Television Intros: A Look at 25 All-Time Greats



Filed under : Miscellaneous, Movies/TV

Before we look at twenty five of the greatest TV show introduction videos, I’d like to put forward that these aren’t THE TOP 25 intros of all time. Obviously, these lists are always subjective – usually determined by what the writer remembers from his own frame of references. Much like video games, music and other forms of entertainment – you’re always going to be more likely to target those examples that you favor. As a child of the 1980s, TV was a huge part of my youth.
Of course, these are American shows – I didn’t grow up in Japan or Mexico – so I cannot comment on great TV intros from other countries.

I’ve done my best to dig back as far as I could – and make sure this list was respectful of older TV shows (as well as modern ones). I was born in 1969 and as such, I have a wealth of TV experience from the late 60’s on. Unfortunately, if you’re a decade or two older (or younger) than me, you may disagree with my findings. What makes the internet great is that after looking at my list, you can contribute your own and/or missed favorites in the comments.

It’s also worth noting that cartoons are not included in this list – there are plenty of amazing animated intros – and they deserve their own follow up list. For now, we just handle live action shows.

Finally, before we hit the videos I have to confess that I did not compile this list on my own. I had some help from my peers – mainly my friend Justin (you may know of him from my Passenger Seat Radio show). Together we bounced these around until we got our own personal undisputed top 25. We hope you enjoy it.

How Was The List Determined

Obviously our own personal favorite shows were considered first. We applied three areas of logic in our decision to include the item in the list.

First, theme song / music. The more iconic, catchy and memorable the theme song, the higher we rated it.

Second, the intro itself. Is it exciting? Does it build the show? Will you remember it when next year’s show comes out and knocks it down? Do you still remember it 20+ years later? Is there something that separates it from the hundreds and thousands of other TV shows?

Lastly, we took into consideration the staying power and pop culture significance of the TV theme. If a theme has been parodied on numerous shows, imitated and is just generally beloved – we gave it a couple more points too.

25. Criminal Minds (2005)

Anyone else LOVE Mandy Patinkin? You know, the guy from Princess Bride looking for the Six-Fingered Man? I started watching this high-brow crime drama just for him. I pretty much stopped when they wouldn’t meet Mandy’s demands for season 2. The show is 6 seasons in and still going strong despite Mandy’s departure – featuring the “criminal behavior” side of law enforcement.

Why We Liked It

I love the music – LOVE it. The credits are interesting and I LOVE the ending shot. This is season 1’s intro when Mandy was on the show.


24. NCIS (2003)

Following in the footsteps of CSI (and the concept is lampooned on this show), a slightly Navy slanted version came from TV veteran Donald P. Bellisario (see Quantum Leap later). Mark Harmon crawled out of his irrelevancy to do a fine job leading a great cast of characters through nighttime crime solving.

Why We Liked It

Another adrenaline packed, simply great theme music and well-directed intro for the win. I liked season 2’s intro (I miss Sasha), so here it is.


23. All in the Family (1968)

It’s almost impossible to believe anyone has not at least heard of this show which features a working class bigot and his family dealing with issues of their day. It resonated so well with America that it lasted over 10 years and featured over five spin off shows. A number of firsts were also accomplished during this show.

Why We Liked It

A crust of American culture. The two leads of the show sing it with one of them playing piano. Archie Bunker’s derogatory pronunciation of “…welfare state…” is simply priceless. A simple intro for a simple, powerful show. Other versions of the intro feature a laugh track OVER the intro. Ever heard of another show doing THAT??


22. Hawaii Five-0 (1968)

Tropical locations were unheard of for TV – especially in the 60s. This intro could be comfortable being shown today with some minor tweaking. It’s as timeless as is the theme song behind it. I can’t begin to count the references to it over the decades since it aired – and it, like many others on this list, is being remade in the coming year.

Why We Liked It

It’s so damn catchy, ain’t it? I bet after you watch the video below, you’ll have it in your head the rest of the day. Plus, I love the style of the intro – fast, random action – the cinematography is great for a show of it’s age. No brainer it made the list.


21. Star Trek (1966)

A failed show. Legendary characters. An epic universe. The voice over of Shatner in the version of the intro below still echoes in the heads of millions of fans. Having spawed over a dozen spin offs and movies – anything other than the original series was MORE POPULAR than the original series.

