‘Dallas’s’ Grand Opening

Dallas, opening credits, three-way split, title

Three, three, three

Here’s how I know “Dallas’s” opening credits are special: My husband Andrew never fast-forwards through them.

Andrew watches “Dallas” on DVD, which is how he has consumed a lot of other classic television over the years. With those other shows, whether it’s “Star Trek” or “Sex and the City,” Andrew almost never sits through the opening credits. As he puts it, once you’ve heard Captain Kirk explain the Enterprise’s five-year mission or seen Carrie Bradshaw get splashed by that bus, you really don’t need to experience it again.

For Andrew, “Dallas” is different. He says the title sequence is an essential part of the viewing experience because it puts you in the right frame of mind for each episode.

I agree, of course. For my money, “Dallas” title sequence is television’s all-time best. Jerrold Immel’s driving theme music is a huge part of the credits’ appeal, but so is the iconic three-way split screen used during most of the show’s run.

The sequence was designed by Wayne Fitzgerald, whose other credits include the opening titles for series such as “Matlock” and “Quincy” and movies like “The Godfather, Part II” and “Chinatown.”

“Dallas” is his masterpiece.

The scenes Fitzgerald chose are perfect because they depict the real-life Dallas in all its contradictory glory. He shows us how the city is big enough to host a major-league football team, but raw enough that tractors still roam its countryside. It’s home to glass skyscrapers and long stretches of highway, but it also has herds of cattle and soggy oil fields.

The three-way split screen is also ideal for the cast shots because it signals how multi-faceted the characters are. The images often change from season to season, but we usually see Linda Gray smiling nicely in one screen, while looking pensive and sultry in the other two. For several seasons, Patrick Duffy is depicted as a shirtless grimacer, a cowboy-hatted yelper and a butterfly-collared worrier.

Larry Hagman is usually all smiles in his screens — which is entirely appropriate, since J.R. grins whether he’s savoring a sweet victory or knifing an enemy in the back — while Victoria Principal’s middle screen is almost always that same shot of her walking across a Southfork pasture wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans.

“Dallas’s” titles carry other meanings too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the shape of each actor’s middle screen suggests the sloped angles of an oil derrick. More obviously, the titles also let the audience know which actors and characters to invest in.

For example, we know it’s time to start paying closer attention to Sue Ellen and Ray when Linda Gray and Steve Kanaly are added to the credits at the beginning of the second season. Similarly, Ken Kercheval — like Gray and Kanaly, a regular from the beginning — finally gets the title-sequence treatment during the third season.

“Dallas” throws viewers for a loop toward the end of its run, when producers abandon the split-screen in favor of a single shots. Ho-hum. Producers also begin adding actors to the credits the moment they arrive on the show. It doesn’t feel like “Dallas.”

TNT apparently hasn’t decided how to handle the opening credits for its new “Dallas” series, which will debut in June. Jason Matheson, a Minneapolis TV and radio host and a huge “Dallas” fan, raised the question on Twitter last week, prompting a debate over whether TNT should revive the sliding split-screen or find a fresh design for the titles.

I’ll respect whatever decision TNT makes, but it would be a lot of fun to see a new version of those iconic titles.

After all, the classic “Dallas” had television’s grandest opening — and that’s not the kind of thing you close the door on lightly.

What’s your favorite part of “Dallas’s” opening credits? Share your comments below and read more features from Dallas Decoder.