compared to the more conservative household)
2. 6 other characters and their relationships to our main
a. The father (who “finds her beguiling”)
b. The kids (who have fun playing with Fran)
c. A possible antagonist (watch out C.C.!)
d. A butler (the only one we don’t get much of)
3. This show is funny; I know because this song is funny ("She had
style! She had flair! She was there! That’s how she became the
That’s pretty good for 47 seconds, and would likely prepare you to watch most episodes. It also matches the tone of the show (which I’ll touch on more later): it’s upbeat, light-hearted, and has a little comedy of its own mixed in, which makes a perfect lead-in.
I’m not the only fan of this song, no matter what you may be thinking; Golden-Globe winning Crazy-Ex Girlfriend co-creator Rachel Bloom talks about The Nanny’s influence when writing her own theme song:
“I grew up watching a lot of The Nanny, and I, I really miss from like, older television shows, these long musical openings that you could have…I always wanted to do a musical opening, and so definitely an inspiration for this was, like, the theme song from The Nanny…Oh yes, and also of course there’s the burden of explaining the whole show in 30 seconds. Which, which, the inside baseball term for that is a ‘saga sell.’”
--Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Commentary Album
Thanks Rachel for agreeing with me thus giving my point more credibility and for giving me that great terminology. A saga sell! That’s what we’ve been talking about!
Setting the Tone
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s first season theme song is partially a saga sell, though also subverts the summary (like it does with so many things) and gives us an idea of the tone of the show.
Tone can also be conveyed wordlessly, as seen in the opening for Disney’s Gravity Falls. The theme itself, up-tempo with a side of whistling, prepares you for an adventurous mystery, but the animation itself shows Gravity Falls is a town filled with both with shyster great-uncles and Bigfoots with even bigger feet.
It’s pretty easy to guess what kind of tone a show will have based on its theme song. Brooklyn 99 has its blaring trumpets, Game of Thrones has its classy but forceful string section, and even The Big Bang Theory, show quality aside, chose funny guys The Barenaked Ladies to sing their comedy-science theme. Think about if the opposite happened: would Parks and Recreation be the same with a slow-paced composition played with sad cellos? Would a playful flute introduction get you ready to watch Bates Motel? Wouldn’t people just make memes if a show about murder started with a song by The Who?
Cream of the Crop (Critically-Speaking)
I’m not the only one who cares about theme songs (I promise). Though I gave Netflix a lot of flak earlier, ironically, they’ve won the last two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music with Jessica Jones and Stranger Things. Na na na na na na na na Batman won a Grammy. What I’m saying is theme songs are good enough to win awards, you guys.
Though I could go on about The Animaniacs theme and its meta commentary, or Batman: The Animated Series and its noir art deco opening, I think I’ve made my point (psych, got ‘em in anyway [this reminds me Psych also has a good theme song there are so many]). Theme songs and openings are important. When Netflix skips them, I rewind. Netflix may get my money, but they’ll never take my theme song love. And if you want to spend some time with award-winners or earworms, here’s a playlist of some theme songs I consider the best.
Edit: For years I’ve thought They Might Be Giants sang the theme song for The Big Bang Theory. It’s actually The Barenaked Ladies, which also doesn’t surprise me.
*As for skipping recap, you may have been watching the show for five hours straight, but they’re just trying to remind of plot points that are about to be relevant; no need to take them down or lose theme songs in the crossfire.