This feature is an updated version of one that was published in 2010
Or do you? Sometimes shows like to shake us up a little, just to make sure we’re paying attention. Here are a few examples of programmes which have caught us off-guard with unusual credit sequences...
Words by Jayne Nelson and Dave Golder
Fringe has made a habit of changing it opening credits to suit the occasion. There have been seven different sequences so far. Admittedly most of the alternatives have been mere colour changes to indicate what universe the following episode is (mainly) set in but there have been two major one-off changes.
The first was for “Peter” in season two, which was the first time the show flash-backed to the ’80. Fringe re-imagined its title sequence as if the show had actually been produced in the greed-is-good decade of synths and shoulder pads. The attention to detail is exquisite. The music is tinny and electronic. The fonts are retro-future, and would have sat happily in the title sequence of The Tripods . The background is all neon blue and wireframe graphics. The usual random selection of cool-sounding SF buzzwords are replaced with things that sounded futuristic and SF back then, but are just all part of life now – “Personal Computing”, “DNA Profiling”, “Nanotechnology”, “Laser Surgery”, “Virtual Reality”. It’s certainly much more authentically ’80s than Ashes To Ashes ’s titles.
Then in season four, for an episode set in a future in which the Observers have taken over we were given this epic title sequence… wonder if it’s going to be put to use again in season five?
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
This is possibly the cleverest example of “one night only” opening title-fiddling in the history of TV, not just reflecting the episode in question, but actually forming part of the narrative. After a teaser showing the Scooby Gang fighting vampires, deciding they need some help and then, bizarrely, going to geeky bit-player Jonathan Levinson for back-up (what the Hell?), most viewers would have been a bit wrong-footed already... But as the credits roll it’s clear that something HUGE is up.
Clips of Jonathan have been inserted willy-nilly throughout the sequence, as though he’s been part of the show for years. He’s shown defusing a bomb! Wearing a sharp suit! Climbing into a limo surrounded by screaming fans! Firing a crossbow! Holding a gun like James Bond! The final few seconds of the theme song even play out to a shot of him walking towards the camera with his coat billowing out behind him, like a cross between Angel and Neo!
Of course, it’s merely a clever set-up for an episode in which poor downtrodden Jonathan has cast a spell to make him a superstar, but it’s the way the spell breaks the fourth wall and leeches into the credits that makes it such a joy.
One thing, though: despite his presence in the sequence, Danny Strong only gets a “Guest Starring” credit once the episode has begun. Seems that fourth wall only stretches so far...
“The following is a special episode of The X-Files . Viewer discretion is advised.”
If that’s not a sign that strange things are afoot at the Circle K in this episode of Chris Carter’s ground-breaking TV series from 2000, the beginning credits that follow tell you everything you need to know. Fox reality show Cops , surely the most down-to-earth of all TV programmes, teamed with The X-Files for a one-off special which began with the Cops credits unspooling over scenes of genuine street busts, arrests and writhing low-lifes interspersed with clips of Agents Mulder and Scully in grainy black and white.
Somehow, the sight of our two paranormal investigators running after cop cars, knocking on doors and chatting with the police seemed a darn sight more convincing when filmed on a hand-held camera in true verite style.
Sadly, the Cops credits merely opened the teaser; the real X-Files credits then kick in before the show returns to its new look. It’s a shame the bubble had to be burst, but it doesn’t detract from what is still a brilliant beginning (and, may we add, a stunning episode).
Anyone who’s ever sat through Most Haunted or Ghost Hunters (and you have our sympathies) will identify with this tongue-in-cheek episode, which focuses on the hapless, ghost-busting duo of Harry Spangler and Ed Zeddmore and their team of “Ghostfacers”.
Setting the tone for the following story perfectly, the beginning credits show the team using night-vision cameras to explore a spooky house as their names pop up on the credits – with guest appearances from Sam and Dean Winchester, the latter giving the cameraman a hilariously pixelled-out finger to show that he’s not happy about being on TV.
For a show with opening titles that usually only last a few seconds, this was a real departure. And then there’s the fact that the real actor’s names and all the other credits run over the final scenes of the episode rather than the start, in some topsy-turvy attempt not to prick the Ghostfacers’ bubble (bravo!).
Oh, and that song, even though it’s dreadful, will stay with you for weeks. Click on the link at your peril ...
Lucky co-incidences, eh? When JJ Abrams’s version of Star Trek premiered on the big screen, one of his TV shows was still premiering new episodes on the small screen. And so, for one week only, and in America only, and viewers were treated to a Lost / Trek crossover to promote the new film with the Enterprise unexpectedly whooshing out Lost ’s “O”, and title sequence’s normally black background changing into a starscape. So, are Trek and Lost in a shared universe? Is the island actually a holodeck illusion? All will be revealed soon…
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
“Once More With Feeling”
Still, in retrospect, those faces on the moon do remind us a little of The Mighty Boosh ...
