Five Classic TV Shows with Awkward Opening Narration
In the days before streaming services and DVR, viewers sometimes missed the first episode of a TV show. To fill in new viewers who were tuning in for the first time, some shows used a catchy theme song to explain the premise, like Gilligan’s Island, The Patty Duke Show, The Brady Bunch, and Green Acres. Others opted to let a narrator explain what was going on. For some reason, these types of openings were often confusing and sometimes made no sense at all, leaving viewers with even more questions. Here are some examples of opening narration gone wrong.
“My name is Rhoda Morgenstern. I was born in the Bronx, New York, in December, 1941. I've always felt responsible for World War II. The first thing I remember liking that liked me back was food. I had a bad puberty; it lasted 17 years. I'm a high school graduate. I went to art school. My entrance exam was on a book of matches. I decided to move out of the house when I was 24. My mother still refers to this as the time I ran away from home. Eventually, I ran to Minneapolis, where it's cold, and I figured I'd keep better. Now I'm back in Manhattan. New York, this is your last chance!”
Let’s break this down sentence by sentence…
“My name is Rhoda Morgenstern.” Great. No problem there. Moving on.
“I was born in the Bronx, New York, in December, 1941.” That’s a bit more information than I need, but OK.
“I’ve always felt responsible for World War II.” *record scratch* Wait what? Hold on. World War II started in 1939. Maybe she’s referring to when the US entered the war in December of 1941? But that doesn’t make sense. The war had already been going on for two years. How could she be responsible for starting it? I know it’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s not funny. It’s just confusing.
“The first thing I remember liking that liked me back was food.” How does food like you back? I mean, it can taste good, but it doesn’t express emotions, and thank God for that. I don’t think I could eat something that told me it liked me. But why mention food? I know Rhoda is kind of obsessed with her weight, and supposedly she used to be fat, but on the show she’s skinny. I could see mentioning her relationship with food if she had a problem with overeating, but I seriously doubt she ever did.
“I had a bad puberty; it lasted 17 years.” Huh? What does that even mean? Is she trying to say she didn’t grow boobs or get her period for 17 years? That’s not that big a deal. She says this over photos of her as a kid in which she looks beautiful and happy (and thin, by the way), so if she’s trying to say she was still in her awkward stage 17 years after she started puberty, that certainly doesn’t fit with the photographic evidence.
“I’m a high school graduate.” OK? So am I. Most people are. In fact, even back in 1975, over 62% of Americans were high school graduates (now it’s more like 91%). Why even mention it? It’s like saying “I brush my teeth” or “I eat dinner.”
“I went to art school.” Well, I guess that’s mildly interesting. *checks watch*
“My entrance exam was on a book of matches.” So, back in the day, a correspondence school called The Art Instruction Schools advertised on matchbooks with a sketch of something like a clown or a donkey that asked the reader to “Draw Me!” You could draw the picture and then send in an application to be accepted to the school, but I don’t think they expected anyone to draw on the actual matchbook, which is what it sounds like Rhoda did. Then again, I have a feeling that school wasn’t too discerning in its selection process.
“I decided to move out of the house when I was 24. My mother still refers to this as the time I ran away from home.” I can’t complain about this sentence because I can relate to it. I left my parents’ house when I was 18, and my mother still tells people I ran away from home. Imagine Rhoda’s mother but taller and Italian. But I digress…
“Eventually, I ran to Minneapolis, where it's cold, and I figured I'd keep better.” When I watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I always wondered why Rhoda moved to Minneapolis, so I guess this sort of answers that question. Not gonna lie, I chuckled when I first heard this line. It’s the only funny part of the whole monologue.
“New York, this is your last chance!” Um. Last chance for what? What are you expecting? Why did you move back to New York? I need more information. She could’ve spent less time talking about puberty, food, and matchbooks and more time talking about her transition back to New York. She was happy in Minneapolis. She had a budding plant rehab business and good friends, and she was over a thousand miles away from her mother. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she said she was leaving because she was offered a great job, but on Rhoda, when she arrived in New York, she had neither a job nor an apartment. It makes no sense!
Here's how I would re-write this intro:
My name is Rhoda Morgenstern. I moved from New York to Minneapolis to find a successful career and maybe a successful relationship, but it didn’t work out. Now I’m moving back home to New York. Hopefully things will work out better this time.
