9 classic TV intros that were too damn long

If you’re a lifelong TV viewer like me, you know that TV show opening credits were much, much longer back in the day. The insane length of opening credits for classic sitcoms has since been endlessly satirized; MadTV once did a sketch about it, this parody from Upright Citizens’ Brigade was amusing (especially in the way it perfectly replicates the slow zoom-ins on actors holding uncomfortably long smiles), and of course, there’s the epic-length Adult Swim spoof Too Many Cooks that took the internet by storm a couple of years back.

TV show intros from 20 and 30 years ago seem particularly prolonged in these days of shows that give you, at most, a couple of seconds of the title being animated, along with a quick musical sting and (if you’re lucky) the name of the show’s creator, but at the time, these drawn-out intros had their benefits. They were often seen as a way to hook in new viewers, both through the use of voiceovers to explain convoluted premises, and also via clips of past episodes that basically said, Hey, look at how much insane action and/or zany fun we’ve had on this show before!

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Alas, the TV landscape has changed a great deal since then, and viewers have a lot more options now, and broadcast networks are presently terrified that you’ll reach for the remote if forced to sit through long opening credits (or long closing credits, which have also been whittled down to almost nothing). Which makes some of those ridiculously long intros of TV shows past seem even more ridiculous, and long. Here’s a look at nine of the worst offenders.

(Note: I’m only including credits that are too long. There are obviously credit sequences that are even longer than the ones listed below, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or Twin Peaks, or The Prisoner, but those more or less justified their extended lengths.)

(Note #2: I also realize that of late, pay channels have been doing a lot to keep the long-credit home fires burning, for obvious reasons: HBO doesn’t give a crap if you change the channel during the 2 minutes and 30 seconds [!] it took the John Adams credits to roll, because they’ve already got your subscription money. But “recent/current TV shows with intros that are too damn long” is a countdown for another time.)

9. Highway to Heaven

This drama ran for five seasons on NBC and starred Michael Landon as an angel named Jonathan who’s put on probation and sent back to Earth, where God assigns him a human partner (Victor French) and together they help troubled souls. At 1 minute and 32 seconds, Highway to Heaven’s intro (while lengthy) isn’t even close to the longest intro ever, but it’s difficult to fathom how nearly 30 seconds of stock footage of clouds made any meaningful contribution to the viewing experience. And as if that’s not bad enough, it’s followed up with another 30 seconds of Michael Landon walking down a highway. Ultimately, it seems to be a 90-second ad for hitchhiking, which was already considered a pretty unwise practice in 1984, because odds are it wouldn’t be Victor French stopping to pick you up but rather the likes of Ottis Toole or Henry Lee Lucas, and this credit sequence would be the last known footage of the angel Jonathan.

8. Cagney & Lacey

This deliberate attempt to create the first female buddy cop drama ran for seven seasons on CBS and earned plenty of awards for co-stars Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless. And again, a running time of 1 minute and 25 seconds isn’t obscenely lengthy, it’s more that this is easily a credits sequence that could have been trimmed down by a good 30 seconds. Just watch the last part of the credits, where we thrill to Cagney… jogging! And buying a hotdog! It appears every TV show set in New York City back then was legally required to show its stars buying a hotdog from a street vendor in the opening credits, as we’ll see later. Also, I can’t help laughing at how this intro finds it necessary to put clips of its stars side by side with photos of the same actors wearing the exact same clothes.

Hey, when you find a look that works for you, you stick with it.

7. Hardcastle and McCormick

Is it just me or is this show’s premise, as explained in voiceover during the opening credits, just plain bonkers? Brian Keith is a judge who retires, and gets a former car thief (Daniel Hugh Kelly) remanded into his custody, and then the two become vigilantes going after suspects who walked on technicalities? I think there’s a good chance that even the voiceover guy (evidently the same guy who narrated the intro to The A-Team) was thinking to himself, “WTF am I reading?” Somehow, this show lasted on ABC for three seasons in spite of, or probably because of, being a series like Knight Rider or The Dukes of Hazzard that was almost entirely built around a stunt car. Still, it’s hard to understand why we needed to spend 1 minute and 49 seconds each and every week hearing this voiceover and theme song, especially considering the rather lackluster clips that accompany the music. And lest you think this was just a case of a new show trying hard to be accessible to new viewers, even the later seasons never bothered to cut the credits down very much.

6. The Fall Guy

This show ran for five seasons on ABC and starred Lee Majors as a stunt man with a side gig as a bounty hunter, because somehow his extensive knowledge of performing movie stunts gave him an edge in tracking down fugitives. The theme song is of course extremely long (you think it’s about to end around 53 seconds in, but then it unbelievably launches into a second verse), and it’s certainly not helped by the fact that Majors sings it himself, but I would say the real reason these credits are too long is because after watching 1 minute and 42 seconds of crazy-ass stunts, and also Heather Thomas in a blue bikini, whatever episode that followed must have seemed like a major (pun intended) letdown. There’s no way the actual show could have come close to being as exciting as these credits.

