The Art Form of TV Opening Credits

Posted on September 20, 2008 at 8:00 am

Newsweek’s tribute to the opening credits of the new HBO series “True Blood” reminded me of the good old days when television show theme songs and opening credits were as much fun as the shows. The “Dick Van Dyke” show kept you guessing each week. Would Rob Petrie trip over the ottoman or not?

“The Simpsons” has a terrific theme by Danny Elfman and a funny kick at the end with Bart writing a different sentence on the blackboard for punishment each week. Theme songs from Welcome Back Kotter and Friends appeared on the pop charts. I’ll bet if I just mention The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, or Cheers the entire song will go through your head — and might get stuck there. Each year’s Cosby Show opens different and all were completely charming. The best part of Valerie Bertinelli’s short-lived sitcom “Sydney” was the theme song written by her then-husband Eddie Van Halen. And I used to turn on the Saturday morning show Mugsy each week just to hear the theme song song by David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears. On PBS, the opening credits for “I Claudius” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” set the tone perfectly. HBO’s “Big Love” and “Six Feet Under” had superb opens.

But this one may be the all-time best:

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Online Audio and Video Resources

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 8:00 am

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With not much new in theaters this week and next week, it’s a good time to investigate some of the great online resources for entertainment. I was delighted to find out that there is still a way to see Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” When Whedon made it available free for one weekend only so many people tried to get access that there was a server meltdown. You can buy it now on iTunes or DVD. Or, you can watch it (with brief commercial interruptions) on Hulu. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a three-act musical about a would be super-villain played by Neil Patrick Harris. I love the laundromat song! And Hulu also has a wonderful collection of classic and new episodes of TV series and movies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Groundhog Day.” It’s my go-to site when I have the flu.

I’d also like to recommend Odeo, a wonderful collection of the best audio and video from throughout the web. I am a huge fan of the series of podcasts from The Moth, where writers and performers tell stories about their lives that must be both true and without notes. I was enormously moved by the latest in the series, Ed Gavagan’s “Drowning on Sullivan Street.” Odeo makes it easy to subscribe so that you won’t miss any of your favorites. The Moth is also available on iTunes at no charge. Here is Gavagan’s story:

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Why all the Vampires?

Posted on August 29, 2008 at 8:00 am

Vampires are really big this year. Breaking Dawn, the fourth volume in Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series was the most eagerly anticipated book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And one of the most popular events at Comic-Con was the panel for the upcoming movie with Kristen Stewart as Bella, the human girl who is in love with a vampire.

Also popular at Comic-Con was the appearance by Anna Paquin of the new HBO series True Blood, created by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” and “American Beauty.” In this series, the invention of a synthetic blood product has made it possible for vampires to “come out of the coffin” and join human society.

There are many reasons for the enduring appeal of the vampire myths, which date back thousands of years and recur in different forms in the folklore of many different cultures. The most popular modern conception is based in the Eastern European stories that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That has inspired classic movies from spooky classics (Dracula) to silly comedies (Dracula – Dead and Loving It, Once Bitten, and the unforgettably titled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck). Vampires have been played by everyone from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to Jim Carrey, Wesley Snipes, Catherine Deneuve, the Coreys (Haim and Feldman), Humphrey Bogart, and in an hilarious SNL skit, James Woods. And they have been fought by everyone from Hugh Jackman to Buffy. in Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe plays a vampire playing a vampire, based on the mystery behind the filming of “Nosferatu,” which basically stole its entire story from Dracula but changed the name so they would not have to pay royalties.

One aspect of the vampire myth that is especially alluring is the idea of being un-killable. The life they lead may be perverse and tortured, but it is eternal. Ann Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire and its sequels, has said that it was the death of her child that inspired her to write a series of books about creatures who do not die. Her books have sold over 100 million copies. Certainly, the mixture of death and life that a vampire represents is a part of what draws us to the stories, helping us to explore our fears and desires. In the case of the Twilight series, the vampire adds another dimension. These days, writers of romances complain, it is harder and harder to find reasons for the couple in the story not to get together so quickly there is no time for — a story. The traditional obstacles keeping couples apart, especially cultural norms against having sex with someone you don’t know very well, seem quaint and out of date. But if the guy you like is a vampire and you are not, that’s a darn good reason not to get close any way other than emotionally and psychically. These books explore the deep romanticism of that kind of relationship.

The Canadian series Blood Ties is now showing on Lifetime. It is the story of an investigator specializing in the supernatural and it features “the sexy 450-year-old vampire, Henry” as her adviser and possible love interest. And “Moonlight,” the story of a private investigator turned into a vampire on his wedding night and now interested in a human woman, has been canceled by CBS but may return on another station.

More classic vampires:

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The S.S. Minnow is Back in Shipshape

Posted on August 24, 2008 at 8:00 am

Anyone for a 3-hour tour? If you get on the S.S. Minnow and the other passengers are a movie star, a professor, a millionaire and his wife, not to mention Mary Ann, you might want to check to make sure you’ve packed enough to wear for a long vacation.
Yes, the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island is being restored and will be available for tours. More than one boat was used on the show, but this is the one in the opening credits.
I have special affection for this boat because it was named after my father, Newton Minow, whose famous speech to the broadcasters calling television a “vast wasteland” annoyed “Gilligan’s Island” creator Sherwood Schwartz. So Schwartz named the sinking boat after him! My dad got a huge kick out of it and later had a very cordial exchange of letters with Schwartz. It is a great point of pride for our family. cast-of-gilligans-island.jpg
Thanks to Zeke for bringing me up to date on this story!

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