STATEMENT THAT APPEARS AT THE BEGINNING OF ALL A-Z 2016 PAGES:
Welcome to the A-Z Classic TV Shows Theme Songs and Intros! Last year I did an A-Z Musical Tour of My Life and featured tons of classic rock music. I had so much fun with it that this year I decided to present classic television shows theme songs and intros. These are shows that I remember from my youth during the 60s and 70s…with an occasional 80s show thrown in. Each show is introduced with information (gathered primarily from my favorite go-to for info, Wikipedia) or associated memories, followed by a video of the TV show’s theme song intro. At first glance, the posts may seem long because of the number of videos included but it’s really laid out in a way that will enable you to scroll through and read, watch or hear just what you want and then either move on to the next A-Zer or linger and go back in time with all the fun theme song intros you’ll find here. Please leave a comment and share your favorite classic TV shows. By all means, bookmark my blog so you can come back! I hope you enjoy my collection. Now, let’s get started with…
U is for Underdog:
There aren’t many TV shows that start with the letter U, and at first I couldn’t think of any in the classic genre so I decided to include the classic cartoon Underdog as my pick for the letter. Because I used a cartoon, I decided to go back and add in the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Scooby Doo, the Pink Panther and the Archies for their respective letters. After all, classic cartoons rule too!
Underdog is an American animated television series that debuted October 3, 1964, on the NBC network under the primary sponsorship of General Mills and continued in syndication until 1973 (although production of new episodes ceased in 1967), for a run of 124 episodes.
Underdog, Shoeshine Boy’s heroic alter ego, appears whenever love interest Sweet Polly Purebred is being victimized by such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff. Underdog nearly always speaks in rhyming couplets, as in “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” His voice was supplied by Wally Cox.
Underdog started out as an advertising icon for General Mills cereals: In 1959, handling the General Mills account as an account executive with the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency in New York, W. Watts Biggers teamed with Chet Stover, Treadwell D. Covington, and artist Joe Harris in the creation of television cartoon shows to sell breakfast cereals for General Mills. The shows introduced such characters as King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, and Underdog. Biggers and Stover contributed both scripts and songs to the series. When Underdog became a success, Biggers and his partners left Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to form their own company, Total Television, with animation produced at Gamma Studios in Mexico. In 1969, Total Television folded when General Mills dropped out as the primary sponsor (but continued to retain the rights to the series until 1995; however, they still own TV distribution rights through The Program Exchange). Interesting, huh?
So just who was this character Underdog? Underdog was an anthropomorphic superhero. The premise was that “humble and lovable” Shoeshine Boy, a cartoon dog, was in truth the superhero Underdog. George S. Irving narrated, and comedy actor Wally Cox provided the voices of both Underdog and Shoeshine Boy. When villains threatened, Shoeshine Boy ducked into a telephone booth, where he transformed into the caped and costumed hero, destroying the booth in the process when his super powers were activated. Underdog almost always spoke in rhyme:
When Polly’s in trouble (or When help is needed), I am not slow,
For it’s hip-hip-hip and AWAY I GO!!!
Underdog’s most frequent saying when he appeared was:
There’s no need to fear–
Underdog is here!
The majority of episodes used a common template as the final scene. A crowd of people looking up into the sky would say, “Look in the sky!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s a bird!” After this, an old woman wearing glasses would exclaim, “It’s a frog!” Another onlooker would respond, “A frog?!?” To this, Underdog replied with these words:
Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
It’s just little old me … [at this point, Underdog would crash into something, then sheepishly finish] Underdog.
Underdog usually caused a lot of collateral damage. Whenever someone complained about the damage, Underdog replied:
I am a hero who never fails;
I cannot be bothered with such details.
The villains almost always managed to menace Sweet Polly Purebred (voiced by Norma MacMillan), an anthropomorphic canine TV reporter, as part of their nefarious schemes; she was a helpless damsel in distress most of the time and had a habit of singing in a somewhat whining tone of voice, “Oh where, oh where has my Underdog gone?” This she would sing, to the music of the song “Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone”, whenever in jeopardy. Recurring villains included:
Simon Bar Sinister, voiced by Allen Swift, is a mad scientist with a voice reminiscent of Lionel Barrymore. He has an assistant named Cad Lackey. A Bar Sinister is a diagonal line, running from top right to bottom left on medieval family crests, indicating the person is a bastard by birth; this was a clever inside joke typical of animation writing at the time.
Riff Raff, also voiced by Allen Swift, is an anthropomorphic wolf gangster based on noted actor George Raft. His gang consists of Sandy the Safecracker, Mooch (the underworld syndicate’s top gunman), Spinny Wheels (who drives the gang’s getaway car), Dinah Myte (the underworld syndicate’s greatest bomb tosser), Nails the Carpenter, Needles the Tailor, Smitty the Blacksmith, the Witch Doctor, and other unnamed members.
