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Introductions Necessary: the Best TV Show Intros

The term "golden age of television" is thrown around a lot in reference to the shows of the 1950s (many of them done live), but in my humble opinion, we're really in the golden age right now. Shows like Mad Men, The Wire and The Sopranos (which kind of started it all, intro-wise as well as show-wise) are proof that television is allowing itself to be smarter; shows like Lost that TV is allowing itself to tell more complicated, ambitious (even baffling) stories; shows like Arrested Development that TV can tell jokes not everyone in the audience will get. The best shows aren't talking down to audiences anymore; they've stopped caring about catering to the lowest common denominator, and in doing so they've elevated the whole art form.

Maybe that sounds a little highfalootin', but heck, even looking at the intros to these shows will tell you that we're dealing with a new kind of animal. Sopranos fans with TIVOs: how many seasons did you find yourself watching the intro every week, even though you could skip through it? Here are some of our recent faves, and a few classics thrown in for good measure.

The Sopranos

Let's start with the one that started it all: The Sopranos. The intro feels so loose and improvised, and slowly it dawns on you that's it's more than a travelogue, it's a story: Tony's going home. The song makes all the difference, and in keeping with the improvised nature of the intro's visuals, it's appropriate that creator David Chase simply heard the song on an LA indie radio station one day (KCRW), called the station to find out what the song was called, and licensed it.

Weeds

I've never seen an episode of Weeds (I'm told it's great), but I think the intro speaks for itself: it sets the delicate, ironic tone of a show about a woman selling pot to raise her kids in a "perfect" suburban community -- without showing any of the characters, without hitting us over the head. "Little Boxes" is a 1962 song by Malvina Reynolds, who was inspired to write it while driving through suburban Southern California. Cleverly, the show asked a number of other musicians to cover the song, and has used versions of "Little Boxes" by Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, Regina Spektor and others.

Six Feet Under

Another modern classic. Six Feet Under is a show with a really tricky tone: it's a drama about a funeral home but it's not unrelentingly morbid, and the song here reflects that. It's quirky and hypnotic without being creepy. That every image in the intro is about death is actually pretty subtle (save the tagged toe): the hands coming apart cutting to the blue sky; any more heavy-handed and this would've felt like overkill; any lighter and it would've blown away in the breeze.

Mad Men

This intro doesn't tell a story, like some do, but some of the themes of the show are here: the "protagonist" of the intro (Don Draper?) is literally inscrutable -- he reflects no light -- as befits a character harboring a dark secret; he lives in a world made of mix-n-match clipart; he's in freefall, which can only end in disaster. (If you watched all of season one, you know what I'm talking about.) And I'm ready to put the music on endless repeat in my iPod.

Mystery!

How often does Edward Gorey animate an TV show intro -- or anything, for that matter? So charming, so classic -- perfect.

Carnivale

I didn't love the show, but this intro blows me away. Do they give out Emmys for intros? They should.

Heatvision and Jack

This hilarious show starring Jack Black as an astronaut made "smartest man on Earth" by exposure to "inappropriate levels of sunlight" and his talking motorcycle/former roommate (voiced by Owen Wilson) is one of the funniest TV show concepts I've seen. Too bad it never got picked up -- but the first episode, and its hilarious intro, will live on forever. It owes a clear debt to The Six Million Dollar Man and its ilk. (But let's face it, I just like saying "ilk.")

The Simpsons
You've all seen it so many times, posting it here would be redundant. At the same time, not mentioning it would be a sin.

The Twilight Zone

Nothing set the mood like the intro to the Twilight Zone. Even if the episode to follow was cheezy (as many were), the intro always gave me goosebumps.You may now argue with me in the comments.

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DreamWorks
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15 Must-Watch Facts About The Ring
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DreamWorks

An urban legend about a videotape that kills its viewers seven days after they see it turns out to be true. To her increasing horror, reporter Rachel Keller (then-newcomer Naomi Watts) discovers this after her niece is one of four teenage victims, and is in a race against the clock to uncover the mystery behind the girl in the video before her and her son’s time is up.

Released 15 years ago, on October 18, 2002, The Ring began a trend of both remaking Japanese horror films in a big way, and giving you nightmares about creepy creatures crawling out of your television. Here are some facts about the film that you can feel free to pass along to anybody, guilt-free.

1. DREAMWORKS BOUGHT THE AMERICAN RIGHTS TO RINGU FOR $1 MILLION.

There were conflicting stories over how executive producer Roy Lee came to see the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu, Hideo Nakata's adaptation of the 1991 novel Ring by Kôji Suzuki. Lee said two different friends gave him a copy of Ringu in January 2001, which he loved and immediately gave to DreamWorks executive Mark Sourian, who agreed to purchase the rights. But Lee’s close friend Mike Macari worked at Fine Line Features, which had an American remake of Ringu in development before January 2001. Macari said he showed Lee Ringu much earlier. Macari and Lee were both listed as executive producers for The Ring.

