Here it is! We’ve made it to the top 50! All summer long, I’ve been counting down my top 100 favorite TV show themes. We’ve had everything from current hits, to kid’s shows, to obscure classics. Let’s keep the list going and see what’s in store for the next set of 10!
Airdates: 1984-1991 & 2003 (NBC)
Fred Dryer was originally a football player for both the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams, before turning to acting, and taking on his signature character Hunter.
Hunter was a no-nonsense cop who battled the bad guys in the mean streets of LA. Although the show would be considered tame by today’s TV standards, Hunter was a bit violent for the 1980’s.
I loved this series and it blended the right amount of action and humor, plus guy vs. gal antics with his partner Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Karmer).
The opening credits featured another great soundtrack by composer Mike Post, who would also create the themes for a number of TV shows. Both the credits and the theme were updated every season, giving us more then seven great cuts.
Here’s a look at the revised credits from season 3. They make no secret that this is a gritty cop show. Just look at the drug dealing, murder, and action shots they feature.
By the time we get to season 5, the rock guitar really kicks in. Plus, we get the money shot of Hunter stopping his car just above the Hollywood sign to admire the view of his city at the end. I don’t recall that being in any episode…
By the time we get to season 7, Stepfanie Kramer left the show to pursue a singing career. Have you ever heard her sing? I haven’t. A new female lead was brought in, but she clashed with actor Fred Dryer, so she was killed off and midway through the season and he gets yet another female partner. The end shot in this version of the credits and even hard rock guitar theme are pretty cool.
After a few successful made for TV movies, NBC decided to bring back Hunter as a regular series in 2003. Were you watching? You probably weren’t. It was cancelled after airing only 3 of the 5 produced episodes.
I admit it… I did watch the revival and they made two critical mistakes. First, they moved Hunter from LA to San Diego and secondly, they let him look old. The grey hair just wasn’t him. It was like watching my grandfather do the stunts. The only thing they did right in this version was to bring back Stepfanie Kramer, which they had already done in the TV movie.
#39 GREEN ACRES
Airdates: 1965-1971 (CBS)
You take a rich couple and put them on a farm in the country and you’ve got Green Acres!
The series explored the vast difference between city and country life and with a more than memorable opening theme.
Arnold the pig probably became more famous than the main characters during the show’s run. Arnold could understand English and loved to watch TV, among many of his talent’s that cranked up the slapstick value of the show. Although, he wasn’t on every episode, Arnold guaranteed a good laugh when he appeared. I mean, who’s not going to laugh at a pig watching TV?
Airdates: 1989-1998 (NBC)
It’s the show about nothing that became one of the greatest shows in American TV history. Every week, we would tune in to see the misadventures of Jerry and the gang as they screwed up life and love in New York City.
The show really didn’t have traditional opening credits. During the early seasons, Jerry would perform his standup act as that memorable theme played in the background. In the later years, they pretty much dropped Jerry’s standup from the show, which I think was a big mistake.
Not as big of a mistake as the series finale, though… am I right?
I could go on and on about this one, but we’ve all seen every episode over and over. It’s one of the greatest shows ever… enough said.
#37 THE LOVE BOAT
Airdates: 1977-1987 (ABC)
It’s the cruise ship that everyone wanted to be on. That’s because you never knew which big name celebrity would be making a guest appearance!
The Love Boat sailed for 10 seasons and each episode gave us three or four completely unrelated stories that somehow intertwined with each other. The only weird part of the show was the use of a laugh track when this was clearly not recorded in front of a studio audience.
This series was so popular that one of the episodes has been rated one of TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of all Time.
For the show’s ninth season, the theme and credits got a massive upgrade. Check out the new version with the Love Boat Mermaids! YES!
Even after the show left the air, it still made two more TV movies.
UPN brought back the show as Love Boat: The Next Wave for two seasons from 1998-1999, but sadly it was cancelled to do low ratings and never gained the fame of its predecessor. I never understood why the new captain kept putting his hat on over and over in the new credits?
