8 Of The Best TV Show Intros With Back-Story Monologues - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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8 Of The Best TV Show Intros With Back-Story Monologues

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them...

There is an art to crafting a catchy theme tune. The kind of earworm that gets stuck in your head between episodes, swirling around in your brain matter and stirring up thoughts about the show itself. A tune like that'll get you hooked and back for more. We all have our favourites and we could argue all night about which theme tune is the best. There are instrumentals that can be hummed along to whilst out for a stroll and sung theme tunes that might pop into our head and accompany the morning shower. There is, as I say, an art to crafting this, and as hard of a job as that is it's made even more tricky if the theme is to include a back-story expository monologue.

Perhaps because of the complexity of successfully integrating the back-story monologue into a theme tune it is, largely, a thing of the past. It's heyday was in 60s and 70s US television, primarily sitcoms, but it's still continued to rear its head occasionally in spoken form over some introduction. What follows is a collection of eight of the best of them, and some others that came close or tried and failed. Like the argument referred to above over the best theme tune I'm sure you won't all agree with the choices below and will no doubt think of ones I've missed. Because anything like this is subjective, I present these eight in no particular order outside of this first example which I truly believe to be the best TV show intro with back-story monologue that ever existed...

The A-Team
"In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground.
Today, still wanted by the government they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them....maybe you can hire The A-Team." 
Cue the music...

Yes, the introductory speech at the start of The A-Team tells you everything you need to know about the series and its characters. If you've never seen an episode before then no need to worry, you are fully caught up and ready to go. And with individual episodes pretty much all standalone, it is the perfect primer for newbies.

Several other action series from the early 80s attempted to get in on the monologue action, shows like Knight Rider spring to mind but it doesn't make the cut here as, as iconic as the theme itself is, the actual monologue doesn't really give you much of a backstory...
"Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless in a world of criminals who operate above the law."
It really just says "This show is a work of fiction. It's about someone who fights for injustice by himself" - but that's not true, is it? What about Devon or Bonnie or April? I mean, it doesn't even mention the car and, with the greatest respect to David Hasselhoff, it was KITT that got people tuning in.

Anyway, moving on to one of the best examples, arguably the best example of a sung back-story monologue in a catchy theme tune. It's The Beverly Hillbillies...

The Beverly Hillbillies
The Ballad Of Jed Clampett perfectly explains the premise of the series so if you've never watched an episode before you're fully caught up with the Clampett's fish-out-of-water back-story and prepped for the next half hour. Also, it's damn catchy with some clever rhyming going on.
"Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed
And then one day he was shooting at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubbling crude
(Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea)"
As I said at the top of the page, the sung back-story monologue was, at one time, quite common in sitcom theme tunes. Take show's like The Brady Bunch - Here's the story of a lovely lady... and you can very likely sing the rest of the theme yourself. It doesn't quite involve the level of exposition given to The Beverly Hillbillies, which is why it doesn't make the cut here, but it does explain to anyone who isn't familiar with the show how these two combined single-parent families became the Brady Bunch.

There are a whole host of other sung intros with back-story monologues from this era, themes like Green Acres, F-Troop, Mr. Ed, The Partridge Family, Charles In Chance (but we don't talk about Scott Baio anymore), The Addams Family, and many popular westerns from the 1960s (Champion the Wonder Horse is a personal favourite, but that's more singing the horses praises than anything else). By the 1980s the sung expository intro was largely dying out, a couple of last gasps came in the form of Diff'Rent Strokes and, probably only because he was a rapper, the Will Smith vehicle The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air...

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
The premise of the character, an exaggerated version of Will Smith, and of the show in general is outlined in the opening theme.
"Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there, I'll tell you how I become the prince of a town called Bel Air."
And he does. Will explains exactly how this street-smart and laid-back West Philadelphia teenager saw his life get flipped turned upside down after he got into a fight and his mother sent him to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle. It's a bit long, as theme tunes go, clocking in at nearly 2 minutes, but it's one that you'd look forward to as much as the episode of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air itself.

