Friday, July 10, 2009

This is why there are no TV opening titles today

Hello from Milwaukee -- home of cheese, breweries, and the great Bob Uecker. Known as Mr. Baseball, Uecker is the longtime voice of the Brewers and star of TV's MR. BELVEDERE. Everyone I know knows that show but no one I know has ever sat through an entire episode of it. And yet it was on for years.

I found the opening titles of the show along with a bunch of others from 1986. It's startling how alike the sitcom openings were (and cheesier than Wisconsin). Random zany and touching clips from episodes and God awful treacly theme songs. It's GOLDEN GIRLS gone bad then worse than worse still.

So here they are (starting with MR. BELVEDERE). It will take some of you down memory lane. Others will be pushed into a mine shaft. A couple of these shows are jaw dropping, notably LIFE WITH LUCY. All I can say about that show was the main titles were the least embarrassing thing about it.

Along the way you'll also discover some actors who went on to bigger and better things.

So here they are. And for everybody who says they love the 80s, this might be the ultimate test.

50 comments:

Kathy said...

Ah, Sherman Helmsley doing double-dutch was surely a bright spot in TV theme song montage history. (And I can't believe that was James Cromwell in Easy Street!)

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I read that when Shout Factory brought out a bunch of '60s, '70s and '80s shows on DVD earlier this year, by far the best seller was Mr. Belvedere. It does seem to have a hold on people.

Sheppy said...

Elaine Stritch, Lucy, and Chad Allen! (And Eydie Gormé singing the Lucy theme song!) It's the gayest year of television ever!

Simon H. said...

Hard to believe the same people who wrote the theme to "Cheers" wrote the the theme to "Mr. Belvedere".

Verification Word: ridunkin Definition: What comes up after a night of eating Dunkin Donuts

Rick said...

While I never watched any of those, at least with "Amen" and "The Ellen Burstyn Show" I could see a clear professionalism to them (which was undoubtedly why the suits green-lighted them).

Hard to understand how the others ever got on the air.
Well, except for the horrifying "Life With Lucy". The network clearly felt it was owed to Lucille Ball for how much she'd meant to TV--or was owed her by inron-clad contract. One of the two...

It manages to look even less appealing and more heart-breaking than "Mame", a feat which I would have guessed was impossible.

DwWashburn said...

I never watched Mr. Belvedere, so what a surprise to hear one of my favorites, Leon Redbone, singing the theme.

Craig said...

Wow, The Ellen Burstyn Show had a nice cast, but I don't remember ever seeing it. It must have been opposite something I unfortunately watched back then like Alf or Bosom Budddies.

A_Homer said...

Theme songs.... thank God Seinfeld figured out what to do with them.

"Easy Street", with Loni Anderson and James Cromwell...that existed? So one only had to string visual cliches and an over-the-hill blonde bimbo, no twist needed even?

Mike said...

Woe, some of those shows I hadn't seen in years....and there were a few I'd never even heard of. That opening sequence for Starman was *terrible*. Did it open like that each week?

While I'm sure I'd recognize it for pure cheese today, Valerie (and then The Hogan Family) was a show I used to watch each week growing up....so it was nice to see that again. Also, that theme song to Amen is still pretty catchy. Too bad the rest of the show wasn't that great.

Larry said...

I kind of miss those long openings, as awful as they were. They made you feel you were home. But with cable offering 100+ channels and everyone with a remote in hand, no show could afford to offer a whole minute of the same thing each week to let the audience sample new product.

benson said...

Branscombe Richmond was in the Chicken Chronicles with Steve Guttenberg and Phil Silvers, an interesting movie from the late 70's.

This predates by some ten years the first time I saw Megan Mullaly, which would've been on Frasier as Niles' date.

Brice Beckham, wow! Mr. Belvedere to the LA Galaxy. What an amazing career.

wv: sorevera. On the one night Norm and his bride actually did have sex, what followed next.

Joe said...

Ah. Mr. Belvedere. Hard to believe this show was (allegedly) based on the Clifton Webb films which are, undisputedly, comic gems.

[shaking head]

Scott said...

I never realized I missed an opening sequence and snappy theme song (not that a lot of those were snappy)

Its too bad we can't get Ellen Burstyn and Elaine Stritch on screen together now.

Scott said...

I also just noticed that it looks like the same basic living room set was used in a couple of those different shows.

I also could swear that that the basic "Two and 1/2 Men" living room set is the same one from after "Laverne and Shirley" jumped the shark and moved to Los Angeles.

Rinaldo said...

Aw, I love these title sequences, the cheesier the better. I recall most of them, but I think the only one I ever watched (and that not often) was Valerie (though all its title changes), in large part because jason Bateman had already gotten my notice on his previous series as an unusually deft young comedian.

The "twist" (being generous) in Easy Street, as I recall, was that Loni inherited the estate, so the stuffy old-money couple were required to co-exist with her scruffy friends from poorer days. Wackiness!

Aside from a rare regular-TV role for Elaine Stritch, what I remember about Life with Lucy is that they gave her character the same name as Sweeney Todd's wife, Lucy Barker.

The best theme song ever, to my mind, is the one for Open All Night.

