In this case, we are thinking about the television theme songs and opening sequences that best encapsulated the show’s spirit. Over the past decade, networks have quietly phased out the theme song. This did not result in an extra thirty-seconds of television entertainment. Rather, they realized they could toss in one additional commercial per half-hour.
Most of my selections show me to be a child of the seventies. I became quite disturbed early in the year when I realized that the majority of television that I currently watch is at least twenty years old. (As an aside: I just now became disturbed to realize that when I say “early in the year,” I really mean September. For me, the academic calendar dictates my life-cycle rather than the Gregorian calender. New things start for me in September, not January. Perhaps that is another reason why I think January sucks).
Anyway, they don’t make them like they used to when it comes to opening titles. Let’s take a look at the title sequences that captured my imagination:
We have to start with the obvious. Perhaps, though, the really die-hard CoG fans will be surprised at which title sequence that I selected. Sure, the first season’s lyrics “In your satin tights, fighting for your rights” have more emotional resonance than any Shakespearian sonnet.
The title sequence that I remember most from my childhood, however, appeared in the middle of Season Two. The more disco-oriented song just felt streamlined. Besides, the image of Wonder Woman holding the two cars in place while the tires screech will forever be etched in my memory. Seriously, I might be riddled with Alzheimer’s and not remember my own name, but I’ll still be able to recall Wonder Woman’s grip on that orange truck and red car (Dodge Aspen?).
Of course, I also just liked Wonder Woman better when they moved the show to the modern era. Instead of wearing the same old uniform week after week, Diana got to dress in designer clothes (and never in polyester, as she made clear in one episode). People around her also stopped pretending that Diana Prince was a homely slouch. I can suspend belief enough that people wouldn’t be able to recognize that Diana was really Wonder Woman simply because she tossed her hair into a bun and threw on some Lenscrafter specials. I can’t suspend belief, however, that anybody would ever imagine Lynda Carter as “plain.”
Hart to Hart
After the collapse of Wonder Woman and the near collapse of Charlie’s Angels (we never discuss the Shelly-Hack era of that show), I needed some sort of action/mystery hour. The networks obliged by providing Hart to Hart. The opening credits neatly outlined the premise of the show. The couple’s butler discussed the basic traits of each character (this show also came on the air when I had a strange ambition to become a butler in my future life (don’t ask)).
Besides Dallas, nobody could have conjured a more perfect show to usher in the eighties. Hart to Hart centered on wealth, glamor, conspicuous consumption, and sex (but within the confines of heterosexual marriage). It was sort of a cross between James Bond and Murder She Wrote, with maybe a little Horatio Alger tossed into the mix.
Jonathan Hart, a “self-made millionaire” and his beautiful wife, Jennifer, flew around the world in their private jet solving crimes. Apparently the police never got suspicious that this wealthy couple always landed just minutes before somebody died. Nor did the police seem to mind that the Harts were always the first to point the finger at somebody else.
Excess and leisure-time marked the Harts’ lives. They also spent at least ten minutes worth of the show’s dialogue engaged in baby-talk with each other. This segued into the show’s unending hints that the Harts had a very healthy sex life. I don’t know about you, but when I am solving murders (especially ones that have major international consequences), it always helps to leap into the sack for awhile.
I will say, though, the Harts’ marriage seemed a lot more interesting and healthy than other marriages on television. They weren’t saddled with mewing and screaming children (even as a child myself, I disliked the presence of children). They also liked spending time with each other. They liked it so much that they even took their baths together (though I am curious why Jonathan Hart is reading a copy of Marie Claire magazine in that scene).
I am heavy into camp. I know that my blog probably doesn’t at all give this impression. Truth be told, though, I always gravitated to the campy. To the young queer me (and the adult queer me, too!) Charlie’s Angels' over-the-top genre-bending can’t compare with the purest of heroin.
