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Bullet Points: Gloria Steinem, Opening TV Credits, 'Bad' Episodic TV Titles
August 15, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Lots to cover today: an excellent new HBO biographical study of Gloria Steinem, a new Eric Gould essay analyzing and presenting some of his favorite TV opening title sequences, and a salute to some Breaking Bad cleverness that most AMC viewers don't even get to see...

Gloria Steinem -- Monday night at 9 ET, HBO presents Gloria: In Her Own Words, a one-hour documentary about feminist icon Gloria Steinem. It's one of the strongest HBO documentaries this summer, in a summer that's featured lots of very strong ones.

Steinem, now a proud and still feisty 77, is interviewed anew about her life, and doesn't shy from revealing personal thoughts, drives and regrets. But it's the rest of this hour -- the archival footage and interviews -- that makes In Her Own Words so eye-opening.


The front-line women's lib speeches are pure gold, as, of course, is Steinem's initial shot at media stardom, writing a magazine article in which she went undercover as a Playboy Bunny. Those are expected, though highly entertaining, elements.

But watch, in particular, for the early-1970s vintage news reports and commentaries from the network big boys. The chauvinism and condescension are doled out in equal measure, and in such large doses that the conclusion, while unstated, is unavoidable. You've come a long way, baby.

And a special shout-out to the two figures behind this documentary as well. Producer-director Peter Kunhardt adds this Steinem study to a list of invaluable studies about historical figures --three of them about Kennedys alone (JFK: In His Own Words, Bobby: In His Own Words and Teddy: In His Own Words).

The other producer of Gloria: In Her Own Words is Sheila Nevins, who has run HBO's documentary division for decades, and emerged as the most tasteful and influential specialized network executive since Brandon Stoddard ran ABC's long-form fiction division in the 1980s. A list of some of the superb HBO shows developed and presented by Nevins? It's absurdly long, but here's just a taste, in reverse chronological order:

Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth. In Memoriam: New York City. When the Levees Broke. If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise. Bobby Fischer Against the World. Hot Coffee. And, now, Gloria: In Her Own Words.

Put it this way: In the world of modern television, two people have had more impact on the documentary form, and done more to preserve and champion and expand it, than any others. One is Sheila Nevins, who also runs HBO's family division. The other is Ken Burns.

Opening TV Credits -- TVWW contributor Eric Gould has a new essay that singles out, and raves about, some of his all-time favorite TV series opening credits -- including Dexter, Six Feet Under and Carnivale. Read his latest Cold Light Reader story, and watch videos of almost all the examples he cites, by clicking HERE.


Then add your own examples, because I'm sure people are passionate about their favorite TV theme songs and opening credit sequences. It's a fun game to play, and it's amazing how many of these TV credits sequences, current and vintage, are available on YouTube.

Personally, I used to love the way NBC's St. Elsewhere opened back in the Eighties, just because the combination of its Dave Grusin musical theme and the long procession of talented actors -- David Morse, Denzel Washington, William Daniels, Norman Lloyd, Ed Flanders -- reminded me each week that I was about to enjoy another peerless hour of television.


sopranos-credit.jpgAnd opening credits is another area where HBO's The Sopranos influenced so many great TV shows to come.

Tony Soprano's ride from Manhattan down the New Jersey Turnpike is classic. Edited from later montages, but visible in the early, pre-9/11 sequences, is the World Trade Center. Watch for it in the side-view mirror, as you take that ride to and past Satriale's Pork, in the video shown here:

Oh, and an advance warning to Eric, and to you: Wait until you see the opening credits to FX's upcoming American Horror Story. The music, the images, even the typography -- the word "unprecedented" comes instantly to mind. So do the words "creepy as hell"...

Good 'Bad' Episodic Titles -- Finally, just another shout-out to AMC's Breaking Bad, for extending its creativity even to the titles of individual episodes.

It's an inside joke sorts, because most people watching network and even cable TV never see the titles of individual series episodes. But TiVo lists them as part of their episodic information, and so do some other cable and satellite services -- as well as, of course, DVD releases, if and when the show finally makes it to home video.

This is not a new game, by any means. Back when I Love Lucy was forbidden by CBS to use the word "pregnant," the show title for the 1952 episode, boldly depicting that the Lucy character was expecting, was even more boldly titled "Lucy is Enciente" -- the Spanish word for pregnant. And throughout the run of ABC's Desperate Housewives, for example, each episode title is taken from a song lyric by Stephen Sondheim.


But Breaking Bad is having lots of clever fun in a quite way. The most recent episode, shown Sunday night, was titled "Shotgun." Only after seeing the episode could you enjoy its delicious double meaning. It referred not only to the entire episode, in which Aaron Paul's Jesse sat as a captive passenger in the front seat of Mike's car (right) -- riding "shotgun" -- but also to the weapon wielded by a shadowy figure who approached the car at Mike's final stop.

And the episode before that, called "Bullet Points," had one scene in which Walter's wife, Skyler, taking an increasingly prominent role in his illegal business, painstakingly reviewed the "bullet points" of conversational items to mention as they established their cover story for the source of Walter's drug money. It had another scene in which Walt, just as painstakingly, quizzed Jesse on details about his fatal shooting of Walt's meth-making rival.

How many times did he pull the trigger? Did he leave the casings behind? Walter, in other words, was pursuing "bullet points." Literally.

How very cool. How very good. How very Bad...




jan said:

"Sons of Anarchy" does nice things with episode titles, too. Loved looking at all the title sequences. I'm sorry to say I never watched "St. Elsewhere," especially after all the great things I've read about it, but I couldn't get over the very, very young Howie Mandel (was he listed as Howard??) and David Morse. Had to watch it again just to see those two.

Comment posted on August 15, 2011 11:15 AM
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