Other villains included The Electric (Slippery) Eel, Battyman, Tap-Tap the Chisler, and Overcat. Underdog also regularly faced enemies from alien worlds, such as the Marbleheads from Planet Granite, the Magnet Men of the Magnet Planet, the aliens from the Planet of Zot, and the Flying Sorcerers of the Saucer Planet.
Then I remembered another U classic: The Untouchables!
U is for The Untouchables:
The Untouchables is an American crime drama that ran from 1959 to 1963 on the ABC Television Network, produced by Desilu Productions. Based on the memoir of the same name by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, it fictionalized Ness’ experiences as a Prohibition agent, fighting crime in Chicago in the 1930s with the help of a special team of agents handpicked for their courage, moral character, and incorruptibility, nicknamed the Untouchables. The book was later made into a film in 1987 (also called The Untouchables) by Brian De Palma, with a script by David Mamet, and a second less-successful TV series in 1993.
A powerful, hard-hitting action drama, and a landmark crime series, The Untouchables won series star Robert Stack an Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series in 1960.
The series originally focused on the efforts of a real-life squad of Prohibition agents employed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and led by Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), that helped bring down the bootleg empire of “Scarface” Al Capone, as described in Ness’s bestselling 1957 memoir. This squad was nicknamed “The Untouchables”, because of their courage and honesty; they could not be bribed or intimidated by the Mob. Eliot Ness himself had died suddenly in May, 1957, shortly before his memoir and the subsequent TV adaptation were to bring him fame beyond any he experienced in his lifetime.
The pilot for the series was a two-part episode entitled “The Untouchables” originally aired on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse on April 20 and 27, 1959. Later retitled “The Scarface Mob”, these episodes, which featured Neville Brand as Al Capone, were the only episodes in the series to be more-or-less directly based on Ness’s memoir, and ended with the conviction and imprisonment of Capone. CBS, which had broadcast most of Desilu’s television output since 1951 beginning with I Love Lucy, was offered the new series following the success of the pilot film. Chairman William S. Paley rejected it on the advice of network vice president Hubbell Robinson. ABC agreed to air the series, and The Untouchables premiered on October 15, 1959. In the pilot movie, the mobsters generally spoke with unrealistic pseudo-Italian accents, but this idiosyncratic pronunciation was dropped when the series debuted.
The weekly series first followed the premise of a power struggle to establish a new boss in Capone’s absence (for the purpose of the TV series, the new boss was Frank Nitti, although this was contrary to fact). As the series continued, there developed a highly fictionalized portrayal of Ness and his crew as all-purpose crime fighters who went up against an array of gangsters and villains of the 1930s, including Ma Barker, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano, and in one episode, Nazi agents.
The terse narration by gossip columnist Walter Winchell, in his distinctive New York accent, was a stylistic hallmark of the series, along with its melancholy theme music by Nelson Riddle and its shadowy black-and-white photography, influenced by film noir.
The show drew harsh criticism from some Italian-Americans including Frank Sinatra, who felt it promoted negative stereotypes of them as mobsters and gangsters. The Capone family unsuccessfully sued CBS, Desilu Productions, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation for their depiction of the Capone family. Early in the first season, the character of “Agent (Rico) Rossi”, a person of Italian extraction, was added to Ness’s team.
On March 9, 1961, Anthony Anastasio, chief of the Brooklyn waterfront and its International Longshoremen’s Association, marched in line with a picket group who identified themselves as “The Federation of Italian-American Democratic Organizations.” In protest formation outside the ABC New York headquarters, they had come together to urge the public boycott of Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company (L&M) products including Chesterfield King cigarettes, which sponsored The Untouchables. They expressed displeasure with the program, which to them vilified Italian-Americans, stereotyping them as the singular criminal element. The boycott and the attendant firestorm of publicity had the effect Anastasio and his confederates wanted. Four days after the picket of ABC, L&M, denying that they had bowed to intimidation, announced it would drop its sponsorship of The Untouchables, maintaining their decision was based on network-scheduling conflicts. The following week, the head of Desilu, Desi Arnaz (who had attended high school with Capone’s son Albert), in concert with ABC and the “Italian-American League to Combat Defamation”, issued a formal three-point manifesto:
There will be no more fictional hoodlums with Italian names in future productions.
There will be more stress on the law-enforcement role of “Rico Rossi”, Ness’s right-hand man on the show.
There will be an emphasis on the “formidable influence” of Italian-American officials in reducing crime and an emphasis on the “great contributions” made to American culture by Americans of Italian descent.
The series also incurred the displeasure of the powerful director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, when the fictionalized scripts depicted Ness and his Treasury agents involved in operations that were actually the province of the FBI. The second episode of the series, for example, depicted Ness and has crew involved in the capture of the Ma Barker gang, an incident in which the real-life Ness played no part. The producers agreed to insert a spoken disclaimer on future broadcasts of the episode stating that the FBI had primary responsibility for the Barker case.