2. THE DIRECTOR FIRST SAW RINGU ON A POOR QUALITY VHS TAPE, WHICH ADDED TO ITS CREEPINESS.

Gore Verbinski had previously directed MouseHunt. He said the first time he "watched the original Ringu was on a VHS tape that was probably seven generations down. It was really poor quality, but actually that added to the mystique, especially when I realized that this was a movie about a videotape." Naomi Watts struggled to find a VHS copy of Ringu while shooting in the south of Wales. When she finally got a hold of one she watched it on a very small TV alone in her hotel room. "I remember being pretty freaked out," Watts said. "I just saw it the once, and that was enough to get me excited about doing it."

3. THE RING AND RINGU ARE ABOUT 50 PERCENT DIFFERENT.

Naomi Watts in 'The Ring'
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

Verbinski estimated that, for the American version, they "changed up to 50 percent of it. The basic premise is intact, the story is intact, the ghost story, the story of Samara, the child." Storylines involving the characters having ESP, a volcano, “dream logic,” and references to “brine and goblins” were taken out.

4. IT RAINED ALMOST EVERY DAY WHEN THEY FILMED IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON.

The weather added to the “atmosphere of dread,” according to the film's production notes. Verbinski said the setting allowed them to create an “overcast mood” of dampness and isolation.

5. THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER WAS INFLUENCED BY ANDREW WYETH.

Artist Andrew Wyeth tended to use muted, somber earth tones in his work. "In Wyeth's work, the trees are always dormant, and the colors are muted earth tones," explained production designer Tom Duffield. "It's greys, it's browns, it's somber colors; it's ripped fabrics in the windows. His work has a haunting flavor that I felt would add to the mystique of this movie, so I latched on to it."

6. THERE WERE RINGS EVERYWHERE.

The carpeting and wallpaper patterns, the circular kitchen knobs, the doctor’s sweater design, Rachel’s apartment number, and more were purposely designed with the film's title in mind.

7. WATTS AND MARTIN HENDERSON HAD A FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL RIVALRY.

Martin Henderson and Naomi Watts star in 'The Ring' (1992)
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

The New Zealand-born Henderson played Noah, Rachel’s ex-husband. Since Watts is from Australia, Henderson said that, "Between takes, we'd joke around with each other's accents and play into the whole New Zealand-Australia rivalry."

8. THE TWO WEREN’T SURE IF THE MOVIE WAS GOING TO BE SCARY ENOUGH.

After shooting some of the scenes, and not having the benefit of seeing what they'd look like once any special effects were added, Henderson and Watts worried that the final result would not be scary enough. "There were moments when Naomi and I would look at each other and say, 'This is embarrassing, people are going to laugh,'" Henderson told the BBC." You just hope that somebody makes it scary or you're going to look like an idiot!"

9. CHRIS COOPER WAS CUT FROM THE MOVIE.

Cooper played a child murderer in two scenes which were initially meant to bookend the film. He unconvincingly claimed to Rachel that he found God in the beginning, and in the end she gave him the cursed tape. Audiences at test screenings were distracted that an actor they recognized disappears for most of the film, so he was cut out entirely.

10. THEY TRIED TO GET RID OF ALL OF THE SHADOWS.

Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli used the lack of sunlight in Washington to remove the characters’ shadows. The two wanted to keep the characters feeling as if “they’re floating a little bit, in space.”

11. THE TREE WAS NICKNAMED "LUCILLE."

The red Japanese maple tree in the cursed video was named after the famous redheaded actress Lucille Ball. The tree was fake, built out of steel tubing and plaster. The Washington wind blew it over three different times. The night they put up the tree in Los Angeles, the wind blew at 60 miles per hour and knocked Lucille over yet again. "It was very strange," said Duffield.

12. MOESKO ISLAND IS A FUNCTIONING LIGHTHOUSE.

Moesko Island Lighthouse is Yaquina Head Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Yaquina River, a mile west of Agate Beach, Oregon. The website Rachel checks, MoeskoIslandLighthouse.com, used to actually exist as a one-page website, which gave general information on the fictional place. You can read it here.

13. A WEBSITE WAS CREATED BY DREAMWORKS TO PROMOTE THE MOVIE AND ADD TO ITS MYTHOLOGY.

Before and during the theatrical release, if you logged into AnOpenLetter.com, you could read a message in white lettering against a black background warning about what happens if you watch the cursed video (you can read it here). By November 24, 2002, it was a standard official website made for the movie, set up by DreamWorks.

14. VERBINSKI DIDN’T HAVE FUN DIRECTING THE MOVIE.

“It’s no fun making a horror film," admitted Verbinski. "You get into some darker areas of the brain and after a while everything becomes a bit depressing.”

15. DAVEIGH CHASE SCARED HERSELF.

Daveigh Chase in 'The Ring'
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

When Daveigh Chase, who played Samara, saw The Ring in theaters, she had to cover her eyes out of fear—of herself. Some people she met after the movie came out were also afraid of her.

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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Afternoon Map
European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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