#36 THE ODD COUPLE
Airdates: 1970-1975 (ABC)
Based on the hit Broadway play and the hit movie, you have two completely opposite divorced husbands sharing an apartment in 1970’s New York City. One was a clean and proper guy, while the other was a complete slob. That’s all you needed for one of television’s classic sit-coms.
I always liked the jazzy theme of the credits and the vintage shots of The Big Apple. Even for the 1970’s their box design used here was unique and not easy to do.
ABC tried again with this same format and even recycled 8 scripts for its successor The New Odd Couple for one season that lasted from 1982-1983, only this time it was with two African-American guys. It never caught on and was cancelled. Rumors are still floating around that Hollywood is planning another big budget Odd Couple film.
#35 THE SOPRANOS
Airdates: 1999-2007 (HBO)
A show all about gangsters whacking each other off in New Jersey. Sounds like a simple idea, but with plots and drama as complex as this show was, it was no wonder that it was must watch and much talked about TV for everyone. It was the movie Goodfellas as a weekly TV series!
It’s not often that you find a show, as perfectly casted as this. James Gandolfini was the perfect lead and everyone still talks about what happened in that final scene when Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin cranked up on the juke box. Did he get whacked? What do you think?
While the theme song stayed the same, the opening credits were altered for season 4 to remove the shot of the World Trade Center. Living in the area, I can also tell you that if you followed the route he was driving, you would exit from the Lincoln Tunnel and end up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but not before driving in circles around Jersey City to follow a few of the b-roll cutaway shots are not in the correct order.
Here’s a look at the season 5 credits, minus the World Trade Center towers.
TV Guide has listed The Sopranos opening credits as #10 of TV’s Top Ten Title Sequences.
#34 THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
Airdates: 1993-present (CBS)
It’s official! Dave is now the king of late night and I am going to be busted up when this show leaves the air next year. I’ve been watching Dave since he started on NBC way back in 1982. I even remember his short lived daytime show, where he got his feet wet that NBC cancelled all their game shows for even before that!
David Letterman has been a late night staple for many of us for decades and now I can understand how everyone would run to watch his mentor, Johnny Carson each night. Dave is bow the Johnny of our generation. Every big star from actor to comedian to US president has made a stop in the Ed Sullivan Theater to talk.
While Dave has kept the same brilliant jazzy show theme, the credits have changed drastically over the years. Another show that was forced to remove images of the World Trade Center after it was destroyed (and Dave’s first show back on the air after that event will forever be TV history.)
By watching the evolution of Dave’s opening credits, you also get to see a glimpse of the gentrification of New York City. In the first set, you’ll see the old cigarette billboards and dirt all over Times Square, but by the time we get to 1997, you can see how that’s all been cleaned up.
I always loved how they found unique ways to feature the band out and about in the city for their beauty shot!
…and here’s one final piece of TV history. It’s their modified opening credits the night Superstorm Sandy hit New York City. I didn’t get to see this when it was originally broadcast and I was too busy bailing water out of my flooded apartment. I would have given anything to have been watching this in that most horrifying moment!
#33 GROWING PAINS
Airdate: 1985-1992 (ABC)
Another of the big 80’s family sit-coms, Growing Pains dealt with the Seavers as they too faced the trouble of raising three kids in the changing world. It kind of sounds a lot like the plot of a few other 80’s sit-coms, but this show seemed to work and many of the obstacles that faced the family, seemed more true to life.
This series would deal with tough topics such as AIDS, sex, and even a close friend dying in a car accident, without trying to be cute like Full House was. This was also thanks to Alan Thicke’s character, who as the father was a practicing psychologist who worked out of home and was always there to help his kids figure things out.
The first set of credits for this show, featured still painting meaning to depict the changing world and parenting through the years. Thankfully, these were abandoned for glamour shots of the cast and a more upbeat theme after the first season.
