If the 20th century belonged to the movies, then television could be the medium of choice in the 21st century. It is not that quality television did not exist before the year 2000 or that films have become more subpar over the last 15 years. It’s just that just as breaking away from the Production Code in the late 1960s ushered in a new wave of exciting filmmakers whose influence on cinema will remain permanent – Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman, for instance – the rise of original cable programming in the early 21st century has turned television into the true writers’ medium. Television had started to step away from the shadow of film.
The fascinating anti-heroes, the political allegory and the explicit content that many modern classics thrive on have allowed TV showrunners the chance to create enriching stories with sometimes-experimental structures. However, some could argue that the television is as much of an “idiot box” as it always has been. The onslaught of brainless reality shows and dull weekly procedurals remain popular, while niche programs like the ones on HBO, the BBC or AMC only cater to small audiences.
As this century of television began, one of the main signatures of television programming – the theme song – started to fade away. Viewers nostalgically reminisce about the first minutes of The Flintstones or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as their colorful openings welcomed viewers into these shows’ worlds. Meanwhile, with more time devoted to character development and plot, there was little room leftover for minute-long themes every week. Some shows eschewed them entirely, while many others devoted iconic theme music over the actors’ names. A few even used beloved rock staples, such as the three iterations of CSI digging into The Who’s discography.
On premium cable, though, where many series had close to a full hour or half-hour each week, a formidable title sequence was essential to bring audiences into the tone and themes of the program. To encounter drama that was weightier or more emotionally raw than anything else on television, these openers had to resonate with viewers and prepare them for the intense episode ahead.
In the 21st century, there has been no shortage of outstanding TV title sequences – some even have their own theme songs, too. Join us as we take a look at 10 of the very best television title sequences of this modern era.