The Odd Couple
Originally, The Odd Couple had no opening narration, just a catchy theme song and images of Tony Randall and Jack Klugman getting into various misadventures that were indicative of their characters, Felix and Oscar. The premise was simple and didn’t need explaining: Two guys who are complete opposites live together and drive each other crazy. Boom. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Plus it was based on a popular movie, which was based on a popular play. Chances were, if someone was tuning into The Odd Couple, they had seen or at least heard of the movie and/or the play of the same name, so they were already familiar with the premise.
The network did a survey of a small group of people in a remote area and decided the audience thought Felix and Oscar were gay lovers, so they asked the producers to add opening narration explaining that they were divorced straight guys who were just roommates. The producers loved to screw around with the network to get a rise out of them, so that may be one reason why said opening narration is so weird.
“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”
First of all, why does the date that Felix’s wife kicked him out matter? Also, November 13th of what year? The show was on for five years, and I have to assume that Felix and Oscar had already been living together for a while when it started. The first episode didn’t show Felix getting kicked out and moving in with Oscar. That part was already explained in the movie and the play, so the writers appropriately skipped it and went right into the middle of the action.
“Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her.” She was right about what? Why did she kick him out and why does he agree with her? In the show, he never seemed to think he was rightfully kicked out and was desperate to get his wife back, so the first part of this sentence doesn’t sound like Felix at all. The second part sounds like Felix, but it’s unnecessary. Just say he got kicked out and had to move in with Oscar and leave out all these unimportant details.
Since when was Oscar Felix’s “childhood friend?” Even before they added this narration, there was an episode that explained how they met. They were serving jury duty (as adults, obviously) and had to be sequestered together. I guess the writers realized their mistake because later the narration simply referred to Oscar as “his friend.”
The narrator puts emphasis on “he” in “requesting that he never return,” as if he’s saying Oscar was also asked to never return, which implies Felix was asked to never return, but that didn’t happen. In fact, the narrator said Felix knew one day he would return to his wife. So that’s contradictory to his prior statement and unnecessary.
“Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?” Obviously not. I’ve seen the show. They drive each other crazy every second they’re together, and sometimes even when they’re not together. Why is the narrator asking a question to which everyone already knows the answer?
The script uses passive voice and official-sounding words so it sounds like a police report. Just replace Felix’s name with “the suspect” and you’ll see what I mean. “The suspect was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife.” Why not just say his wife asked him to leave? “The suspect appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison.” He appeared? Just appeared out of thin air? Is he a wizard? Almost anything else would’ve worked better there. What’s wrong with “went to?”
Here’s how I would re-write this intro:
When Felix Unger’s wife asked him to leave, he had no choice but to move in with his divorced friend, Oscar Madison. Now these two divorced men are trying to live together without driving each other crazy.
The original Herman’s Head intro was sitcom perfection. A narrator introduced Herman (William Ragsdale), then each of the characters in his head succinctly described who they are and what they do. They each have their own unique background colors and sound effects to further emphasize the part of Herman’s personality they each represent. The script was well-written and clearly explained what was happening in the show, and the whole thing wrapped up in about one minute. Molto bene! *chef’s kiss*
NARRATOR: “This is Herman Brooks. Herman is just like the rest of us. Every day, he has to make all kinds of decisions, like what to wear, whom to date, and when to panic. Now, these decisions should be easy, but if you take a look inside Herman’s head, you’ll see why he sometimes has trouble making up his mind.”
GENIUS: “I’m Herman’s intellect. Without me, he couldn’t hold his job, pay his rent, or tie his shoes.”
ANGEL: “I’m Herman’s sensitivity. Without me, he wouldn’t feel tenderness, honesty, or love—the good things in life.”
WIMP: “I’m Herman’s anxiety, and I keep him out of trouble, and believe me, there’s trouble everywhere.”
ANIMAL: “I’m Herman’s lust. Without me, he’d miss out on all the good stuff—you know, fun, food, babes.”
NARRATOR: “Sometimes they agree; usually the don’t, but this struggle is going on inside all of us, and it’s all going on inside Herman’s head.”
How great is that?!
Later, someone made the terrible decision of changing the intro to the most awkward, confusing intro of any show I’ve ever seen. It shows Herman on his way to work in jerky footage that looks like “full motion video” on a Sega CD over shrill saxophone music that belongs in a late night talk show instead of a sitcom. Herman walks by each of his co-workers, who all pause to pose for the camera for an unnaturally long time before moving on. Meanwhile, the head people are saying bizarre and random things.
When Herman gets to work, Mr. Bracken (Jason Bernard) hands out piles of work to him and Heddy (Jane Sibbett), pausing to lean in really close to each of their faces and creepily stare at them before walking away. That’s not like Mr. Bracken at all. He’s not creepy. He’s a long-suffering boss.