The Untouchables was considered one of the most violent television shows when it aired and was described by the National Association for Better Radio and Television “not fit for the television screen”.
In an article titled “The New Enemies of ‘The Untouchables'” Ayn Rand argued that the persistent, superficial attacks received by The Untouchables were due to its appeal and its virtues: its moral conflict and moral purpose.
There are a ton of Untouchables episodes available on YouTube. Here’s a sample intro:
U is for Unsolved Mysteries:
Here’s another U show that starred Robert Stack. This is a later show than most of my others but it started in the 80s so I’m going to include it here. Besides I’ve always liked this show.
Unsolved Mysteries is an American television program, hosted by Robert Stack from 1987 to 2002 and later by Dennis Farina starting in 2008. The show was broadcast first as specials in 1987, then as a regular series on NBC (1988–1997), CBS (1997–1999), Lifetime (2001–2002), and Spike (2008–2010). Lifetime once again airs the revived version of the series, but only in reruns.
This is cool: Although the show is not in production, Cosgrove-Meurer Productions maintains a website for the show, featuring popular accounts and still unsolved crimes (murder or missing persons), with a link to an online form should a viewer have information on an unsolved crime.
Currently, the show maintains a YouTube page where viewers can submit their own mysteries. If accepted, Unsolved Mysteries will post a video of the viewer describing the mystery.
History of the show: Unsolved Mysteries used a documentary format to profile real-life mysteries and featured re-enactments of unsolved crimes, missing persons cases, conspiracy theories and unexplained paranormal phenomena (alien abductions, ghosts, UFOs, and “secret history” theories). Actors portrayed the victims, perpetrators and witnesses. In most cases, however, victim’s family members and police officials were also featured in interview segments interspersed throughout the dramatizations.
The concept was created in a series of three specials produced by John Cosgrove and Terry-Dunn Meurer, which were pitched to NBC in 1985 and shown in 1986 with the title, “Missing… Have You Seen This Person?” The success of the specials led Cosgrove and Meurer to broaden the program to include mysteries of all kinds.
The pilot of what eventually became Unsolved Mysteries was a special that aired on NBC on January 20, 1987 with Raymond Burr as host/narrator. Throughout the 1987-1988 television season, six more specials aired, the first two hosted by Karl Malden and the final four by Robert Stack.
In 1988, the show debuted as a weekly series on NBC. It declined in popularity after the 1993–1994 season. Until 2002, it was hosted by Stack. In its second season on CBS in 1999, Stack was joined by co-host Virginia Madsen. Episodes from 1994–1997 featured journalist Keely Shaye Smith and television host Lu Hanessian as correspondents in the show’s “telecenter”, where they provided updates on previous stories. A March 14, 1997 episode featured journalist Cathy Scott in the reenactment of rapper Tupac Shakur’s 1996 unsolved murder. The last original segment aired on September 20, 2002. Eight months later, on May 14, 2003, Robert Stack died of heart failure. In 2008, television network Spike revived the series with Dennis Farina as its host. Farina died from a pulmonary embolism in 2013.
The show was known for its eerie theme song composed by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin, and for Stack’s grim presence and ominous narration. The theme song was changed four times, in 1993, 1995, 1997, and 2001. When it was revived in 2008, the theme and incidental music used were changed to up-beat rock music.
Each episode of Unsolved Mysteries usually featured three or four segments, each involving a different story. The show’s host offered voice over narration for each segment, and appeared on-screen to begin and end segments and offer segues.
While the show was in production, viewers were invited to telephone, write letters or, in the newer broadcasts, submit tips through their website if they had information that might help solve a case. The segments all involved actual events, and generally fell into one of four categories:
Criminal cases: Accounts of abductions, suspicious deaths, homicides, robberies, claims of innocence, missing persons and other miscellaneous unsolved cases where the suspects were either unknown or could not be located.
Lost loves: Accounts of individuals trying to reunite with someone from their past; often involving closed adoption, people separated by circumstances, or an unknown “Good Samaritan” that saved someone’s life.
Unexplained/Alternative history: Alternative theories of history (including the theories that outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy did not die as history recorded, that the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov survived the 1918 regicide that killed her entire family, that the assassination of Louisiana senator Huey Long may have been an accident, that the assassination of Martin Luther King was in fact a conspiracy, and that Kurt Cobain may have been murdered).
Paranormal matters: Accounts of miracles, alleged UFO/alien encounters (including examination of the Roswell UFO Incident and the Phoenix UFO Incident, the UFO incident in Eupen, Belgium observed by NATO fighter jets, or scientific questions about life on Mars), ghosts, Bigfoot, or other inexplicable phenomena.
Viewers were given updates on success stories, where suspects were brought to justice and loved ones reunited.
Here’s a 1990 intro with Robert Stack, with the ominous theme song:
Did you watch any of these shows? Can you think of any other U shows? What are your favorite TV shows, past and present?