Why We Liked It

Epic. It’s an epic intro. The voice over .. the music .. even the female singing … the fly by credits. It’s probably more recognizable than any single theme song in history. What’s not to like?


20. Fantasy Island (1977)

Next to The Love Boat, Fantasy Island was the second best getaway for washed up, out of work actors to return to television one last time. For $50,000 a weekend, Fantasy Island’s fabulous Khan, er .. I mean Mr. Rourke (Richardo Montalban) will grant you any fantasy you can imagine – using his mysterious powers. His sidekick Tattoo brought “little people” front and center into the public’s eye – basically acting as an extension of the audience – asking the hard questions. His iconic phrase “Da Plane! Da Planet!” is firmly embedded in pop culture.

Why We Liked It

Amazing – an intro with no catchy theme song. Not even much substance. But you have Mr. Rourke’s quirky little head cock when he opens the window (you might have to watch it a couple of times – but that head cock has stuck with me for thirty years) … Tattoo proclaiming that the plane arrived – and the unique nature of each show’s intro landed it on our list. Smiles everyone! SMILES!


19. Land of the Lost (1974)

If you thought Scooby-Doo was the most drug-induced show on television, you haven’t met Sid & Marty Krofft. Creators of the Krofft Super Show, these guys had to have been off-camera sparking a blunt during the whole creation of the numerous “shorts” they put together including H.R. Puff ‘n Stuff and Doctor Shrinker. This show reached iconic status in re-runs, spawned a recently (and remarkably decent) motion picture starring Will Ferrel.

Why We Liked It

Anything this cheesy (in fact, I think if you look cheesy up in the dictionary, Land of the Lost might have a screen shot there) is so bad it has to be good. From the twanging banjo opening to the horrible dinosaur roar at the end (don’t forget the one-named star credit “Wesley” – priceless) – it’s guilty horror cheese from start to finish. Go ahead … watch it … we’ll wait …


18. Hart to Hart (1979)

This Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers night time drama featuring a beautiful wealthy couple that solves crimes on the side managed to run five seasons. I think the last thing anyone wants to see are rich people solving crimes that trained professionals can’t solve. But hey, what do I know? It won two Golden Globes.

Why We Liked It

This is the PRIME example of not having to remotely like a show to LOVE the intro. It’s fast, dynamic, has insanely great music behind it – and it’s narrated by their chauffeur … Plus, this season 1 version of the intro features the two stars being dropped down trap doors. THERE is the ending for the Harts I want to see. Plus, Stefanie Powers looks super hot being mesmerized.


17. ChiPs (1977)

This show made Erik Estrada a household name. The show did for police officer recruitment what the Village People did for the Navy and the YMCA. The theme song is epic, the series ran six seasons and an attempt to reboot it has been in the works for a decade.

Why We Liked It

The pumping beat startup, the crazy synthesized theme … the “god I’m so incredibly well-endowed” look on the cop’s faces as they ride. I wanted to ride a motorcycle AND be a cop watching this intro. It also makes me wonder how Erik Estrada ever got work after it.


16. ER (1994)

Arguably the first and most successful night time “doctor drama”, E.R. ran an unbelievable fifteen seasons. Hunk actor George Clooney and sturdy reliable Anthony Edwards (remember GOTCHA!, the coming of age movie? That’s him) rounded out the cast.

Why We Liked It

Another intro theme that could easily be shown for HOUSE MD or other “doctor drama”, it stands up well over time. The haunting piano theme song, the off-color imagery of the video. It also reminds us of a simpler time when George Clooney worked for a living.


15. Miami Vice (1984)

Okay, anyone NOT remember this intro? Jan Hammer’s epic music, Don Johnson? Not ringing any bells? If you were ALIVE (or even still in the womb) during the 80’s, it’s hard to believe you missed out on this five season buddy cop action drama. It’s living proof you can wear a jacket with only a t-shirt (a colored one at that) and still be cool. Any theme song (especially one without lyrics) that can hit the Billboard charts is doing something right.