GENIUS: “This city is exciting.”
ANIMAL: “That woman’s not wearing underwear!”
ANGEL: “Is that all you can think about? Food and sex?”
GENIUS: “Please! Focus!”
WIMP: “Look out!”
ANIMAL: “Hey, it’s Jay!”
GENIUS: “No time for small talk. We’re late.”
WIMP: “Heddy! Hold the elevator!”
ANGEL: “I think Louise is so sweet.”
ANIMAL: “I think this woman is wearing underwear.”
WIMP: “I think there’s too many people in this elevator!”
GENIUS: “And I think you’re all idiots. Let’s go to work!”
For some reason, the thing that bothers me the most about the new intro is Animal (Ken Hudson Campbell) pointing out that a woman in the elevator is wearing underwear in a sleazy tone as if that turns him on. I could see him getting excited if he thought she wasn’t wearing underwear. Why does the fact that she’s wearing underwear excite him? Most women wear underwear. There’s nothing special about that. No need to point it out.
Also, the things the head people say in this version don’t really explain who they are and what facet of Herman’s personality they each represent. For all we know, they’re random creepers watching Herman on a closed circuit camera. Genius (Peter Mackenzie) comes off as just an asshole instead of a genius, Animal seems like an underwear-obsessed idiot, and Angel (Molly Hagan) is far from her perky, cheerful self. It’s like she’s been sedated. Wimp (Rick Lawless) is the only one who who’s true to character, saying the city is dangerous and there are too many people in the elevator. That’s the good old anxiety I know.
The actors do the best they can with the confusing script. I have to applaud them for their efforts. They really sold it, but it still sucks.
How would I re-write this intro? Easy. I would make it exactly like it was in season one. Problem solved.
Soap was a spoof of a soap opera, so of course the plot is confusing, but have you ever heard of a soap opera with opening narration explaining the premise of the show? Aside from, “Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives,” I haven’t.
“This is the story of two sisters: Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell. Jessica lives in a neighborhood known as ‘Rich.’ Jessica likes life. The only thing about life she would change, if she could, is that she would set it all to music. The Tates have more secrets than they do money. We’re approaching Mary Campbell’s house. Mary, too, likes life. Unfortunately, life doesn't seem too crazy about her. As you can see, the Campbells don't have nearly as much money as the Tates. They do, however, have as many secrets.”
The thing about soap operas is you don’t need to know the premise or any backstory because the characters tend to over-explain everything, like, “Oh no, it’s Ridge, my fifth husband, who slept with my sister and stole her baby and murdered my mother—who wasn’t really my mother, she was my aunt—and then faked his own death in a fiery car crash, but it was actually his twin brother who died.” This is exactly what the characters do on Soap, so the opening monologue is unnecessary.
The premise of Soap is so much simpler than the monologue makes it out to be. There’s one rich sister and one middle class sister, and they both have crazy families. The part that bothers me the most is, “Jessica likes life. The only thing she would change about life, if she could, is that she would set it all to music.” Not only is it badly written, it’s completely unnecessary and just straight up weird. Why do I need to know this about Jessica? What does it say about her? Of course she likes life. She’s rich. She has a mansion and a sassy butler and she’s never worked a day in her life. If I was her, I’d love life.
And why is life not “too crazy” about Mary? Just because she doesn’t have as much money as her sister? The narrator hasn’t explained any of the nuances about the two families, like how Mary’s first husband died, her second husband doesn’t get along with her two sons, one of her sons is in the mob, and the other is constantly insulted and persecuted for being gay…or at least those are the nuances at the beginning of the show. So no, we can’t see that life isn’t too crazy about Mary just by watching her family sit down to eat breakfast.
Here's how I would re-write this intro: I wouldn’t. I would get rid of it entirely. But if I couldn’t do that, I’d cut it down significantly.
This is the story of two families: the Tates and the Campbells. The Tates have a lot of money and even more secrets. The Campbells don’t have nearly as much money as the Tates, but they have just as many secrets.
The Ray Bradbury Theater
The Ray Bradbury Theater was an anthology series that presented stories written by sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury, and I have to point out that such a famous writer should’ve been able to come up with a better monologue.
“People ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ Well, right here. All this is my Martian landscape. Somewhere in this room is an African veldt. Just beyond, perhaps, is the small Illinois town where I grew up, and I’m surrounded every side by my magician’s toy shop. I’ll never starve here. I just look around, find what I need, and begin. I’m Ray Bradbury, and this is…
“Well then, right now, what shall it be? Out of all this, what do I choose to make a story? I never know where the next one will take me, and the trip? Exactly one half exhilaration; exactly one half terror.”