I wonder if those were actually real life vintage photos of the cast?
#32 ONE DAY AT A TIME
Airdates: 1975-1984 (CBS)
I could call this just another sit-com, but it was actually more of a comedy-drama. This series would tackle tough issues with life and relationships, while the main character, who was a divorcee who picks up her life and moves to Indianapolis, tackles a new world of feminism, all while raising her two daughters.
Each episode was set up so that you got the hard hitting plot point fairly early, then explored the resolution along with the characters for the remainder of the half hour.
While the characters took on a great deal of personal drama, cast member Mackenzie Phillips battled a very public fight with drugs that got her dismissed from the show, only to be rehired again.
As the series rolled on, new characters were constantly introduced to help keep the plots fresh. Eventually, the mother (Bonnie Franklin) found a new true love, as did her younger daughter (Valerie Bertinelli) who basically grew up in front of America’s eyes.
The season six opening credits keep the same song, but the editing style is quite a departure from the rest of the show. It looks like some editor found the magic box that allows video to be placed in boxes on screen and flown around. This version of the opening is just one big train wreck.
By the time the show entered the final season, the editing style of the credits returned to normal, but featured many new additions to the cast.
#31 THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Airdates: 1972-present (CBS), 1972-1980 & 1985-1986 & 1994-1995 (Syndicated)
Here it comes! Television’s most exciting hour! It’s the game show and the open that’s excited viewers for over 40 years. It’s a simple game show, where contestants are called four at a time to the stage to bid on an item, the person closest to the actual retail price gets to play a special pricing game for more cash. Three at a time, they face off at a wheel and the top two go to the Showcase Showdown, where only the one who is closest to the actual retail price without going over, can take home the big cash!
The show was originally targeted to housewives, who were expert shoppers, and were also home during the day to watch the show.
Most people recognize Bob Barker and current host Drew Carey from the show, but Bob was not the first to host the series. It actually aired in black and white on both NBC and CBS in a much scaled down form during the 1950s and 1960s. Only a modified version of the bidding round was played. This version was hosted by game show legend Bill Cullen from Pittsburgh.
You can check out a full episode of the original version, here:
When the Bob Barker version hit the air in 1972, it was known as The New Price is Right for a time. Another version aired at night for local stations hosted by Dennis James, before Barker took over that show as well after 4 seasons. Here’s a rare look at the James night time version:
Price made it back to syndication in 1985 for a season with host Tom Kennedy. It returned again in 1994 with major modifications with host Doug Davidson. The Davidson version was down right awful. The set was seriously overhauled and mostly used video screens for the prizes and the games. This version was a serious rating flop and was gone after one embarrassing season.
When the Barker version started in 1972, the now famous “Come on Down!” line that called contestants to play was not part of the show open. Instead, a contestant’s name was called and told to simply “Stand Up!” It was quickly changed to the version we now know to love.
The Price is Right music itself has nothing to do with grocery products or prices, but it has become such a part of the show, that after all these years, it has to get a mention. The current Drew Carey episodes still use the same style of open and theme, although now they are in high definition.
What: TV Theme Songs
Use: themes used to open a TV series or cartoon
Purpose: introduce main cast and introduce audience to the theme of the series
Numbers reviewed: 31 – 40
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:
We’re now past the halfway point in my countdown and the best is still to come! I wanted to add M*A*S*H at number 32, but couldn’t find any actual show opens posted online. There are tons of theme links, but none of the actual credit sequences with the cast securing injured solders off of the helicopter and buses.
Check back next week when we take a look at numbers 21-30. We’ve got lots more NBC, including your favorite high school class, a Saturday night staple, and the New York courtroom we all wish we could get a case in if we ever get in trouble with the law!
I don’t own any of the rights to these, nor did I upload them to YouTube. This blog is presented for educational and informational purposes.
Image credit –Jonathan Lassoff