The next introduction comes from the same era as The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air but is closer in style to that of The A-Team...

Quantum Leap
Very much like The A-Team, Quantum Leap opts for a spoken back-story monologue over a bed of music before the theme kicks in properly.
"Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator - and vanished. ...
And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap... will be the leap home."
Oh boy! This intro really worked for me as it wasn't until about a decade after the series ended that I actually saw the pilot episode, Genesis, having missed it on first broadcast, so that backstory monologue explaining the show and Sam's raison d'ĂȘtre was essential for anyone like myself coming in cold after the series had begun.

This list of eight of the best TV show intros with back-story monologues is not just limited to live action television...

He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe
Cartoons often have sung theme tunes but as pretty much everyone one of them presses the reset button at the end of each episode the theme usually is just about the main character - Spongebob Squarepants being a perfect example of this. A rare few dip into the backstory, like this mid-80s gem. To this day I couldn't tell you if there ever was an origin episode of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe but it did not matter one bit, all the exposition needed is right here...
"I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, Defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull.
This is Cringer, my fearless friend.
Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said "By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!"
Cringer became the mighty BattleCat and I became He-man, the most powerful man in the universe.
Only three others share this secret: our friends the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms and Orko. Together we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor."
See also She-Ra: Princess Of Power which basically paraphrases this speech with an added disco-twinge. Also, in spoken monologued form, Bagpuss does a pretty good job in a cuddly Alan Bennett very-British way.

Now, let's dive into science-fiction territory with an intro that any self-respecting geek can recite backwards...

Star Trek
"Space, the final frontier
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Its five year mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."
From the moment William Shatner first says "Space" coupled with his trademark delivery the scope of this show is palpable. I'd suggest that this monologue was a vital component in Star Trek finding its audience after its initial run when in syndication, and those broadcasts are the main reason the franchise lived on and returned in cinematic form.

For geek themed intros with monologues see also The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, both do a great job of setting the tone but as each show is an anthology series neither monologue delivers a back-story. Later shows like Buck Rogers In The 25th Century did, but that doesn't quite make the cut for this choice of ten.

Other series' with back-story monologues in the intro which didn't make the cut include Hart To Hart, which is a close 9th on this list, British 70s sitcom Porridge (which ironically was delivered by Ronnie Barker in the voice of the judge sentencing Barker's fictional character to 'porridge', slang for time in prison), and Arrested Development, which even though is relatively short is a close contender as it contains pretty much all the info you need.

Another series that's worth mentioning is The Prisoner, although I'd argue that as the monologue comes after the theme tune, which is accompanied by a montage setting the back-story, you need to watch those images for the eventual spoken words to make sense (not that all of The Prisoner made sense, but I think that was the point of the show).

The penultimate spot on the list goes to this...

Life On Mars
"My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?
Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home."
That first line is a vital bit of information for any new viewers. Imagine tuning into episode 2 of Life On Mars and thinking you've discovered a nice period drama homage to 70s detective shows, which in essence Life On Mars is but when all the timey-wimey sci-fi elements kick-in you'd be well confused.

Finally, let's end with a more recent introductory theme tune with sung monologue, one which was really created as a parody of the early US sitcom themes but turned out to be one of the very best examples of the genre...

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Theme Song is used to explain the premise of the show and features Rebecca Bloom in character as Rebecca Bunch singing alongside cartoon versions of the other main characters and her getting angry at being referred to as crazy by them.
"I... was...
Working hard at a New York job
Making dough but it made me blue.
One day I was crying a lot and so I decided to move to West Covina! California!
Brand new pals and new career! It happens to be where Josh lives But that's not why I'm here!"
In several episodes the monologued musical number and title sequence would be set up by a character questioning Rebecca's origin.

So there you go, eight of the best TV show intros with back-story monologues. Some sung, some spoken, all brilliant examples of what they were created to do - explain the show's premise. Hopefully some of these are your favourites too? But you can no doubt name other great ones so why not let us know in the comments below...

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