August 2, 2014 posted by

Animated Titles for Live-Action TV Shows


What a fun thing it was. Once upon a time it was pretty common for live-action TV shows to have animated openings. Some of them were more like filmed still drawings or graphics, while others were fully animated. Even as a kid, I thought cartoons were the greatest thing on Earth, and would watch almost anything that had drawings that moved. Naturally those animated titles would capture my attention. Sometimes the titles were put on lousy shows, but no matter. I’d just watch the opening, and when it was over I’d find something else to do.

There were way too many of these things to catalogue, so let’s not try. Instead we will present just a small sampling…

Beat the Clock

Beat the Clock survived in different permutations for many, many years. This animated opening was originally done about 1952, but the version here is from a few years later and features an extra bit of animation at the end.

Peter Loves Mary

Titles produced by Playhouse Pictures in 1960. Robert Cannon directs and animates.

Dobie Gillis

This one of the shows were I would actually watch the whole half hour. What a cool opening! Maynard G. Krebbs was my role model. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

The Smothers Brothers Show

Before the Smothers Brothers had their CBS variety show, they starred in this typical 60’s type gimmicky sit-com. Animation from Format Films, 1965.

What’s My Line?

Animated title for the well know game show, circa 1965. What’s My Line had a number of different openings during it’s lengthy run. This particular piece of animation was used for several years, and the music was replaced a few times. Beloved announcer and personality Johnny Olson speaks.

Accidental Family

Format Films had a long association with actor-turned-producer Sheldon Leonard, and did a number of animated titles for his shows. The most famous of these may have been I-Spy. The title for this 1967 sit-com was one of the less famous ones.

My World and Welcome to It

DePatie-Freleng produced the animation for this short lived series in 1969. The title was done by Art Davis. I was a fan of James Thurber from a tender age, so when this show was announced, I was pretty happy. Unfortunately it really wasn’t any too good. The bits of animation from DFE that would appear within the show were what kept me tuning in.


  • The Thurber show was a curio. It could have been an agreeable, well-acted show without a connection to Thurber’s works, but you did get annoyed when “The War Between Men and Women” and “Fables for Our Time” were reduced to flourishes on utterly ordinary sitcom plots.

    The opening titles on UPA’s “Unicorn in the Garden” clearly pointed at a planned series — Why didn’t it happen? The original short story “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” — a series of fleeting fantasies as a middle-aged husband accompanies his wife on a shopping trip — would have lent itself to UPA treatment.

    • My all-time favorite Thurber story from “My World and Welcome To It” was “The Caveman and the Dinosaur”. What was yours?

    • The Thurber show,with all its faults,have a few interesting after stories.Though cancelled,the show would garner two Emmies,one for Best Comedy Series and one for William Windom as Best Actor in a Comedy Series.Windom would do a Thurber one-man touring show for many years after.And an oddball movie starring Jack Lemmon,Barabra Harris & Jason Robards,The War Between Men & Women, was written and directed by folks who worked on the TV show and featured Lisa Gerritson,once again a daughter, forced to watch an animated version of The Last Flower.The film had a brief VHS run but both the show and the movie have never surfaced in the DVD era.

  • Mike:
    How well I remember some of these openings,especially the What’s My Line and the My World and Welcome To It inros.Like you,i also was a James Thurber fan and was also pretty excited when NBC aired it .Also like you ,I was really disappointed by the show,but surprizingly I was also upset when they canceled it.I also remember the Smothers Brothers pre-variety show.The premise was interesting and I”ve always been a SB fan.

    • I remember watching that show on Nick at Nite. Nice to see the guys behind The Alvin Show did that opening.

      By the way, here’s a color version of the “What’s My Line?” intro from the early 70’s!

  • jerry van dyke starring in a show titles “accidental family” … how sadly appropriate.

    • Why appropriate?

  • The mouse on the Beat the Clock title looks a lot like the one in the Preston Blair books.

    • Certainly was an easy day for the animator!

  • Animated openings were good in the golden age of TV, but it felt a bit awkward to go to this retro style in the 90’s. I remember seeing an opening (can’t remember which show….) that had a bewitched like opening style, but felt really strange to me.

    Same goes for movie opening titles from the 70’s-to then current era.

    I still find some animated openings awkard, when the 90’s and 00’s was filled with intros with only their live-action counterparts. I thought animated intros for the most part should stay on cartoons!