Susan Douglas already gave the show a solid critique in Where the Girls Are. It would be hard to compete with that, so I won’t. For our purposes, Charlie’s Angels’ opening title sequence proves irresistible.
In a nutshell, Charlie, the disembodied boss of the Angels, narrates the necessary exposition. He creates a fairytale situation in which the “three little girls” decided to attend the police academy. While there, we find that these allegedly little girls became experts with guns and learned to toss men over their shoulder with expert judo skills. Despite investing all that money into their training, though, the police force relegated them to traditional women’s jobs of typing, crossing guard, and meter-maid. Charlie informs us that he has rescued these not-quite damsels and given them the excitement that they always craved.
The rest of the intro sequence seems like a schizophrenic mix between Police Stories and a fashion shoot for Vogue. For every clip of the Angels firing a gun, there is an equal shot of them tossing their hair or trying on a bikini. It all ends in a fiery explosion. What’s not to love?
One might expect that the young GayProf would have had a serious crush on Pierce Brosnan. In truth, I was more inclined to want to be like Remington Steel than lust after him (though, as an adult, I recognize those priorities to have been disordered). This show had it all: mystery, a debonair leading man, and Laura Holt got to drive around in a Volkswagon Cabriolet
Remington Steele, in retrospect, exploited the eighties’ tensions over feminism perfectly. On the one hand, Laura Holt owned the detective agency and had the professional training that made it a success. Those inside the agency understood her to be the real boss even as Steele took all the credit in public.
Still, as the opening title sequence made clear, nobody would really believe that a woman could be a detective. Her talents and entrepreneurial instincts had to be hidden behind the guise of a man. She created the fictional Remington Steele to give her agency legitimacy.
On the surface, Laura’s position critiqued society’s sexism. She points out the injustice of a retrograde society that won’t allow women to do “men’s jobs.” Yet, the premise of the show and the character of Steele upheld that idea as well.
In the show, Brosnan discovers Laura’s secret and assumes the identity of the fictional Steele. Though he had spent most of his time as a thief, Laura quickly forgets about the new Steele’s nefarious past. Moreover, it is often Steele who solves the crime despite Laura’s superior training and experience. We are supposed to believe that Steele has a “natural” ability and instinct that comes, in part, from having been a fanatical movie buff.
The show suggested that even with superior skills and training, women just couldn’t compete in a man’s world. Remington Steele's premise started with the ultimate version of “behind every good man, there is a better woman.” Very quickly, though, Laura Holt became a victim of her own creation.
Mary Tyler Moore
When I think of gay men’s Sacred Texts, a number of things come to mind. There are Tales of the City, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and, of course, the Joy of Gay Sex. For gay men of a certain age, though, the Mary Tyler Moore theme song could possibly trump them all.
In the first season, the opening credits set the tone perfectly. Mary, leaving behind the dull life of small-town Minnesota, ventures to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Sonny Curtis poses the musical question “How Will You Make it on Your own?” The film answers that she makes it just fine and has a hell of a good time in her new town. She goes for long walks around frozen lakes, pets a dog, and even buys French bread! Then, with exuberance, she tosses her hat in the air while the old woman in the background judges here quietly.
Of course, the producers wisely edited out the bit where Mary had to retrieve her hat from the street and dodge the on-coming traffic. Nor does the opening show Mary’s lips cracked and bleeding from trying to smile in that bitter cold weather. It’s probably better that way.
For lots of gay men, Mary’s upbeat beginning seemed like something that related to us. Few gay men, after all, move from their parents house directly into a LTR. There is a period of coming to terms with ourselves and learning what it means to be on our own. We eventually find, though, love is all around! Which is why we also learn to carry lots of condoms.
Back in the late seventies, Saturday nights couldn’t be beat for television, at least for a five-year old. The Love Boat provided a steady paycheck for washed-up actors and Charo who guest starred week after week on that modern update of Ship of Fools. Directly following Love Boat, Fantasy Island provided (by seventies’ standards) a darker venue. It also provided a steady paycheck for washed-up actors and former Brady children who guest starred week after week.
