Thanks to the information age we live in your entertainment choices are almost limitless. Any creative endeavor created by the hands of man can be appreciated immediately. Normally I use this amazing power of choice to watch the most puerile crap imaginable day and night. Sometimes, however, I stumble across something that's actually decent. One of those found items is the show Peter Gunn.
Peter Gunn, for those not in the know, was a crime noir show that ran on American television from 1958-61. Not only did Gunn push all my buttons with it's two-fisted action and jazzy soundtrack, but I found it to be an amazing distillation of the television crime procedural that ran when the genre was just starting out. Unlike so many of its paunchy offspring, Gunn was only half an hour long. There were no sub-plots or scenes that went in circles just to kill some time. Instead, the episodes that worked were spot-on and direct in their approach.
While I wish modern crime dramas had that sort of brevity I am glad to see the concept of pre-title sequence violence that was featured in every single episode of Peter Gunn continues to this day. Most any show of this type starts out with a criminal act -usually a murder or a good, thorough beating- that has to be rectified during the course of the show. Even though it was an early practitioner of this formula Peter Gunn had these opening death sequences down to an art. Characters would appear on screen with no explanation for who they were, there would be a wanton act of physical harm and then Henry Mancini's score would start blaring away. People would get shot, fall off of buildings or get shot and then fall off buildings just to get the narrative ball rolling. I knew I was watching a great show when one show opening featured, without any sort of preamble or dialogue, a man getting mauled by a dog. Now that's entertainment.
Shakespeare knew you had to hook an audience right away in order to hold their interest. It's a lesson crime dramas continue with to this day. No matter what the quality of the show is most cannot resist the formula of starting out with a dead body sprawled on the floor or some chump getting hit by a hail of bullets. Probably the best current example of this practice is CSI: Miami. Since the show is about crime scene investigation it's not surprising that it has to open with a crime. But thanks to the absurd storylines and ridiculous editing the show thrives on most every opening is a camp classic. The best opening feature the main character Horatio Caine floating over this week's murder like an angel who just descended from heaven until he adjusts his sunglasses and makes a pun about someone's death right before the the theme song from The Who starts screaming.
Sadly, the creators of CSI: Miami seem to have realized how insane those openings were since they have started toning them down a bit. I feel this is a mistake. These crime drama openings are miniature plays in and of themselves. They feature both the creation of an entire fictional world and someone's death all within the space of a few moments. It's the entire fictional process telescoped into the briefest time possible. When done properly the openings are tiny works of art, like little faberge eggs built out of empty shell casings. Not only do they open the show in the best way possible using the worst sort of circumstances possible but they often are more entertaining than the remainder of the show. The meat of the show often feels like an unnecessary extension of such perfectly structured little openings.