This thing is a complete mess. It’s wordy, about 30 seconds too long, and pointless. I get the idea of showing Ray’s writing room and all the random stuff he has in there to inspire him, but does he really have to talk so much about it? Plus, he says, “and this is…” but doesn’t say the name of the show. It just appears on the screen. If I wasn’t looking at the TV at that exact moment, I’d be really lost.
I’m also confused by “I’ll never starve here.” No offense, Mr. Bradbury, but I’m pretty sure if you locked yourself in a room full of 50-year-old crap with no food, you’d eventually starve. Yeah, yeah, I get that he’s saying he won’t starve for inspiration, but it’s just awkward. He doesn’t use any other food analogies, and he never refers to getting writer’s block or struggling to come up with ideas. In fact, I don’t believe that man was ever hard up for ideas for his entire lifespan of 91 years. Lucky jerk.
The narration is unnecessary anyway. The show has no premise. It’s an anthology show. Every episode is different. So all you have to do is introduce Ray Bradbury to any viewers who don’t know who he is. Once you establish that he’s a writer, you’re done. That’s all you need.
I apologize for editing the master of sci-fi, but here's how I would re-write this intro:
I’m Ray Bradbury. People ask me where I get my story ideas. Well, right here. I just look around, find what I need, and begin.
I haven’t seen much of Charlie’s Angels. Somehow I don’t feel like I’m its target demographic; however, I have eyes and ears and I live in America, so of course I’m familiar with the concept of the show, the theme song, and the opening narration.
“Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy, and they were each assigned very hazardous duties, but I took them away from all that, and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.”
Um…is that it? None of that makes any sense. First of all, it’s only two sentences, and one of them is the longest sentence I’ve ever seen in my life. Second of all, it doesn’t explain the premise. Some “little girls” went to the police academy? Exactly how young were cops in the 70s? Was it like you start out as a Brownie, then become a Girl Scout, then a cop?
“…They were each assigned hazardous duties.” While they were at the academy? He didn’t say they graduated from the police academy, just that they went there. They could’ve just gone there for a visit for all we know.
Then some mysterious guy named Charlie “took them away from all that,” and now they work for him. Doing what? What did he do? Kidnap them and force them to work for him? Like I said, I’m not that familiar with the show, but it seems to me that Charlie put them in hazardous situations, so he didn’t exactly “take them away” from anything except perhaps their uniforms.
The script is so vague as to render it completely unnecessary. It only serves to confuse viewers more than clarify anything. All we know is that some girls went to the police academy and now they work for some ambiguous guy named Charlie who talks in run-on sentences.
Not that it matters at all on a show like Charlie’s Angels. I mean, let’s be real. It’s three hot babes who fight crime. The audience for this show isn’t interested in nuance or backstory. They’re interested in boobs.
Hot babes don’t do it for me, so I have no interest in actually watching the show. Therefore, I can’t come up with an accurate opening narration for it, which is fine because it doesn’t need it.
My Two Dads
My Two Dads. *sigh* I think this is a case where the narration is confusing simply because the premise is confusing. A woman dies and leaves her daughter in the custody of two men she previously slept with because she’s not sure which one is the father (even though it’s 1987 and DNA tests are a thing), and apparently the judge who ordered them to take custody of her also owns the building they live in? Yeah, I don’t get it either.
NICOLE: “This is me, Nicole Bradford. Cute, huh? This is my dad, and this is my dad. How’d I get two dads? They inherited me. Congratulations! It’s a girl! Here’s the judge that brought us together. She lives in our building.”
JUDGE: “My building. I own it.”
NICOLE: “She’s gonna make sure we’re one big happy family with one dad who’s down-to-earth and one dad with his head in the clouds.”
MICHAEL: “I—I think we’re father of the year!”
Welp. I guess it explains what’s going on…kind of, but I’m still left with several questions. Aside from the obvious why don’t they just get a test to determine who her father is and give him custody? I also wonder how it’s possible that the judge owns the building they live in? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Is it normal for a judge to continually supervise someone who took custody of someone else’s child? I feel like the judge is unnecessary, but since she’s apparently a major character, I guess they had to mention her.
I don’t know how to re-write this so it makes sense because the show doesn’t make sense. There’s no way to explain the premise that doesn’t make you go “Huh?” So I guess it is what it is.