Why We Liked It

We don’t have to explain ourselves. Click PLAY. Then go back up and watch Hawaii Five-0’s intro again …


14. V (1983)

Long before the sketchy remake aired on ABC last year, V had a spectacular life as two mini-series AND a TV series. Beastmaster’s Marc Singer along with numerous great future (and past) actors made up the cast. This show was so prolific that during the weeks the mini-series’ aired nobody around the water cooler (or playground) could talk about anything else. NBC scored a FOURTY share with this show, nabbing 80 million viewers. Merchandising was crazy – and in major cities propaganda posters seen in the film turned up, with red Vs appearing on them just before the show aired. I’ve never seen a TV event like it since.

Why We Liked It

There are three distinct intros for V. The original miniseries, the second mini-series (aka The Final Battle) and the TV show. While I am personally biased to The Final Battle intro – it really means nothing to you if you didn’t see the first series. So, we provide you the TV series version – which is still damn good. Great theme, great wrap up the original mini-series in one tidy intro.


13. HBO Feature Presentation (1983)

Okay, this one might be cheating the list. This video proceeded HBO’s big budget programming in the 1980s. Even more amazing is how much money and effort this intro took to make. [URL=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Et_LsxlX8Y&feature=related”]See more here[/URL] (it’s great – worth watching). Remember, this was before CGI …

Why We Liked It

Only my rich friends had HBO. We watched dirty movies on it at night after their parents went to be. Nothing sparks my memory neurons like this insanely budgeted big production intro. I love the music. I love the direction … I LOVE the build up. There were shorter versions, but this is the full one (and in HQ finally).


12. CSI (2000)

CSI is one of the longest running and most popular crime dramas ever to appear on TV. It’s at 11 seasons and actually SURVIVED losing it’s starring actor (although Lawrence Fishbourne was nice Grissom replacement). The theme song, the 1970’s song WHO ARE YOU from THE WHO, became a household presence and set the stage for many aged songs from aged rockers to appear on TV themes and commercials.

Why We Liked It

It’s THE WHO, MAN!!! Ok, so it only reached #14 on the Billboard charts but it still rocks. The intro has changed a lot over the years – we still love Season 2’s intro the best (as provided below). It really charges you up! Plus, this is the version where they splatter the brains of a test dummy at the end of the intro …


11. Quantum Leap (1989)

Another five year series, Quantum Leap managed to appeal to a very large, diverse demographic. A very “human” show that delved into history and still sported technology – Leap featured Scott Bakula as a “leaper” that jumped from time to time and body to body to set history right. Endless supply of stories and endless opportunities to make Bakula wear a dress.

Why We Liked It

It’s a mesmerizing intro. You watch it – and it’s full of special effects and pretty much completely voiced over by the most soothing woman’s voice I’ve ever heard (almost enough to make you want to strangle her) – Deborah Pratt (also the voice of Ziggy).


10. Buck Rogers (1979)

Based on a comic book, this Glen A. Larson production (the man responsible for MANY shows on this list, by the way) followed in the footsteps of the insanely popular Battlestar Galactica. It features an astronaut that had been frozen in his craft only to be revived 500 years later. Yes, you’ve seen this intro spoofed and parodied MANY times. What’s funny is, you probably never knew were it came from.

Why We Liked It

A decent show (if not a completely Galactica ripoff – think of it as BSG Lite) that had hot chicks and space ship laser battles. Who DIDN’T watch this? Did I mention Erin Gray was so hot in this show you just had to watch it? The intro features the classic voice over, great music and even stole the font from Battlestar Galactica. I’ve give you a hint … BSG is on this list too – but higher up than #10 …


9. A-Team (1983)

Recently remade into a major motion picture (apparently a good one too, I haven’t seen it). The show followed Vietnam vets that were accused of a crime and had to go underground. They became “soldiers of fortune” … well, dammit … it’s all in the intro. Dirk Benedict (fresh off Battlestar Galactica) and the iconic “big black and bad” Mr. T rounded off the cast. It ran five seasons and had a rabid fan base.

Why We Liked It

What’s not to like? Cool voice over, lots of action in the intro and dammit – there is a Cylon in there. Oh, and Family Guy COMPLETELY recreated it frame by frame on one of their shows – that gives it immortal status in my book.


