There was a reason I turned to cartoons over “real life” shows in the ’70s and early ’80s. It wasn’t just because I was a kid. Looking back and rewatching these shows over the years, it’s struck me how bleak they were in the opening credits. Most all of them portray someone at a downpoint in their life, a broken dream and a gray rundown cityscape. Even the ones that seemed positive on the surface, like The Jeffersons and Good Times, did so with dripping sarcasm.
All in the Family
This was the typical ’70s opening. A song about lost nostalgia against a shaky 16mm film backdrop of New York in its ’70s decline, from the skyline to Archie’s non-descript house in Queens.
Welcome Back, Kotter
From Queens to Brooklyn, the most depressing “fuck you” song on TV. It’s all about someone following his dreams to get out of his neighborhood only to have them shattered and being pulled back to the place he tried to escape. And no reason why he wanted to escape. Graffiti spattered subway trains. A rundown school building. Clothes hanging in a slum. More shaky video of sad streets and el trains.
Bleak cityscape? Check. Shaky 16mm film? Check. Depressing song lyrics? Oh, come on–that is more sarcastic than “Welcome Back!”
Upbeat song. BUT… Her husband’s killed, and her car breaks down in Arizona on her way to L.A. She’s stuck waiting tables in a lousy diner and sleeping on her couch for nine years. Nine years. Oh, and we have that shaky camera again.
One Day at a Time
No cityscapes or shaky cameras. Just scenes. But I guess it’s the overall beige-ness that looks dreary. Oh, and pageboy haircuts with bellbottoms depress me.
Sanford and Son
Gets cool points for the music written by Quincy Jones. But it’s a junkyard. Happy junkyard with Redd Foxx. But it’s a junkyard.
This is what started this idea in the first place while watching on Nick at Nite. The hallmark shaky camera on a rusty bridge with bleak cityscape and wistful ’70s bluesy Rhodes piano.
Uplifting gospel style with positive theme. Contrasted with rusty bridge, NY cityscape (I guess a reverse of the All in the Family sequence as it’s a spin-off). And I don’t know–that apartment complex don’t look so posh to me.
There’s a reason there aren’t many TV shows based during the Great Depression–it was the Great DEPRESSION. I know the theme song is a classic, but it’s depressing too.
Maybe just cityscapes were bleak in the ’70s and they only had budgets for 16mm film cameras for the intros–shot by an intern? And why does Norman Lear always have to show us how to get to someone’s house?
WKRP in Cincinnati
And finally, New York isn’t alone in its bleak cityscapes. Here we are again traveling with our shaky cam over a bridge. Shots of interstate signs make for good ’70s TV, eh? Ask Alice.
Are there any that I missed?