Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Best TV Crime Drama Openers, #25

Series Title: Police Woman | Years: 1974-1978, NBC | Starring: Angie Dickinson, Earl Holliman | Theme Music: Morton Stevens

I’ve been thinking about doing this for several months now. I almost put it together for The Rap Sheet’s second anniversary in May, but was just too busy with other editorial responsibilities at the time. My original thought was to post, in one mammoth feature, all of what I consider to be the 25 best main title sequences ever created in the American TV crime-drama field--a purely subjective shortlist, to be sure. But after giving it more thought, I decided that it made more sense to break up my list into weekly installments. So, from now until the end of 2008--and at the risk of stepping on Lee Goldberg’s toes--I’ll post an opening sequence from a new or dusty private eye, police, or spy drama every week.

I already know that this venture will be criticized. There’ll be those who complain, “How could you forget about So-and-So,” and others who will grumble that I have not included British TV series in this rundown. Sorry, everyone. We might as well agree from the outset that my selections--honed after a quarter-century of logging too much time in front of a flickering screen--are not those that every one of you might choose. Fine. Feel free to post on your own blog or Web site those shows you think I’ve neglected.

Meanwhile, a brief note about why I picked the 25 program openers you’ll be seeing over the next six months: Some of these series (and I’ve confined myself almost exclusively to American series, because I know those best) weren’t nearly as popular as others, but Nielsen ratings don’t really matter much to me. I am far more interested in whether the main title sequences clearly establish the tone of what’s to follow, both in terms of the music and video employed. A few of these shows I didn’t/don’t watch myself, but I nonetheless recognize the impact of their opening credits. And a handful of programs I would like to have included are missing, simply because I can’t find appropriate video segments anywhere on the Web.

We’re going to start today with a series I rarely tuned in to during its original run, Police Woman. It was apparently inspired in part by the semi-autobiographical book Policewoman: A Young Woman’s Initiation Into the Realities of Justice (1964), written by cop-turned-author Dorothy Uhnak. But it was most obviously a spin-off from a popular NBC-TV anthology series called Police Story (1973-1978), created by author and former Los Angeles policeman Joseph Wambaugh. In a 1974 episode of that series, “The Gamble,” model-actress Angie Dickinson played a female officer who joins the L.A. Police Department’s vice squad and goes after an illegal gambling operation. Dickinson’s character was named Lisa Beaumont, and her squad boss, Lieutenant Bill Crowley, was played by Bert Convy (formerly of The Snoop Sisters).

“Audience reaction was tremendous,” Police Story executive producer David Gerber told television and film critic Richard Meyers, who quotes him in the 1981 book TV Detectives. “And so was mine. We convinced Angie that a series would not get dull because as a vice squad officer she does a different ‘cover’ characterization in each segment. She’s not just playing a fantasy ‘super-chick.” But of course, that’s exactly the sort of role she played--initially, anyway--in her role as the renamed Sergeant Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson. Convy’s part as her superior was taken over in the series by veteran character actor Earl Holliman. Explained Meyers:
What they were doing was flying the face of everything Wambaugh had attempted to achieve with Police Story. On the opening credits alone, there are at least five instances of gunplay or fighting. And in the first season, at least, the writers regularly put Pepper in compromising positions that required deep cleavage here and some naked skin there. The feminist press, which had grown quite large by this time, howled in unison.
Over the course of its four-year run, this series’ flesh and fantasy components were toned down (much to the frustration of some male watchers) in favor of realism and relevancy. However, the urgent, tension-filled tone of the main title sequence persisted. A tremendous advantage was the hard-beating theme music composed by Morton Stevens, an Emmy Award winner who is probably best remembered now for developing the theme for Hawaii Five-O. The opening sequence was worth watching, even for those of us who couldn’t usually stick out the whole hour-long show.


adrian mckinty said...

What about the opening of The Sweeney? Classic seventies Brit thriller, all cars and flares and dodgy hair cuts.

Randy Johnson said...

I like this idea and look forward to your picks. Yes, a list from me would probably be considerably different. That's alright.
It will give us something to talk, argue, about the rest of the year.

Patrick Lennon said...

And I hope we're going to see 'The Streets of San Francisco' again after 35 years. Please.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Adrian, you're right: The introduction to The Sweeney is pretty good. I'd forgotten about it till I saw this kaleidoscopic video:

Nonetheless, I'm trying to stick to American opening titles, since I know those best.

And Patrick, have faith, my friend ...


Anonymous said...

That was so hokey! so 70s! almost painfully dull

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Well, Mr. Anonymous, you're certainly entitled to your opinion. Though the opinions of people who refuse to reveal their identities may have to be taken with a grain of salt ...