Megalion said...

I didn't know all the shows but man now I want to watch Belvedere and Starman all over again.

Also recognized Amen's opening title but I always preferred to 227 and Jefferson's to Amen's.

So many shows whose titles I loved... Golden Girls, 21 Jump Street, Perfect Strangers, Alf, and the list would go on for a really long time.

I still love watching those shows except for Alf. I tried but the humans were horrible and too painful even just to watch for the Alf parts.

rob! said...

So...Regan's mom from The Exorcist eventually dumped the kid and got her own sitcom? I'm confused. Did Max Von Sydow ever do a guest-spot?

On a separate note, "...as Von Duezen" is one of the best credits of all time.

Reno said...

Just think. Today each of those show intros is replaced by two 30-second spots...which are undoubtedly more fun to watch.

verification word: Distered, what was done to those 300+ bodies in that Chicago cemetery.

Dan said...

Hey! Jenny Lewis was on Life with Lucy!

A. Buck Short said...

Wow, those shows were a lot shorter than I remembered. And only about half as entertaining.But some unforgettable moments: The magic glowing, segmented TV Dinner plate from Starman, Wilfred Brimley finally looking placid as a regular cast member, Lonnie Anderson and those inflatable Easy Street ducks – or wait that was Lonnie Anderson. The only bittersweet moment was the realization that someone had stolen my name for The Ellen Burstyn Show. Praise the Lord, there is someone else on whom The Chicken Chronicles made an apparently indelible impression. And thanks, normally on Saturday morning I have a hard time finding something to make me want to get out of the house. Now, does anyone know for how long James Cromwell and Lonnie Anderson were an item?

DonBoy said...

I think I celebrated two birthdays during that Starman opening.

Anonymous said...

My computer froze up during Life with Lucy. Fitting, somehow.

T.J. said...

I'm ashamed to say that I arranged my second semester freshman year schedule in college around repeats of Mr. Belvedere at 10 am.

benson said...

Gee, I never made the connection until I imdb'd her..Jenny Lewis was the girlfriend on one of the greatest series ever not to be watched by enough people: Brooklyn Bridge.

God, I wish that would come out on DVD rather than all the crap that does.

Scott said...

So Stritch, Burstyn, and Mullally played a family in a sitcom? How had I never heard of this?

I used to occasionally watch Amen, but most of these look terrible.

And was there ever a time when Dana Ivey was allowed to play something other than a disappointed or annoyed rich lady?

Tom Quigley said...

I saw Christopher Hewitt at a party at Sony Studios a couple of years after MR. BELVEDERE went off the air. He alsmost seemed like he felt lost without anything to to work on...

BTW, I imagine a lot of people in Milwaukee probably felt that the only thing worse than sitting through an episode of BELVEDERE was having to sit through the baseball career of Bob Uecker...

wv: allycoff -- what it is that Ms. McBeal does when she has a cold...

Anonymous said...

Remember, if we run into each other in another city, the code word is "Brocktoon."

I'm probably the last person in America who still associates Shannen Doherty with a straight-A goody two shoes type based on her "Our House" character.

My favorite "Our House" bit was when Wilford Brimley's friend, Joe Kaplan, rhapsodized about how Hank Greenberg was the best slugger, Max Baer the best boxer and Sid Luckman the best QB.

Wilford Brimley snorted, "Kaplan, how come all of your best athletes were Jewish? Weren't there any good Catholics or Methodists?"

Joe said...

Rinaldo,

I will go to my grave believing the best work Jason Bateman ever did was in the spectacularly underrated It's Your Move, with his "Derek" on Silver Spoons being worth an Honorable Mention.

WVW - terapie, which is what you get when Maurice Chevalier is your shrink.

Dave said...

Hehe, I'm addicted to these clips! Look what I found at 3:01 on this compilation from 1983: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LogaEI3wB_Q

bruce miller said...

sorry I didn't compose it.....that honor goes to the great Hoagy Carmichael, but I did have the opportunity to do all, but the very first version of "Georgia On My Mind" during my 7 years on "Designing Women" . The icing on the cake for me was doing the string arrangement behind Ray Charles himself singing the song he was so well known for. A major highlight in my career. I always loved that song for that show!

Kirk Jusko said...

AMEN was written and produced by a man who had previously written and produced for the MARY TYLER MOORE show. MR BELVEDERE was produced by a couple of guys who wrote for BARNEY MILLER.

I blame Reagan.

Jim said...

The network clearly felt it was owed to Lucille Ball for how much she'd meant to TV--or was owed her by inron-clad contract. One of the two...

Or they figured a few million people would tune in just out of habit. I seem to remember Ball herself was embarrassed by that show. Just the opening credits were painful and i think I Love Lucy is hugely overrated. That may have been the most painful one to watch. Who knew Gale Gordon lasted that long?

Another thing, except for Jason Bateman and Megan Mullaly, I don't think I spotted one person who had much of a later career, that I noticed anyway.

thevidiot said...

That "script" font on the Telemation Compositor should have been destroyed! Wow is that ugly! I guess we all thought it looked cool way back in the day (or didn't want to work with art cards - "is it straight? is it centered? is it in focus?"). Thanks for the memories.

gilliebean said...