Unless this is the standard-issue “assistant to bounty hunter” uniform she wore in every episode.

5. Bosom Buddies

This sitcom lasted for two seasons on ABC, and never generated more than mediocre ratings, but it’s still fondly remembered to this day for launching the career of two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. And recently, the length of the credits allowed Adult Swim to build an entire special around a re-enactment featuring Paul Rudd and Adam Scott billed as the “Greatest Event in Television History”. It’s hard to think this would have been possible without an intro that clocked in at a ludicrous 1 minute and 51 seconds and explained a premise wherein the show’s main characters, Kip and Henry, had to give up their apartment in an unexpectedly condemned building [?] and found they could only get affordable housing in Manhattan by disguising themselves as women and taking up residence at the all-female Susan B. Anthony Hotel.

I mean, what else were they supposed to do, commute in from Brooklyn?

The whole concept is completely idiotic, but what really takes this intro over the top is that even after the premise is explained, we cut to a still lengthy opening credits sequence set to the Billy Joel song “My Life” (which, as pointed out in the Adult Swim special, employed a Billy Joel soundalike instead of the actual track) which barely implies the show is about two guys dressing in drag; instead, it mostly features stars Hanks and Peter Scolari wandering around Central Park and getting into all sort of kooky situations, like tanning themselves in a parking spot, or walking through sprinklers, and (there it is again!) buying a hotdog from a street vendor. It’s clear that this secondary intro could have been completely axed and the world would not have been the poorer.

(And don’t even get me started on how due to rights issues, the DVD release had to replace “My Life” with some weird-ass song about being J. Paul Getty.)

4. Step by Step

This ‘90s sitcom aired for seven seasons, initially on ABC as part of its TGIF lineup, and then on CBS for its final year. At the time, this must have seemed like the rock supergroup of family sitcoms, in that it brought together Bobby Ewing and Chrissy Snow as well as of lot of then-current teen idols to be their Brady Bunch-like clan. The enormity of the cast is probably why this opening credits ended up so damn long. By the time all 1 minute and 52 seconds have unspooled, I feel like I’m the one who’s spent an entire day at a Six Flags theme park. And given that by this time, commercials had reduced the actual length of a half-hour sitcom to about 22 minutes, that means when all is said and done, Step by Step was nearly 10% credits. Enjoy a hilarious “sneezing into a box of popcorn” gag, and the use of horrible special effects that makes this intro all the more painful. There’s the bad rear projection behind the family on the roller coaster, and more infamously, the sloppily pasted-in fake beachfront and ocean next to the roller coaster (the actual Six Flags park where they filmed these credits are much, much farther inland).

It turns out Step by Step was actually a terrifying look into a post-apocalyptic future where the polar ice caps have melted.

3. Lidsville

This kids’ show starring a teenaged Eddie Munster was Sid and Marty Krofft’s follow-up to H.R. Pufnstuf and The Bugaloos that only aired for two seasons on ABC. It’s not well remembered today, but I had to include it on this list for its absolutely exhausting intro which clocks in at 1 minute and 51 seconds, and explains the show’s premise in mind-numbing detail. Seriously, the entire concept is that this kid Mark saw a magician at a theme park who pulled a rabbit out of his hat, and then Mark climbed into the guy’s hat and ended up in a strange fantasy land. That’s it. Granted, it’s not the most self-explanatory premise in TV history, but I’m not sure it warranted a theme song lasting nearly two minutes where it seems that even the singer is winded by the end of it.

2. Knots Landing

When it comes to lengthy opening credits from the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were no worse offenders than the nighttime soaps, which would jump on the opportunity to spotlight every member of their usually sprawling casts. The Dallas spin-off Knots Landing aired for a mindboggling 14 seasons on CBS, and all 14 of those seasons featured credits that were too damn long. But special attention should be paid to the season 9 intro, which wasn’t the longest, though certainly the worst. It features the camera panning across a godawful abstract painting while we get hilarious insert shots of the entire cast giving over-the-top dramatic stares into the camera. It’s like the tacky photo montage hanging in your parents’ living room come to life. Extra points go to Donna Mills for giving us the Blue Steel look before Blue Steel was even invented, and also to Joan Van Ark, who was clearly over this shit before it even started. Actually, it’s pretty obvious the entire cast realized how terrible of an idea this was while they were filming it and were just trying their best to roll with it.

If you look closely enough you can actually see her muttering, “Fuck this, I’m out.”