    • “Animated openings were good in the golden age of TV, but it felt a bit awkward to go to this retro style in the 90′s. I remember seeing an opening (can’t remember which show….) that had a bewitched like opening style, but felt really strange to me.”

      Was that “The Nanny”?

      “I still find some animated openings awkard, when the 90′s and 00′s was filled with intros with only their live-action counterparts. I thought animated intros for the most part should stay on cartoons!”

      Not me, I was born in a better time for what they did.

  • Great stuff! “Accidental Family” was originally supposed to be called “Everywhere A Chick-Chick” until some network suit decided to change it at the last minute; hence the chicks-and chickens motif. (Or is it “hens” the chickens?) (Urghh…) Are you sure Format made those titles? I always thought De Patie-Freleng did them. By the way, you probably know DFE did the “I Dream Of Jeannie” titles. Variety shows were big on cartoon titles too; you’ve already posted the Carol Burnett and Ernie Ford shows; any chance you could find the Garry Moore and Danny Kaye animated openings? (I suspect that you or someone else may already have posted John Wilson’s titles for Sonny and Cher, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Bobby Vinton, etc; but am not sure where to look for those.) It’s not really a title, but have you seen the animated epilogue (possibly by UPA?) for “Mr. and Mrs. North?” It’s available on some of those P.D. dollar-store videos; just the sort of thing local stations could chop out to squeeze in an extra 15 seconds of commercial time.

    • I am positive that the Accidental Family title is from Format. I used to know Herb Klynn, and he included the title in his resume. He spoke to me a few times about Sheldon Leonard, whom he did a lot of work for. Herb used to also do regular work for Desi Arnaz.

      There’s plenty of animated show openings, so we may do a part two of this post at a later date. The Garry Moore and Danny Kaye openings may be there. I actually have a silent-color workprint of the Danny Kaye one, and almost used it in this post.

    • Here’s a 1965 animated Danny Kaye show opening, with further animation for sponsor S&H Green Stamps!

      – William

  • Ohhhhhhhhhh, I loved ’em, TOO! Reminded me of “Wild Wild West!” Would NEVER sit still for an (hour!) western….but went crazy for that cartoon opening!!!

  • I had forgotten about The Smothers Brothers Show until I saw this opening. Even their theme song sounds familiar now. Also, My World And Welcome To It introduced me to Thurber, so I’m glad they gave the show a try, just for that happy fact.

  • The “Wild Wild West” opening allegedly inspired the 60’s Lone Ranger cartoon (which deserves some research). And who could forget the opening title variations to “The Saint” starring Roger Moore?!

  • Watched many reruns of Dobie Gillis in the 70s. Always thought they were singing “Dobie! wants a gal who’s creamy”. Listening now, it sounds more like “screamy”. Either way makes no sense. And that little fireplug guy, with the fiendish leer, looks nothing like Dwayne Hickman.

    • You were correct with your original guess. They are singing “creamy” (as in creamy skin; soft and smooth). The lyrics were written by creator Max Shulman. Several scripts in the early episodes were adapted from his Dobie Gillis short stories. You might notice the dialogue seems a little more poetic and flowery whenever Shulman has penned the words.

      I also agree about your take on the cartoon Dobie’s “fiendish leer”. It makes him seem a little too mischievous or creepy when he’s peeping through that knothole.

  • “Brought to you by new Hai Karate aftershave and cologne – ‘Be Careful How You Use It’ “.

    – Or you too might end up with an “Accidental Family”.

  • I have no idea who did the animation for it, but I always appreciated the brief cartoon opening of the “Franken & Davis Show” segments on Saturday Night Live in the ’70s. It was a very funny evocation of animated openings of ’60s CBS variety shows.

  • What’s more disturbing about that DOBIE opening: his hideous mutant girlfriends or that vagina-shaped knothole?


  • Could the “What’s My Line” title been done by Jay Ward? Just something about the style looks like it could have been.

  • Any idea who drew the Dobie Gillis opening credits cartoon characters?

  • Thinking of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, BEWITCHED, and I DREAM OF JEANNIE, I started to wonder what was the first show to have animated opening credits. Does anyone have a guess?

    • I think animated titles for TV series could date back as far as I LOVE LUCY (1951) – unfortunately as they were tied into their sponsor (Philip Morris Cigarettes) the original animated openings have been removed from broadcast for syndication. (You can find some on YOU TUBE here’s a link to one: Click Here.). It’s possible some series like LIFE OF RILEY had them even earlier…

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