From the opening credits, the iconic “The Plane, The Plane” made its way into the nation’s lexicon. How many secretaries had to politely laugh as their office-mates’ imitations of Tattoo?
For those who never saw an episode, the premise of the show centered on the mysterious Mr. Roarke who granted visitors to his island any wish they wanted – for the right price. The show always started the same way: Mr. Roarke provided exposition about the guests’ fantasies to Tattoo. Tattoo, who was supposed to be the business manager of the island, apparently never bothered to look into the island’s reservations until two seconds before he met the guests. I think that he later managed the Intercontinental Hotel chain.
As I have mentioned in previous entries, my parents always explicitly pointed out any Latino actor on television. To me, the Mexican-born Ricardo Montalbán proved a much more appealing visage than the ever-servile Chico from Chico and the Man. In an almost unheard of move for the networks, they allowed a character with a Spanish accent on television who was neither a dim-wit nor somebody’s servant. In the case of the ethnically-ambiguous Mr. Roarke, they even played up his accent as one of his alluring and intriguing elements.
Throughout his career, Montalbán managed to walk a tightrope between being a “Latin Lover” stereotype and a genuinely interesting character actor. In many ways, Mr. Roarke continued that same balancing act. On the one hand, Fantasy Island cashed in on the notion of the mysterious Latin who had exotic ways. Still, Mr. Roarke proved smarter than everybody else around him. He also owned his own damn island. That ain’t bad.
Montalbán garnered special recognition from my father because he had refused to change his name to accommodate his career (Hollywood agents and producers suggested that Ricardo Montalbán go by the name “Ricky Martin” to sound less “foreign.” He refused. I am not sayin’, I am just sayin’.) In the 1950s and 1960s, he made a number of B-level films and did some musicals. By the 1970s, television audiences would also have recognized Montalbán as the Chrysler pitch-man who cooed about Corinthian leather’s softness. Mr. Roarke probably brought the actor his most mainstream recognition. In the middle of filming Fantasy Island, though, he also strapped on a giant plastic chest to resurrect his role as Khan (Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!) for Star Trek II.
The first season of Fantasy Island offered the most entertainment. In that early incarnation, Mr. Roarke turned out to be a bit of a dick. Sure, he granted people’s fantasies, but he always found ways to manipulate those fantasies so that they turned into nightmares. Taking a lesson from the "Monkey’s Paw," he often put his guests in mortal danger to fulfill their fantasies. Did you want to live like a millionaire? No problem! Of course, all of your money will come from grim dealings with mafia leaders who will be looking to off you. Enjoy your fantasy!
Somewhere in the middle of their joyless vacation, Mr. Roarke appeared to take delight in his guests’ predicaments. When they pleaded for him to stop, Mr. Roarke clucked at them about “being careful what they wished for.” They had no choice but to finish the fantasy that they started. Beaten, burned, or emotionally devastated at the end, the guests then had to listen to Mr. Roarke tell them why they had misled their lives and wasted all of their money (which he kept) on a pointless fantasy.
Roarke’s moralizing became so intense that the producers later decided to imply that he was really God. In one episode, he even battled Satan mano-a-mano! Just when we didn’t think the show could have more camp, Rody McDowell popped up as the Prince of Darkness, complete with an all-black suit to contrast Roarke’s white one. Hey, nobody said seventies television had subtlety.
Since Fantasy Island, I have always had a soft-spot for Ricardo Montalbán. Of course, it also helped that Montalbán leant his voice to New Mexico’s automated tourist radio that dotted the highway. It also really didn’t hurt that he voiced Señor Señor for Kim Possible, either.
During the late seventies, the only other Latinos on mainstream t.v. mutely served Miss Ellie her morning coffee at the Southfork Ranch. With those options, Montalbán really did seem like God. Mr. Roarke might have been campy, but at least he was in charge.