Oscar History

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"Outstanding Main Title Design," An Undersung Emmy Category

If you're a carbon based life form, chances are you feel a certain amount of affection for the opening notes and images of the main title designs of certain TV series. These things have a way of seeping into our DNA.

I cannot watch True Blood's titles, for example, without singing along "...I wanna do bad things to you ♫" and it would probably take my Emmy award if the Outstanding Main Title Design were handed out only once every 10 years. Unfortunately it has been ripped off ever since and now every remotely creepy TV series aims for a mix of slow-mo vs sped up montage of religious, violent, and sensual grotesquerie from American Horror Storyto Penny Dreadful. But True Blood's titles were the perfect marriage of everything that makes that show that show. It's actually even BETTER than the show itself.  True Blood lost this category in its year to the adorable pop up multiple identities of The United States of Tara

My other favorite main title of a current series is Game of Thrones. I don't watch the show for reasons I've long since overshared but I think the opening titles are refreshingly original, a masterwork even. For what it's worth Game of Thrones won this Emmy in 2011 (Trivia Alert: David Fincher's two-time Oscar winning editor Angus Wall, who we've interviewed in the past, was the creative director!).

Even in the YouTube/Gif era when we are all accustomed to obsessing over the tiniest mnemonics of our favorite things, this category is rarely remarked upon. So let's discuss this year's nominees after the jump

THE NOMINEES THIS YEAR? Stroke the kitty to continue...


Have you seen this show? Thoughts?

COSMOS - Main Title Sequence from BBDG on Vimeo.


COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY (Fox National Geographic)
UPDATED: I initially wasn't able to find this one (no copy on YouTube) and I was surprised by its nomination since the show itself seemed to have very inconsistent visual strategies. Not so with this beautiful title design from BBDG which suggests a Malick-like awe for nature and the universe poured through a mainstream strainer. What am I talking about? I don't know I'm tripping watching this. Why do eyeballs always look so infinite when you see them in macro? (P.S. I'm always happy to be reminded of Blade Runner's opening eyeball shot.)

I can't get enough of that pussy being stroked or the cucumber washing or or or or or or. So cheeky.

Is that it? (I haven't seen the show). So brief. But fun, sure. 

There are a lot of versions of this brooding photo-layered intro online but I had to find the original HBO upload to include it on this post. What the hell? "Embedding disabled by request" is so 2008. This is the only opening credits this year that I've seen spoofed regularly so I assume it will win the category. 

I think I prefer the full cat version...

FINAL TRIVIA NOTE: American Horror Story: Coven was not nominated, breaking the streak for that series which is technically able to compete each year because it's a different series each time and they do change up the titles. I'm curious if they'll allow True Detective Season 2 to compete when it arrives since it will have to have new opening credits BUT it competed in Drama Series which should render it ineligible past its debut year.

Here are the last dozen years of this competition. How many of these can you remember the opening sequence to? I loved the show Huff, for example, but I don't remember it well now and nothing about the opening credits nine years later. And weird that the Oscars won this for the Brokeback vs Crash ceremony. I wonder what they did differently that year since they aren't even nominated ANY other time, stretching back to the beginning of this category in 1990. Anyone remember?


2013 DaVinci's Demons (AHS, The Newsroom, Halo 4, Elementary, Vikings)
2012 Great Expectations (AHS, Magic City, Strike Back, New Girl)
2011 Game of Thrones (Any Human Heart, Boardwalk Empire, Rubicon, Too Big To Fail)
2010 Bored to Death (Human Target, Nurse Jackie, The Pacific, Temple Grandin)
2009 United States of Tara (Lie to Me, Storymakers, Taking Chance, True Blood)
2008 Mad Men (Bernard & Doris, Chuck, The Company, New Amsterdam)
2007 Dexter (Hu$tle, The Lost Room, The Path to 9/11, Standoff, Ugly Betty)
2006 78th Academy Awards (Big Love, Ghost Whisperer, Rome, The Triangle, Weeds)
2005 Huff (Desperate Housewives, The Grid, House, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers)
2004 Carnivàle (Angels in America, Nicole Kidman: An American Cinemateque Salute, Nip/Tuck, Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital)
2003 Hysterical Blindness (Anna Nicole Show, Napoleon, Normal, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!)
2002 Six Feet Under (Band of Brothers, Mind of the Married Man, Wolf Lake)

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Reader Comments (14)

lol @ Nicole Kidman: An American Cinemateque Salute in 2004.. what was this?

