You may have noticed your attention span has been slipping recently. Yes, over the several millennia since 2020 started, but admit it, your ability to concentrate on anything for more than five minutes has been waning ever since the moment Steve Jobs stood on a stage in 2007 and announced there was now a device that would allow you to reinforce your fragile self-worth every few minutes.
This then translated into our viewing habits – I call it the smartphone test: if a show can hold your attention for literally any amount of time without you having to pick up your little ego machine, then it must be doing something right. Broadcasters started sensing this, begging us to stay with them as they performed a ‘credit squeeze’ at the end of shows. Recognition of the cast and crew was deemed expendable, as long as we knew that The Voice was coming next.
The defining moment in admitting that any level of patience with the old tropes of TV shows had all but disappeared came in the form of streaming services. I’d rather not sit down and calculate the time I wasted sitting through the ridiculously overlong title sequence of House of Cards, before Netflix thankfully introduced the “skip intro” button. But when it finally appeared, well, a few things happened, apart from me clawing back some valuable time to… well, watch more stuff.
It highlighted something we considered before – that title sequences may be a bit of a waste of time, taking up precious seconds that could otherwise be used to tell the story. This now means that we only see a title sequence (that we still have the option to skip through) at the start of a season – see The Sinner or The Politician, or they’re ditched altogether, a habit linear TV has got into with the likes of Girls, I May Destroy You or Line of Duty. My attention span got to such a point that I considered clicking “skip intro” for the Schitt’s Creek titles (five seconds long). Help.
It’s true that if you watch some episodes of Friends, The Simpsons or the US remake of The Office, the famous openings are sometimes cut short to accommodate more story, but they were still always there (for youuuuu). This is partly because American TV is structured to return from commercials and straight into the titles (it’s why pre-title sequences were invented, dontchaknow), but also because they help guide the audience into the world, sometimes setting up the characters, but mainly giving you the colour palette and mood – it’s an introduction in so many ways.
Then of course, there is the theme song. “So no-one told you life was gonna be this way…” you just clapped, didn’t you – either out loud or in your head? You easily manipulated idiot. This is their power – not only do they let you know that your favourite show about to start, but they implant a fondness and nostalgia that will keep you tied to the show for years to come, feeling that sense of comfort whenever Dave repeats it, or when you press play on a hungover Sunday afternoon. Of course, the quality of the content has to live up to the theme, but when it does, the two feed off each other. This is what we could be losing.
Some shows are linked inexorably with their theme songs – I’ve already mentioned Friends but then there’s Doctor Who, Top Gear, The X Factor… BBC News. Theme tunes still seem to matter, especially in helping said shows to become fixed in our minds, way beyond their actual lifespan (I’m still awaiting the season finale of BBC News, though I think we may be in it at the moment).
There are some signs of a comeback for the shunned theme tune. Succession not only has music that supplants itself in your auditory cortex, it also possesses a hook that recurs as incidental music throughout the show. Watch a few episodes and tell me you don’t’ have the piano riff going through your head as you try to get to sleep at night. Kimmy Schmidt managed to find just the right balance of annoying and catchy so the worm truly crawled into our ear. Then, there’s Somebody Feed Phil – an undeniably infectious mix of some long-lost BBC Sports theme and The Big Bang Theory-esque American cheese in a can.
Those who grew up humming along to Red Dwarf, Twin Peaks – hell, even Bob the Builder’ – are now the ones making the telly. Maybe they recognise the importance of a good intro, and how a great one can emotionally attach us to a show all the way into what we can loosely term ‘adulthood’. The only thing we need to recover from now is our short attention sp…