But you might be thinking that in the grand scheme of things, 1 minute and 32 seconds isn’t that long, but don’t worry, the never-ending sidescroller intro to Knots Landing season 7 has got you covered.

1. Dynasty

I hate to resort to another nighttime soap for the top spot, but at an astounding 2 minutes and 14 seconds, these overblown opening credits cannot be denied. Dynasty, a bald-faced attempt to replicate the success of Dallas, ran for 9 seasons on ABC and even spawned a short-lived spinoff called Dynasty II: The Colbys, and that, my friends, is the real reason for the shameful length of these credits: It was only used when Dynasty had crossover episodes with The Colbys, and thus had to feature the casts of both shows. Regardless, it really goes on and on, and on and on, and about the time you think it might be coming to a close, it throws another random C-list celebrity credit at you.

Just when you think things can’t get batshit enough… George Hamilton suddenly appears.

By the time the credit for Charlton Heston appears, you might be thinking there’s no actual episode, and it’s going to be nothing but opening credits for a solid hour. I guess the satire of Too Many Cooks wasn’t that far from reality, after all.

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  • I thought The Greatest American Hero had a hell of a long intro, too – but I thought it was worth it for the song 🙂

  • Cristiona

    I dunno. A lot of those were on the long side, but I like most of them. I think it was Seinfeld killing the intro and binge watching that makes it seem awful. When you’re watching once a week, and it’s been six months, it doesn’t seem so bad.

    Also, the soaps feel like a cheat. They’ve always got long intros because they have a million characters.

    • Toby Clark

      And yet Neighbours can cover 20+ characters in less than thirty seconds.

  • CaptainCalvinCat

    Honestly, I’m taking a long intro with awesome optical effects and the show introducing itself to us over “WHam – that’s our shows title, now on with the show” at any time. NCIS, Stargate SG 1, SG A, the Star Trek Shows, “rich man, poor man” (at least in the german version with that beautiful intro song combined with drawn portraits of the main actors), Falcon Crest, V – the series from the 80s, Step by Step (which is my favourite intro song), the 6 Million Dollar Man, the bionic woman, Knight Rider, Street Hawk, Misfits of Science – none of those intros overstay their welcome. And like I said – all of them are better than the Stargate Universe Intro, the once upon a time intro or the Lost Intro, which are waaaaaaay to short.

  • Justin

    Nah, man, what you’re NOT gonna do is slander those epic Dynasty opening titles, especially when this particular edition ends with the amazing Barbara Stanwyck pulling those doors open just as that trumpet hits the high note. Opening titles were long because they had a purpose besides telling you the name of the show. They established the tone, characters, location, premise, etc. in a time when no one had on-demand access to whatever TV show they wanted to watch. Every single time a show aired in primetime, it was an opportunity to pick up new viewers, and so it was totally worthwhile to put together a 60-second or 90-second intro to sell the show every week.

  • good shot green

    I was expecting to see “Maude” somewhere here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWUD7MBdDuo

    • The Family Guy scene is just a joke, of course. The Maude opening credits were never longer than 45 seconds, so they don’t even register on this list. And even if they were a whole lot longer, it’s still a pretty good song by TV theme standards, and it was sung by the great Donny Hathaway to boot.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKu9JdBLV2k

      • good shot green

        Ah. I’ve never seen “Maude” – it’s one of those classic ’70s shows along with “All in the Family” and “Barney Miller” I keep meaning to watch.

  • ussafs3

    Funny to contrast this with the 90s where they scrapped theme songs completely. I guess they learned that people will just change the channel when the credits drag on too long.

  • Pandora Smith

    Quantum Leap isn’t on the list? Don’t get me wrong, the music is amazing but when I watch more than one or two episodes I am ready to just fast-forward right through it.

  • Kali

    Personally, I miss the days of the long theme songs. Many of them were fun. I collected a lot of them for my mp3 player. Some of the best longer themes were for the Steven Cannell series like the A-Team and, yes, even Hardcastle & McCormack (generally the work of Mike Post).

    That said, okay, that Knots Landing theme was kind of pointless: at least Dallas and Dynasty reminded you of its raison du guerre in their credits. What’s the idea of putting the cast in front of abstract art instead of shots in and around Knots Landing in the first place?

    And the Starman TV series theme went on for almost two minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otx1ucwgl4I

  • Kali

    You posted the Dynasty theme with the Colbys cast, and here’s the Colbys theme with the Dynasty cast. That version lasted three whole minutes!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eawS-YVcw_s

    But what can you say about a series that ends with Fallon being captured by a UFO….

  • Jerry_Fritschle

    Most of these were around the time of the classic “Bambi vs. Godzilla”, which satirized this quite nicely. 🙂