The Golden Age of Animated TV Opening Titles

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 25, 2009 in Animation |

Bewitched: Still frame from the animated opening titles from the 60s.

As with most things in TV land our story begins in another medium — film! Back in the 50s THE designer who revolutionized opening credits was Saul Bass who favored a very graphic and illustrational approach to making opening titles an art form onto themselves. To me his masterpiece was Anatomy of a Murder in 1958 which matched a striking musical score by Duke Ellington to a simple yet powerful animation:

This revolution in cinema from the late 50s had a huge impact on the golden age of television during the 60s. Although TV was not a high brow medium ready to borrow modern art references and embrace primitivism — but what was interesting is that this freed up many shows from that era to have animated opening titles even though the television show itself was live action. The first example I came across of this trend was the titles from the series My Three Sons from 1960. The color version shown here is a later version of the black and white opening titles:

A bit later in 1962 The Lucy Show came out which was a follow up to he popular series I Love Lucy. What’s interesting with these title is that they feature caricatures of Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance which are quite mod looking:

By 1964 the trend had taken off — these opening titles from Bewitched could easily stand up on their own as an animated TV show:

And of course I Dream of Jeannie from 1965 is even more exotic picking up on an Arabian Nights meets NASA visual theme:

What’s interesting to me is that animated opening titles weren’t just limited to sitcoms, but could also be used for action and adventure television series. Here’s a good example from the opening titles of The Wild Wild West from 1965:

In 1966 things came full circle when you had the Batman TV series which was based on a comic book turned into a live action drama — but what makes these titles so amazing is that they’re picking up on the fine art notion of Pop Art. These titles owe a great deal to Roy Lichtenstein who started to create paintings that were based on panels from comic books, but what makes these titles so cutting edge is that Lichtenstein was only doing those paintings just a few years before in the early 60s:

In 1967 the torch is carried by The Carol Burnett Show which kept the flame going until the mid-70s:

And of course no article on animated opening titles would be complete without a mention of 1969’s Monty Python which featured the brilliant animation of Terry Gilliam:

And on the hipster side The Partridge Family starts to bring in a hippy touch to the genre in 1970:

Sadly with the 70s realism came back to television and even comedy shows started switching back to live action or straight graphic approaches to opening titles. Although one last gem that I did find was the opening titles from Rhoda from 1974 which feature a photo collage technique which still stands up very well today:

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