A Mysterious TV Opening

Last October, when I was participating in the annual “Countdown to Halloween”, I wrote about the many spooky shows that have haunted our televisions over the years. I chose to focus on the theme music, since that gets much less credit than it deserves. Turns out I had neglected one show, or at least it’s theme and opening titles. The show wasn’t spooky in itself, but but the opening was decidedly gothic and eerie…

In 1980, WGBH, the public TV station in Boston, was approached by Herb Schmertz of Mobil Corporation about a new series. They’d been underwriting Masterpiece Theater and a number of other well-recieved British historical dramas. Schmertz suggested a weekly show devoted to crime dramas, police shows, and mysteries in general.

For the opening titles, WGBH turned to noted illustrator Edward Gorey. Gorey was known for delightfully macabre panels (like those of Charles Addams) in pen and ink with a major Gothic bent. His original storyboards for the titles would have gone on for ten minutes; the show had time for only 75 seconds. The drawings were turned over to to PBS animator Derek Lamb, who edited them down to the required length. As the series went on and changed hosts, the animation changed as well.

Normand Roger composed the theme music. He’s got over two hundred film scores to his credit (almost all for animated shorts), and has written music for six Oscar winners. It still sends a little shiver down my spine.

Here’s three of the introductions put together:

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