8. The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1975)

Super hero TV shows were all the rage in the late 1970s. Wonder Woman, an Amazon superwoman hiding under the guise of secret agent Diana Prince fights crime and helps the innocent. With a super Belt of Strength, bullet ricocheting bracelets, a tiara that turns into a boomerang and a Magic Lasso that forces people to tell the truth – Wonder Woman was a strong female role model for women and a hot piece of ass for men. Hard to imagine this show NOT succeeding. Lynda Carter spinning into a hot Wonder Woman outfit with a deafening thunder clap got me through a lot of cold nights.

Why We Liked It

Lynda Carter. Boobs. Lynda Carter. Running. Lynda Carter – doing EVERY cool thing Wonder Woman does. WHAT a theme song! While the theme song lyrics are better in Season 1, the intro is better for Season 3 – we’ve included the one we like best. This is another theme song that has been sampled, remixed and otherwise exploited in the decades since the show aired.


7. Bosum Buddies (1980)

No teenage boy in America failed to tune into this show – featuring the incredibly hot Donna Dixon. Tom Hanks’ short lived comedy about two men who cross dress to stay in an all woman’s apartment building only ran two seasons. Peter Scolari (“the other guy”) was never really utilized, but found future fame in the TV version of “Honey I Shrunk The Kids”.

Why We Liked It

If you saw the reruns, you probably HATED the intro. They replaced the brilliant Billy Joel song “MY LIFE” with some horrible song (smart readers will realize it is NOT Joel singing – good job – here is a star … song still OWNS). Despite being a short run show, the Joel-backed intro featured a good amount of show footage and definitely puts the show into perspective – even if you’ve never seen it before. We dig that. Don’t worry – the GOOD one is below.

Note: The original opening is here.  This is the one we remember.  The one below is the extended good one.

[youtube K2gCfwILUVc nolink]

6. The Greatest American Hero (1981)

I can’t figure out why they remake complete trash, but they can’t figure out how to bring this property back – to either the small or big screen. The show focuses on a special ed high school teacher forced into a team up with a hard ass FBI agent when aliens present the teacher with a powerful “super suit” that gives great powers – who intends them to save the earth from the evils of itself. The show’s real power comes from chemistry of Bill (agent – the late great Bill Culp) and Ralph (teacher – William Katt) as they try to figure out the suit (the aliens sent an instruction book – but it was lost and the suit’s powers are difficult to unlock). Did I mention the yummy Connie Sellicca is in it? Look, I was a teen when these shows came out and I was packed full of hormones, ok???

Why We Liked It

Resident show musical scribe Joey Scarborough sings the theme song that is arguably one of the most recognized tunes in TV history. The song has reappeared on the pop charts from time to time and even returns for cameos in modern movies like the 40 Year Old Virgin. We love seeing the cast, giving us an encapsulation of the show – backed by the legendary song, “Believe It Or Not”. Sorry for the quality – I’ll replace it at some point.


5. Love Boat (1977)

The ultimate revolving door for washed up entertainers, The Love Boat managed to stay afloat for 10 seasons – changing out large portions of the cast as the years went by. The show featured three stories each week of desperate people looking for happiness and love aboard a giant Princess cruise ship. The show is a TV legend – having been spoofed, parodied, imitated, remade and otherwise humiliated.

Why We Liked It

First off, it changed every week – featuring mug shots of the cavalcade of on-their-way-out celebrities. That was cool. You could tell if you wanted to watch the show BEFORE you wasted the time watching it. The theme song is probably on the top 5 recognized songs on the planet – how can it not rate this high up on the list?


4. Battlestar Galactica (1978)

I don’t care how popular or critically acclaimed the “new” Battlestar Galactica is – there is only ONE Battlestar Galactica for me – and that’s the original Glen A. Larson production. The first TV show to cost over $1m an episode, BSG is often known for its generous “reuse” of special effect footage. Much like Star Trek above, BSG was far more popular AFTER it left the air than when it was on. The show centered around a fleet of refugee ships fleeing from their homeland which was all but destroyed by a race of robotic creatures collectively known as Cylons. The fleet struggled through the galaxy looking for a “lost colony” (Earth) hoping we could help them against the Cyclons (oops).

Why We Liked It

Right up there with the Star Wars, Superman and Star Trek themes, the BSG theme is known worldwide and is nearly as epic. It’s still some of my favorite all time theme music (I’ve had it as a ring tone several times). The voice over by Patick Macnee still gives me chills as the music cues up. It’s no surprise that Stu Phillips is responsible not only for BSG’s theme, but several others on this list.


