Title sequence generally refers to the method by which cinematic films or television shows present their title, key cast and/or production members utilizing conceptual visuals and sound. It should not be confused with opening credits, which are generally nothing more than a series of superimposed text.
Since the invention of the cinematograph
, simple title cards were used to top and tail silent film presentations in order to identify both the film and the production company involved, and to act as a signal that the film had started and then finished. In silent cinema title cards were used throughout to convey dialogue and plot and it is in some of these early short films that we see the first examples of title sequences themselves, being quite literally a series of title cards shown at the beginning of a film. The arrival of sound did little to alter the convention except that the sequence was usually accompanied by a musical prelude.
This remained the convention for many years until the advent of television forced the major film studios to invest in developing cinema in order to win back a diminishing audience. The "cast of thousands" epics shot on various patent widescreen formats were a direct response to television's successful invasion of the leisure marketplace. Part of cinema's new prestigious and expansive quality were orchestral musical preludes before the curtains opened and long title sequences — all designed to convey a sense of gravitas it was hoped television would be unable to compete with. As cinema's title sequences grew longer we begin to see the involvement of graphic design luminaries such as Saul Bass, which directly influenced the 1960s television predilection for creating strong graphics-led sequences for many shows.
Film-makers at the beginning of the 21st century have many options open regarding title sequences. Some films superimpose opening credits over the opening scenes, while others elect to do away with titles entirely, instead including elaborate title sequences at the end of the movie.
The commercial environment that television inhabits encourages a more formatted approach and, although there are some one-off anomalies caused by production or technical errors, the television show without a regular identifiable title sequence of some kind is unknown.
Since the late 1950s, film title sequences have often been a showcase for contemporary design and illustration. The title sequences of Saul Bass
and Maurice Binder
are among the best examples of this though they inspired many imitators both in cinema and on television. In recent years Kyle Cooper
's celebrated title sequence for David Fincher
(1995) again influenced a whole host of designers, though it is by no means unusual to see a film whose title sequence merely superimposes text over a black background, reflecting that the form's function remains the same today as it did with the advent of silent cinema.
In general a television title sequence will at some point badge the show with a typographic logo. Around this key element can be incorporated shots of highlights from earlier episodes or shows and key presenter's or cast member's names. Musical accompaniment can be either instrumental or a song and aided by the visual treament of the images helps to convey the tone and mood of the programme.
In serials, because a title sequence is produced at the outset of a series, it will usually include scenes from early episodes already shot when the sequence was prepared. Short clips of key characters will often climax in a freeze frame as that cast member's name is en:superimposed. In and around these elements will be other footage depicting the locale (a particular city, country, building or fictitious location) in which the series is set and therefore its era. A title sequence might also be used to explain the premise of a series, traditionally utilising clips from its pilot episode.
Although a title sequence may be modified during a series to update cast changes or incorporate new "highlight" shots from later episodes, it will tend to remain largely the same for an entire season. Such is the strength of a title sequence in expressing the concept of a show, it will sometimes be the key element a producer will target in order to revamp a show between seasons. Therefore some shows have enjoyed several quite different title sequences and theme music throughout their runs, while in contrast some ever-popular shows have retained their original title sequences for decades with only minor alterations. Conversely, retaining a series' original title sequence can allow a producer to change many key elements within a programme itself, without losing the show's on-screen identity. Other variations include changing only the theme music whilst keeping the visuals or vice versa.
In contemporary television news a title sequence can be changed every day by including footage of that day's news with a presenter's voice "teasing" the items. This ensures that the title sequence appears fresh but still identifies the news programme by its music and visual style.
List of television series whose title sequences have regular subtle changes
Some shows have title sequences that are subtly different in every episode (or season). Some famed title sequences with variables include:
- American Dad – In The First/Second Season Stan picks up a newspaper with a unique headline.
- Battlestar Galactica (2004) – a running tally of total human survivors is shown.
- Doctor Who – For the first 26 years of its run, the Doctor Who title sequence changed for every doctor, featuring the actor's face from the second doctor (Patrick Troughton) through the seventh (Sylvester McCoy). The current series title sequence has been unchanged since its introduction, although a new arrangement of the theme was introduced for the fourth season.
- The Fairly OddParents – Vicky's head always turns into something different at the end.
- Futurama – the text below the title and the cartoon clip playing on the big screen changes each episode.
- Seinfeld – the "Seinfeld" logo changes color and style every season.
- The Simpsons has three main variables in its title sequences:
- Weeds (seasons 2–3) – the song "Little Boxes" is performed by a different singer.
- Chowder – a different food is being cooked each episode.
- 8 Simple Rules (episodes with John Ritter) – where Kerry, Cate, Bridget and Paul open the front door and look one at a time at a supposed new date of Bridget's or Kerry's. The camera goes from the door to the doormat with the show's name, then the door opens again, Rory shows up and does something that changes between title sequences: he looks at the camera with disdain, takes a picture of the date with a camera, takes away the date's flowers, etc.
- Charmed – Whenever a regular is absent from the episode, he is also absent from the title sequence.
- Garfield and Friends – The series had three very different theme songs during its run, but they all ended the same way – after the show's logo and Garfield appears, he says a quick and often humorous message.
- Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy – After the opening (or sometimes after the first commercial break following the opening), Mandy walks out and says something before the the episode begins.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus – The opening sequence changed every season. In one episode, it did not appear until more than 20 minutes in.
- The Critic – Jay answered a different phone call and was later shown reviewing a different movie parody clip in each episode.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show – Rob (Dick Van Dyke) entered through the front door and tripped over the ottoman. Three versions were filmed: one in which he trips over the ottoman, one in which he steps around it, and a rarely seen third variation in which he avoids the ottoman but then trips on the carpet. The episode's editors were instructed to use them randomly.
- Ellen – Many episodes opened with Ellen DeGeneres introducing a performer who was playing the theme song that week while she held up a sign with the name of the show.
- Frasier – The Frasier logo changed color every season, and 20 different animations involving the logo's skyline graphic alternated throughout its run.
- Friends – The clips of each character were excerpts of the first half or the second half of the season. When Courtney Cox married David Arquette, all actors added "Arquette" to their last name for one episode.
- L.A. Law – The personalized "LA LAW" license plate had a different validation sticker every season.
- A Nero Wolfe Mystery – Features title illustration and design by Aurore Giscard d'Estaing that is unique to each episode.
- Pepper Ann – At the end of the title sequence, Pepper Ann finds something interesting on the floor under her desk and says "Cool!", followed by the item she found.
- Police Squad – Each episode there is a different "special guest star" who is killed off during the title sequence and makes no appearance in the episode.
- The Rockford Files – A different message is left on Rockford's answering machine.
- That 70s Show – Similar to L.A. Law, the license plate at the end of the credits signifies the year in which the episode takes place.
- Roseanne – The camera turns 360 degrees, showing the family having dinner or playing a game, always ending with Rosanne laughing wholeheartedly. The last season featured a montage of pictures of the cast set to lyrics sung by John Popper of Blues Traveler.
Soon after computer games began to appear on PC's as well as their own dedicated games units, many began using the conventions of film and television title sequences for their introductions. In particular, adventure games often have CGI sequences which act as a teaser
or cold open
before a music-laden title sequence that does exactly what film and television title sequences do: prepare the viewer for the kind of experience he/she is about to have.