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This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If you’ve been on social media since March 6, chances are you’ve posted — or at least seen — a comment along the lines of: “I cannot get the opening of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt out of my head! (And I don’t want to!)” That’s because so many viewers now are binge-watching the Netflix comedy — and so many other new shows, such as Showtime’s The Affair, FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show, Netflix’s Bloodline, The CW’s Jane the Virgin, HBO’s The Leftovers, Starz’s Outlander and Amazon’s Transparent. Sure, in the age of streaming, fast-forwarding through a show’s opening credits is easy enough, but when the opening is hummable or haunting enough, a lot of viewers opt to let it play.
The 30-second Kimmy Schmidt opener is, for many, simply irresistible (a longer version also was released online when the show debuted and went viral in its own right). In the form of an Auto-Tuned local news segment, it acknowledges the show’s rather dark underlying premise — a young woman reenters the world after being kept in an underground bunker for 15 years with three other women — while also establishing that the show and its protagonist actually are infectiously upbeat.
came from this horrible, unspeakable experience, and she is tough like a young girl might be tough. She is all pinks and candy and yellows but still very powerful.””]
Credit goes to several parties. Showrunners Tina Fey and Robert Carlock developed the concept of having an eyewitness interview subject serve as the “narrator” and wrote a number of comments for him to make. Jeff Richmond, Fey’s composer husband (he also provided music for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock), wrote the music. Additional footage was captured and remixed by the Gregory Brothers — actually a trio of brothers and one brother’s wife — who found YouTube fame after “songifying” a number of real news stories into hilariously absurd short videos. Onto all of this, Emily Oberman and the design firm Pentagram (who also worked on openers for SNL and 30 Rock) added bright graphics that reinforce Kimmy’s sunny worldview.
There’s an Emmy for this kind of thing? Actually, there are two: outstanding main title theme music and outstanding main title design. Eligible for these prizes are first-season shows and returning shows with new openers. (For instance, Monk won the theme music award twice because it employed multiple themes, just as the various incarnations of American Horror Story do.)
Past winners in the design category (created in 1990) include The X-Files, ER, Dexter, Mad Men and Game of Thrones. Based on True Detective‘s win for title design at the South by Southwest Film Festival last year en route to its Emmy, I’d keep an eye on the TV series that were SXSW finalists this year: American Horror Story: Freak Show, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, The Leftovers, WGN America’s Manhattan (the 2015 winner), Netflix’s Marco Polo and Starz’s Power. The Affair, Bloodline, Netflix’s Daredevil and HBO’s Olive Kitteridge also are possibilities, along with Kimmy Schmidt. (Worth noting: A title sequence’s length seems to matter less to voters than its ingenuity — Silicon Valley was nominated last year for its 11-second opener, which means one can’t dismiss the prospects of AMC’s Better Call Saul, whose title sequence runs just 14 seconds.)
The music theme category has been around since 1988. Its winners include forgotten shows (e.g., EZ Streets, Fame L.A. and Pirate Masters) as well as dramas with themes that are forever ingrained in our minds (e.g., The West Wing, Six Feet Under and Desperate Housewives), suggesting that voters don’t treat this as a coattail category — which makes it harder to predict. In addition to Kimmy Schmidt, I could see Transparent, Bloodline, The Affair, Olive Kitteridge and Daredevil in the mix.
Just about all of the strong 2015 design and theme contenders can be seen or heard on pay or premium cable networks — in my view that’s at least partly because these shows are more likely to be binge-watched, which plants their openers more firmly in viewers’ minds. With a few notable exceptions (among them NBC’s The Blacklist and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory), most broadcast shows — including such hot newbies as Fox’s Empire and ABC’s American Crime and How to Get Away With Murder — have no real opener at all. Why? Mainly because openers eat into time that could be devoted to lucrative commercials. (Perhaps you remember those?)
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