One thing I regret most about the disappearance of full-length title sequences is that we can’t use them to track the changes in a show. Every time a show is re-tooled, it needs to change its title sequence to reflect the changes, and even when it hasn’t been changed much, a show that’s in trouble might change the main title to make the premise clearer or create a different atmosphere. We saw a good example of this in the final season of Veronica Mars, where they created a new main title that emphasized the noir detective-show feel and re-mixed the theme song to be less chipper.
But back when shows had minute-long main titles, and those main titles were often right at the beginning of the episode (and were therefore the first thing you saw of the show) they might change not only in successive seasons but successive weeks, as the producers scrambled to find the right approach.
This came home to me watching the recently-released season 1 DVD of My Two Dads, a show I liked at the time and still like now: I had forgotten that it had no less than four different main titles in the first half of the first season (and it had others in later seasons). So here they are, in another one of my “trace the history of a show through its opening titles” posts. First comes the pilot, which is just a 30-second selection of clips with a fairly generic instrumental theme song. What was with the ’80s and saxophones? Did the economy rebound from the 1981-2 recession entirely on the strength of the saxophone industry, and what musical instrument is going to save us now?
For the series, they need a new theme song, and they create the famous, insidious “You Can Count On Me” (co-written by star Greg Evigan and creator Michael Jacobs, sung by Evigan), the most maniacally happy and non-specific of all sitcom theme songs. The producers decide that the title sequence should be a combination of live-action and animation in the style of A-Ha’s then-popular video for “Take On Me,” and the sequence illustrates the theme of the show, that you’ve got this girl being raised and influenced by two men from different worlds. This sequence must have cost a lot of money to make, but it only lasted somewhere between one and three episodes before being replaced, and all that money was flushed down the toilet. And did I mention the saxophone was used a lot in this era?
The producers and the network presumably realized that it wasn’t enough to just illustrate the theme of the show; it needed to be explained or nobody would know what the hell was going on here. So they shot a new sequence where Nicole (the adorable Staci Keanan) explains the premise before a shortened version of the theme song kicks in. (Though, presumably due to episodes being aired out of order, this sequence didn’t appear until the “final” sequence had already been seen.) And all that animation has now been replaced with episode clips, which is actually quite normal: many shows have spent a ton of money on elaborate title sequences only to replace them with a clip montage within less than a year.
But I guess this narration still didn’t make the premise quite clear enough, and maybe it also focused too much attention on the kid at the expense of the two guys, so it was replaced with a voice-over narration explaining the premise in even simpler, shorter terms, mixed with stills and clips from previous episodes. Also, Dick Butkus has been added to the cast as the guy who runs the restaurant downstairs, satiating Brandon Tartikoff’s love of ensemble comedy and ex-football players (Butkus, Fred Dryer).
I don’t actually think this is the record for most separate title sequences in one season; there must be other shows that had more than four. (Though I’m not talking here about selecting a few different clips for what is otherwise the same sequence; I mean different main titles with distinctly different approaches or formats.) But it’s a lot.