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Man, Six Feet Under was a great show. I'm surprised that OITNB's didn't make the cut this year. That Spektor tune and those visuals are so memorable.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

The SIX FEET UNDER intro is one of the all-time greats for me.

And I still can't believe Desperate Housewives lost this prize in its year. The rest of the winners seem quite about right.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay

It's so funny that you're bringing this up, Nat (and it makes me wonder if you have some sort of spying device planted in my apartment!) - I watched David Fincher's Se7en for the billionth time last night and I went on this whole spiel about that movie's opening credits and how influential they were and how every TV show rips THEM off now. I think that True Blood Penny Dreadful et al can be traced back to that movie, and Fincher's credits in general - which makes the Angus Wall connection even more interesting.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJA

I've been saying that about True Blood for years. In fact, I couldn't even bring myself to fully enjoy its first season because I was still committed to the idea that it would be as interesting as its opening titles and as darkly elegant in exploring the themes behind those fantastic images. That entire thing is like a pop culture fever dream in conjuring up the fear, decay, and mystique of the Deep South.

I know you mentioned AHS, but is it not a finalist? :( I love that they do it different every year and how the titles usually slip in some foreshadowing (some subtle, some not) about the subplots ahead. They're kind of similar to the True Blood titles in how mesmerizing and evocative they are.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

JA -- right. i should have mentioned this. I don't think there's a 2-3 minute segment of anything as influential as SE7EN's titles in my lifetime.

July 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

(I went and rewatched the Se7en opening titles after posting that comment because I didn't recall them, and you're completely right. That's so interesting. Still think Coven is extremely well done, though)

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

I'd say, "If visuals presented AND precise aural composition change every season, you are eligible beyond the first submission. If you don't want to change up BOTH (and I think most series wouldn't want to do that), you stop at your first submission." (The Wire used five different compositions of the same song and changed it's presented visual compositions every season, being maybe the only series that would be eligible beyond season one if those were the rules. American Horror Story, meanwhile, uses the exact same aural composition every time, so, under that rule, American Horror Story would be eligible, but it's continuations wouldn't be, in spite of changing the visual compositions.)

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I LOVE this category and the art of great title sequences is seemingly getting more and more lost with so many shows eschewing them in favor of just flashing the title with a small amount of music. You are right of the Game of Thrones titles being a masterpiece. I also adore the Masters of Sex titles and really hope they win. Who doesn't love a good sex joke?

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Fantastic post! Six Feet Under is my favorite intro ever.

Suprised by the absence of AHS. The credits are the only thing of that show that I love without reservations. If I had a ballot I would vote for True Detective. I love the song and the whole oneiric thing going on.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Those Six Feet Under title credits are brilliant.

And Orange is the New Black was robbed. I was angry to figure out that Netlfix would skip over the title credits if you watched the episodes continuously this season; I ended up stopping play in between each episode just so I could I view them before each episode.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Looking at nominees pre-2002, I see that MADtv anf Politically Incorrect were nominated in their 4th/5th season or so. So yes, if you are an ongoing series, revamp your main title sequence significantly and you are eligible for a nomination (unless they changed the rules since?).

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I really love this category, too.
I've seen only little of the actual wins so far, but United States of Tara, Six Feet Under were just great. And Dexter made me realize how brutal a simple breakfast could look like! o_O

July 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

OITNB is not nominated??!? Blasphemy.

July 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

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