Wow. I must be young. I only remembered Mr. Belvedere.

emily said...

WOW - Bruce Miller!

Now that's an impressive career!

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Lucy wanted Gale Gordon to play Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, but he was contractually obligated to do something else. Thank god. Not that I don't like him, I do. But he wouldn't have been right for Fred.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Ni titles, perhaps, but I saw a show in which the credits played over the action for NINE MINUTES! Sheesh!

Tom Quigley said...

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

"Lucy wanted Gale Gordon to play Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, but he was contractually obligated to do something else. Thank god. Not that I don't like him, I do. But he wouldn't have been right for Fred"...

If I've got my facts right, at the time I LOVE LUCY started, I think Gale Gordon's contractual obligation was that he was playing a regular character on the Jack Benny radio show. And later in the fities he had a role in the TV series OUR MISS BROOKS with Eve Arden.

Vermonter17032 said...

It's funny how all those opening titles look as if they were inspired by laxative commercials.

UncleWalty said...

I'll give Lucille Ball credit for being a pioneer, and I realize that but for her there would be no Carol Burnette, no Gilda Radner, no Roseanne, no Tina Fey, etc. But honestly, I never thought she was funny, and I don't think I have ever known anyone who did.

blogward said...

'Hard to believe the same people who wrote the theme to "Cheers" wrote the the theme to "Mr. Belvedere".'

Not hard at all, IMHO. Apart from the montages with rostrum shots being similar, the cheesy theme song was the one thing about "Cheers" I thought was totally incongruous.

Anonymous said...

Well, I still think Lucille Ball is very funny, and as for I Love Lucy being overrated...I own much of the show on DVD and watch them often. I still find the show quite funny.

Ianzu said...

I remember liking the Starman TV show. The credits did a pretty good job letting the audience in on the story, especially if (like me) they didn't see the original movie. I guess I'm a little more forgiving.

The credits also had to keep reminding you which show you were watching, since it was likely that you would forget (what with the passage of time and all).

Kirk Jusko said...

I thought Lucille Ball was funny on I LOVE LUCY, where she played a more multidimensional character. Lucy Ricardo wasn't stupid, but she was overly eager, overly ambitious, and thus got into situations over head. The Lucy on the other shows was just a comic contrivance that got into trouble for no real reason most of the time.

Tim Susman said...

Wow, I haven't thought about "Valerie" in forever, and I'd forgotten Jason Bateman was on it. I do remember the big drama when Valerie Harper left the show--as I recall, she demanded more money on the theory that they couldn't do the show without her, and the studio said, "hey, what's Sandy Duncan up to these days?" (Though wow, I didn't remember they did more episodes without her than with her--iMDB says she left in the second season.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, Shannen Doherty and Wilford Brimley on the same show. I bet the set was a tense place with those two divas.

Anonymous said...

"Easy Street" had a solid cast and the great Hugh Wilson ("WKRP," "Frank's Place") as the creator. Did it really suck. I don't remember it.

Dana Gabbard said...

For those curious, the mojo behind Amen was Johnny Carson. Given the scandalous amont of money he made for the network is it any wonder they greenlit a show produced by Carson Productions? It was an OK show about the contemporary urban black community. Helmsley basically played George Jefferson as a church deacon s.o.b., which he was very skilled at playing.

At least it had some level of reality versus the recent parade of black sitcoms whose casts are an interchangable stream of young hotties ivolved in an endless round of dating travails.

Anonymous said...

"Easy Street" had some good talent on both sides of the camera. With a good time slot and some tweaking, it might have grown into a moderate success.

However, it was probably doomed by the fact that the show wasn't nearly as compelling to America as Loni Anderson's personal life at the time.

Kind of like Lindsay Lohan now, she was one of those actresses who was overexposed even when she wasn't collecting a paycheck. Her ups and downs with Burt Reynolds made a standard issue fish-out-of-water sitcom seem pretty stale.

Ken--NOT Levine said...

My father was on the production staff of LIFE WITH LUCY, and he's told me that an interesting thing happened with that show. Pretty much everyone involved--including Lucille Ball herself--had reservations about it going in, but he said what threw everybody off balance was that the tapings were unbelievably successful. The audience responded with such enthusiasm that even small lines were getting great response, and any little bit of business Ball did invariably brought screams of laughter. Dad said he never saw anything like it. Watching those tapings, he said it was impossible not to start to think that you were wrong to have any misgivings about the series. Doing the final edit of each episode always involved removing sometimes long stretches of wild audience response just to get the things down to air length. What no one realized until it was too late, he said, is that their audiences weren't responding to the show's scripts at all. They were just so thrilled to be able to see Lucy in person and taping a comedy show that their critical faculties went completely out the window. That she was past her prime or that the material she was given to work with wasn't even up to HERE'S LUCY standards was completely irrelevant. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm didn't transfer to television audiences, to whom the show's shortcomings were all too clear, not having a television legend performing a few feet away from them. (He said staff later took to remarking among themselves that if the series had been a stage play it would have had a five year, standing room only run.)