EmmyWatch: ‘Main Title’ Mania

Out of all the seemingly hundreds of Emmy categories, the one that most engages me is Outstanding Main Title Design. It may come as a shock (to no one) that I am an extremely visual person. I love the juxtaposition of simple imagery working in concert with tight editing to give the viewer just a small taste of what the series has to offer. More often than not, the main titles are superior to the actual entity they introduce, proving the adage that less is indeed more.

How can you not think of great shows like Cheers, The Simpsons, True Detective, or Game of Thrones and not have images of their main titles come to mind? The amiable mood setting of Cheers‘s antique imagery. The rapid-fire character introductions of The Simpsons. The eerie and psychedelic imagery of True Detective. The ingenious world definition of Game of Thrones. These are all great examples of main titles who serve a very specific purpose – to integrate you into the world of their TV show – over the simple introduction of their stars.

First appearing in the early 1990s, the Outstanding Main Title Design category has recognized such shows as ER, The X-Files, Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Mad Men. This year’s crop of nominees include several brilliant additions to the roster, and any one of the nominees could conceivably win without shame. Here are this year’s nominees accompanied by a brief analysis of what makes them great and their chances of winning the completely uncoveted prize.

American Horror Story: Freak Show

The AHS anthology series has received two nominations previously without a win, something of a surprising fact given the expert jump-cut editing on display in each of their nominations. Season Three’s Coven titles failed to even garner a nomination, paving the way for Season Four’s Freak Show to rocket to the top of the potential winners list. Frankly, it’s time to reward the series for its achievements in the Main Title Design arena, and Freak Show‘s titles are simply astonishing. The psychotic love child of Tim Burton and Freddy Krueger, the Freak Show titles are a masterpiece of macabre art. The expertly rendered stop-motion animation is paired with brilliant, vibrant colors to produce an intense introduction to the dark work of Ryan Murphy’s freakish creation. The only problem with the credits? They’re far scarier and more memorable than the show itself – particularly the die-cast clown holding the blood red balloon. This is the Freak Show of my dreams and nightmares. It is the heart and soul of the show. It should be recognized with a win.


Bosch, a show I admittedly do not watch, features brilliantly photogenic main titles that, if paused, could be printed and framed to hang on any art galleries’ wall. Exploring duality of character and location, the main titles feel like someone has taken a image and folded over on itself which is an unique and interesting perspective. I have literally no idea if the titles thematically echo the show (I assume they do, you tell me), but they vastly one-up all the aerial shots of Los Angeles in True Detective Season Two. Bosch is a very strong contender to win as well if scary clowns isn’t your thing.

Halt and Catch Fire

AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire offers sparks of electricity (ingenuity?) coming together in a sea of red to form a microchip in this 80s-inspired opening. These main titles are perfectly serviceable and mildly interesting but fail to really offer anything particularly different or memorable about them. As soon as I watched them, they kind of faded away. Not bad by any means, the titles are still rather ordinary and uninspired, which is ironic given the subject matter of the show it introduces.


WGN America’s Manhattan always seemed like one of those shows I should be watching but never had the time to dig into. The opening credits vastly underscore that opinion as they introduce the series in an eerie, nearly completely black and white collection of imagery blending 50s-era social graces (cooking, dancing, and other forms of etiquette) with plans for the Manhattan project. It immediately calls to mind classic animation re-purposed in such a way as to innocently introduce the show’s deadly theme. The closing shot of people drawn together in a circle like molecules to an atom is breathtaking. Again, these credit could be a dark horse to win if you’re going on ingenuity and degree of difficulty alone. And if you really don’t like scary clowns.

Marvel’s Daredevil

Netflix’s Daredevil opening credits appear deceptively simple on the surface but grow in complexity as you consider all their implications. First, it becomes a representation of how the world would appear to a blind man given a kind of second sight through special abilities. Second, it underscores the recurring theme of social and political justice rampant throughout the hard-hitting series. Third, it reminds you that this is not a series for children as it literally coats everything in blood, much like the series itself. And fourth, it introduces a likeness of the classic Daredevil character much earlier than the series itself does, something fanboys no doubt love about the main titles. Daredevil is an unsung and underrated series, and the main titles will likely suffer a similar fate. That doesn’t detract, though, from its stark and unsettling beauty.

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, credits available here, are the most traditional credits of the bunch. That’s not a knock against them, understand, but they have strong roots in other great opening credits from HBO. A series of simple images that have connection points into the miniseries, the Olive Kitteridge opening credits set the tone for the mini as much as any of the other nominated credits do. It blends the melancholy imagery of the powdered sugar with the stark sensation of a Maine winter. It finds beauty in the mundane – the flower constructed from pills. It offers several images of circles to refer to the cyclical nature of Olive’s life – winter to spring to summer to fall and back again. It shows the simple pleasures of laying on the grass beneath the warm sun, and it provides the day-to-day trappings of boots and boats that round out a day in the life of Olive Kitteridge. Being the most traditional of the bunch may be an enviable attribute to the credits: Olive Kitteridge is the second-most nominated series of the bunch (second only to AHS: Freak Show), and this may be one another one that Olive takes home.


Who Should Win: American Horror Story: Freak Show

Who Will Win: Olive Kitteridge by a nose

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