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The Art Of The TV Title Sequence

4 min read
Once Upon A Time In Londongrad (2022)

Before our favourite shows begin to divulge their narratives, audiences are presented with an entity that can be so iconic it culturally exists in its own right — the title sequence. A separate beast to its programme while working seamlessly in conjunction with it, titles can make or break a show's reputation, but can also offer the only visual note worth remembering. They exist to inform, outline, and educate, holding the decision to watch or leave firmly in their hands. 

There's undoubtedly an art to whipping a title sequence into shape. Hit Sky series burst onto our screens earlier this year with a renewed vigour for the art of title sequence. Creator and filmmaker Yoav Segal explains in more detail: “I watched the first and final episodes and spoke a lot with the producing team and their director. The book it's originally based on was called “From Russia With Blood”, which is a play on From Russia With Love. So we had a whole James Bond riff. We did a lot of watching all the classic Bond . There's floating shapes, lots of very clever compositional stuff, really tight colour palettes, and things that are very thematic.”


(Once Upon A Time In Londongrad titles credits: Written, Produced and Art Directed by Yoav Segal at Atime Works, Directed and by Cub Studio, Dubbing Mixer Joe Cochrane at Splice Post, Music is ‘Blood Money' by Chess.)

“Probably the hardest thing with a title sequence is dividing it up into cards and telling the whole story in an abstract way. You've got to get across almost the whole series in a minute, so the scripting is like a real tough nut to crack. But the director of this series had a very strong idea that he wanted to start with the scene of the crime, go into the investigation, and with blood go through the underworld. And those tentacles that eventually get back to Putin. I'm really pleased with how it's come out and the context has gone out in. It's just really true and on the money, so it was great to have done good work and be able to stand by it.”

The entire process took around four months from conception to completion, tightly packing in an atmosphere that's rarely seen in typical melancholic and sombre crime documentary introductions. Backed by a powerful Russian punk soundtrack, it's an incredibly timely piece that's managed to reflect the world we're living it without even being aware (the series was completed before the invasion of Ukraine). How does Yoav see titles? “I tend to see them as their own little beautiful, short films. I think they should and do stand alone, just as works of art.” 

Just like Once Upon A Time In Londongrad, plenty of other TV shows of past and present have provided title sequences for viewers to cherish and appreciate — here are just a few of our favourites. 

‘Mad Men' (2007)

Arguably the most culturally similar to Once Upon A Time In Londongrad, Mad Men's titles defined a patriarchal point in time while simultaneously defying any length of legacy. Using silhouette, colour, and shape to convey a freefall into internal oblivion, the show's entire narrative journey is perfectly encapsulated in an astounding 36 seconds. In fact, these titles are so iconic that other TV shows have parodied them — most notably The Simpsons

 

‘Murder, She Wrote' (1984)

The only way you could love Angela Lansbury more is if she was solving small-town crime in a completely formulaic way. Fortunately, she spent 12 years doing just that. Though the title sequence had subtle changes during its tenure, its style is so iconic that Jessica Fletcher's moves can be easily parodied. Just ask Tim Benzie, creator of Solve-Along-A Murder, She Wrote. Don't forget to wave when she cycles past you!

 

‘Stranger Things' (2016)

Death by demogorgon definitely isn't a sexy concept, but the title sequence of Stranger Things is a seductive wonder. Using neon and slow-moving graphics to depict 80s culture without reverting to stereotypes, the atmospheric soundtrack and iconic forces continue to join forces for the greater good. 

 

‘The X-Files' (1993) 

No one had ever seen a show quite like The X-Files before, and it's safe to say the same could be said for its title sequence. Staring directly at the possibility of alien life forms, the use of pixelated stop-motion and eerie scientific imagery is enough to have anyone quaking in their boots. Extra points for an appearance by Gillian Anderson, just because she's Gillian Anderson. 

 

 

‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer' (1997) 

Continuing the supernatural theme, this 50-second powerhouse of a sequence is dynamic from start to finish. Defined by 90s grunge and teen culture, the classic American penchant for scene montages plays perfectly into the hands of demon slaying and fledgling friendship. 

 

‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air' (1990)

A much longer example of iconic titles at 1min 45 seconds, there's almost nobody alive that doesn't know the opening of The Fresh Prince. Mirroring the catchy soundtrack, Will Smith whizzing around on a throne and shooting some hoops was the epitome of 90s cool kid (baseball cap included). 

 

‘Game Of Thrones' (2011)

Choosing artistry over violence, the mechanics of Westeros are fully explored in all their glory. The titles were known for subtly changing over the course of its 8 seasons, keeping the viewer's eye focused and refreshed on the action to come. 

 

‘The Golden Girls' (1985) 

Sometimes getting the best title sequence means simply showing the heart that's already there. Using its 40 seconds to highlight the unbreakable friendship between Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia, The Golden Girls intro never fails to put a smile on a viewer's face (or having them sing the theme tune to kingdom come).