Some TV opening themes do more than just introduce the principal actors: they actually explain what the show is actually about.
I’ve always loved the opening theme of All in the Family, but it doesn’t really explain what the show is about except in the broadest sense: the lead characters are lamenting all of the social change happening before their eyes.
The opening themes of Cheers and Friends likewise suggest the overriding mood of their shows.
But then there are certain theme songs that someone who’s never seen an episode of a program could watch and immediately understand what they’re about to see. Here are my 10 favorites that fit into this category.
And I warn you now: some of these are likely to get stuck in your head for a few days!
1. ‘Gilligan’s Island’
Creator Sherwood Schwartz wrote the lyrics for “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island,” which perfectly explains the premise of the show. Granted, it doesn’t explain why people who set on a 3-hour boat tour would take so many clothes, or why the millionaire and his wife would carry suitcases of cash, but you still know the basic idea of the show once you listen to the catchy opening theme:
The first season version, which was in black-and-white, lumped poor Mary Ann and the professor together as “the rest,” until, as the story goes, Bob Denver, who played the title role of Gilligan, raised a stink about it. Supposedly, he threatened to have his name removed from the first position in the theme and placed into “the rest” as well since his contract allowed him to select his billing.
2. ‘Green Acres’
The dynamics at work between a man who loves the farming life in the country and a woman who loves the socialite’s life in New York City are evident right from the beginning of this theme.
Green Acres would sometimes break the fourth wall during the opening scene as opening titles continued. Here’s a funny example:
3. ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’
Ol’ Jed was just trying to keep his family fed when he struck oil. The rest is hillbilly history, according to this theme. The show also had a closing theme with lyrics that served as a nice companion to the opening. Skip to about :32 in on this clip:
4. ‘The Brady Bunch’
How do you explain the unlikely scenario of a widower with three sons marrying a widow with three daughters? This way (and note the original ABC “in color” bumper:
This opening must have been pretty complicated at that time because of all of the windows. This was well before CGI, after all.
5. ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’
I’m not a fan of rap music, but there’s no way this theme wouldn’t be included, since it sets up the scenario so well. Here is a longer version you may not have seen before:
The only thing missing is the Carlton Dance.
6. ‘The Addams Family’
That snap-snap theme is definitely one that will take a while to shake, but the lyrics make it clear that this is definitely an “out there” kind of family.
Here’s the theme…go ahead and snap along:
By the way, the often-misunderstood last few lines are:
So get a witches shawl on
A broomstick you can crawl on
We’re gonna pay a call on
The Addams Family.
7. ‘The Jetsons’
When I was a kid, no Saturday morning was complete without The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show and The Jetsons. When you watched this opening, you understood what it was about, who it was about and when it was about:
I still want a car that would fold into a briefcase.
8. ‘The Flintstones’
Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty (along with Dino and eventually Pebbles and Bam Bam) made up the prehistoric families those of us of a certain age grew up with. This clip has the familiar opening and closing.
One of the often-misheard lyrics from the opening was, “Let’s ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet.” (It was his feet, after all, that actually propelled the car.
9. ‘Down to Earth’
You’ve almost certainly never heard of this show, and if you ever had, you’ve probably forgotten you ever heard of it. It aired on TBS from 1984 to 1987 and was all about an angel who takes care of a family. But the opening theme — which may well stick in your head for a few days – does an excellent job of telling the backstory of the seemingly out-of-touch housekeeper:
10. ‘The Odd Couple’
Take a deadpan though humorous read by the announcer and a fantastic theme by none other than Henry Mancini and how could you go wrong.
Are you a Felix or an Oscar? I think I’m somewhere in between!