3. Knight Rider (1982)

The ultimate fantasy for young men everywhere – an intelligent, technologically tricked out talking black Trans Am – worked on by a hot chick. Despite the stigma attached to admitting you actually enjoyed this show, Knight Rider (yet another Glen A. Larson production – the man must wear $1000 bills instead of underwear) managed to run four seasons and featured more-popular-anywhere-but-the-USA actor David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight – a single man tasked with making a difference by championing the cause of the innocent, the helpless and the powerless. The car (K.I.T.T.) was voiced by William Daniels – who you may know BETTER from the night time “doctor drama” St. Elsewhere. Many fans believe that the ultimate failure of the “rebooted” Knight Rider TV show was due to NOT working Daniels in as the new car’s voice.

Why We Liked It

Knight Rider needs no justification for showing up at #3. The music is iconic, the car is iconic – and while people today poke fun at it – the popularity of the show, it’s characters and music has spawned so many guest appearances, parodies and inserts into pop culture (one of my favorite being the commercial transition on Family Guy – [URL=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTcvE5ptk6Q”]see here[/URL]) paired with Hoff’s world-wide fan base – makes this one of the most known and loved themes in TV history. YouTube it … you’ll understand just what this show (and it’s intro) means to a lot of people. Plus, I love the sultry voice over narration on this version – most seasons do not have this intro.


2. The Incredible Hulk (1978)

Long before Ang Lee butchered it … long before the Hulk became an onscreen CGI character … Lou Ferrigno, several time Mr. Universe and respected GIANT body builder – standing 6’5″ – brought the mean green machine to the small screen. Bill Bixby played his weak alter ego David Banner (sorry folks, the TV show called him DAVID … not Bruce … deal with it). You know the story – Banner jacks himself up with gamma radiation (who needs a spider) which only affects him when he grows angry and he transforms into a giant green monster. The monster is accredited for murdering both Banner and another scientist and is forever hunted through the series by “Mr. McGee” (played by the recently departed Jack Colvin) – the receiver of the infamous line that ends with “… you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”. The show was incredibly formulaic but as with most shows I liked ran 5 seasons. Thanks to practical effects, makeup and the participation of Ferrigno – the show holds up REMARKABLY well today. Netflix has ’em – give them a try.

Why We Liked It

Possibly one of the most recognizable (but unknown) themes on the planet, the Incredible Hulk has it – but not as the opening theme – but rather the CLOSING theme. Family Guy called it the “Sad Sad Walking Away Music” and it’s a piano theme appropriately called “The Lonely Man”. Check it out [URL=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prwhIAoGNYc&feature=related”]here[/URL]. Chances are you’ve heard it – no matter how old or young you are – even if you never saw this show. THAT’S staying power. The intro of this show is just so great … start to end – the music, the action and the ending “split screen” roar … man, it’s just too damn cool. There are TONS of intro versions – this is my favorite – and it’s the ONLY one I can find (it’s quiet and crappy quality). Watch the other versions to see better quality – but you will notice the differences.


1. Six Million Dollar Man (1974)

Based on the book Cyborg and the real accident that left test pilot Bruce Peterson (who plowed a test plane into the ground at 250mph) without an eye – The Six Million Dollar Man followed the adventures of an astronaut who is rebuilt by a secret government organization with super powerful “bionic” legs, arm and eye after a test plane crash leaves him for dead. Now able to leap great distances, see at 20x and run at 60mph, Steve Austin serves the country that saves his life by going on secret “no win” missions for his boss, Oscar Goldman. The show had several spin offs and movies (The Bionic Woman – also tragically rebooted – and failed – amongst them) and is ripe for parody (especially fan favorites like Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park and Robot Chicken).

Why We Liked It

Frankly, this is the most eerie intro I’ve ever seen next to maybe Ironside. It’s dark, tragic and somber – a real rarity on TV intros. The cool overlay of sinus rhythm blips, the numbers in the corner … the sweeping scanner … the militant music – the whole production top to bottom is by far the best intro I’ve ever seen. This version is the one that finally gave credit to the actor that plays bionic doctor Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks). This is the winner for us.


About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

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