Another format-buster from Supernatural – this time the result of some meddling by the Trickster, who’s thrown the Winchesters into TV-land for this totally bizarre episode. Thus, instead of season five’s customary blood-stained and brief opening credit (note that we say “credit” and not “credits”, as all we normally see is the word Supernatural ), we get this elongated montage of the brothers having a gay old time.
Watch and laugh along as they hunt ghosts, freak each other out with flashlights and ride wee little scooters! Giggle at the bicycle made for two! And the way they fall down with their legs flailing! If this was in Smell-o-vision your lounge would smell of cheese. But, cheesy whiff aside, it’s definitely brilliant – and we also have to love the way it’s shot in glorious, saturated technocolour, such a difference to the show’s usual washed-out and spooky palette.
“In A Mirror, Darkly”
Here’s another clever one, and an original idea from a series which had precious few original ideas. The episode was set in Star Trek ’s mirror universe, not a very nice place at all. The show’s usual credits showed a pictorial history of human exploration, all feel-good pioneering and The Right Stuff imagery. So, how about re-doing the titles to show the alternate history of the mirror universe? Genius! This time the theme is war, with lost of news reel stock footage followed by cleverly-inserted FX shots from Trek over the years, and even the odd new shot or two. Even the music was changed – a blessed, but too brief respite from that awful soft rock “Faith Of The Heart” dirge – to a bombastic orchestral piece.
Each of the hour-long Futurama s had fun with the show’s opening titles. The first, “Bender’s Big Score” was the least radical, interspersing the usual titles for a series of shots of the characters “doing their thing” one after the other, in a kind of animated version of standard US TV drama title sequences. Much better was “The Beast With A Billion Backs” which for some inexplicable reason tagged a brilliantly bonkers, lengthy black and white Steamboat Willie skit onto the end of the standard title sequence. “Bender’s Game” chose another classic ’toon to lampoon in the form of Yellow Submarine . The result is, if possible, even more surreal than the Beatles’ original. Sadly, the final movie, “Into The Wild Green Yonder” didn’t follow the same theme, instead going for a rather unmemorable Vegas vibe (though the mock-Sinatra theme song is fun). Shame – we’d’ve loved to have seen a Futurama version of The Flintstones ’ opening titles. Or maybe even The Simpsons – we could have finally seen what Fry looked like with yellow skin.
“Chuck Versus The Bullet Train”
This sudden change of opening credits in the third from last episode of the greatest telefantasy show ever sponsored by Subway was curiously unfathomable. Sure the episode’s set on a train, but on that basis an episode set in Mexico should have a mariachi band playing the theme (which would have been good). Instead it seems to be an homage to ’80s action films (look at that type face!) done by a production team who always wanted to re-do their credits in the style of an ’80s action film, and suddenly realised, “Shit! There’s only three episodes to go!”
Earlier in its run, Chuck also gave us this great pastiche of Hart To Hart opening credits. Admittedly, it doesn’t really belong in this feature, because the sequence didn’t replace the regular credits (they popped up afterwards) but it’s too good not to have another gander at…
Meanwhile, in Buffyland, castmembers came and went with wild abandon during the show’s run, being added and removed in the beginning titles along the way. But nobody’s elevation to the opening roster of names was quite as bittersweet as Amber Benson’s moment of glory. Finally hitting the main credits in “Seeing Red”, countless fans of Tara McClay yelled “Woohoo!” at the sight... only to wail in despair 45 minutes later when she was killed. And Benson’s name was never seen in the credits again. Joss Whedon, you’re an evil genius.
Then there are the opening credits of Cordelia’s television series, Cordy , from the Angel episode “Birthday”. We see an alternate universe Miss Chase fronting her own show and it’s a perfect recreation of the opening titles for a million other run-of-the-mill US TV sitcoms, although we must admit the lack of in-jokes or wit in the sequence is a little disappointing. Unless that was the point, of course: Cordy is supposed to be formulaic and terrible. There is a reason she chose not to stay in that world, after all...
And finally, a small mention of changes to end credits. The Mutant Enemy monster’s “Grrr... arrgh!” at the end of anything to do with Joss Whedon is famed for changing its mantra to the occasional song or “I need a hug!”, but far more credit is due to the company ident at the end of Ron Moore and David Eick’s Battlestar Galactica or Caprica. The scenarios, which show the two guys bickering, changes every week and you can read about them here .
What do you mean, you’ve never noticed them? All the action doesn’t just happen up front, you know...
And finally, a mention for two shows that change their titles continually: The Prisoner , which had whichever actor was playing Number 2 that week performing the iconic voiceover; and Game Of Thrones , which updates its map as new locations feature in the show.