The Emmy® Awards recognise excellence within various areas of television and emerging media. The Primetime Emmy Award is a symbol of peer recognition from over 15,000 Television Academy members, with each member casting a ballot for the category of competition in their field of expertise. As typography (and other arts related to the alphabet like calligraphy, lettering, graffiti, etc.) are my main focus, I am primarily interested in Outstanding Main Title Design among the many categories.
Below are this year’s six nominees for the Emmy Awards 2015, with the winner at the end of the list. Imaginary Forces’ Emmy for Manhattan is their third Award for Outstanding Main Title Design, after Mad Men and Masterpiece Theatre: The American Collection. Previous nominations include their title sequences for Magic City, Boardwalk Empire, Human Target, Nurse Jackie, The Pacific, and Rubicon. For additional information and links to in-depth interviews with the makers of four of the sequences check the excellent Art of The Title article analysing the sequences. I am taking a look at their typography.
American Horror Story keeps getting nominated for its opening title sequences – the original season was nominated in 2012, American Horror Story: Asylum in 2013, and now American Horror Story: Freakshow. The brainchild of Kyle Cooper, creator of the seminal opening sequence for Se7en, the main titles are of a consistently high quality, imaginative, with their own unique aesthetic, and creepy as hell. This makes it all the more sad that Prologue still did not win that elusive Emmy Award. While the sequence for each new season improves on the previous one, the typography doesn’t. I understand what they are trying to achieve, but the poorly designed font inspired Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s signature Arts & Crafts display sans looks godawful.
The winning titles for Manhattan were not the only nomination for Imaginary Forces. The opening title sequence for Bosch reminds me of the high-concept understated designs of the seventies. Alternating aerial shots and urban scenes from Los Angeles for this crime series, Imaginary Forces created a disconcertingly claustrophobic atmosphere by simply mirroring the footage horizontally. The titles knocked out in the Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk® Condensed typeface, all in capitals, accentuate the horizontal mid-line to great effect. See also Standard CT for an alternative choice.
A classic serif face for a show about the conception and rise of the personal computer, set against the backdrop of the 1980s tech industry? This may seem to be not the most obvious typeface selection by Elastic for Halt and Catch Fire. Yet if you know your graphic design history, you are familiar with the popularity of the Bembo® typeface back in those days, thanks to the groundbreaking album cover art by British designers like Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett, and the œuvre of Why Not Associates a little later. So this makes the chiseled letters by Stanley Morison after Francesco Griffo a knowledgeable choice, better than any pedestrian “computer” font could be.
Another classic serif face was used in the main title sequence for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, a 4-part miniseries about a woman unravelling in a picture-perfect small town tucked away in New England. yU+co took the impressionistic approach, stringing together images that combine into a suggestive narrative. The Adobe Caslon™ typeface, the contemporary yet organic revival of the 18th century transitional face, set in small caps lends the sequence a literary feel, referencing the novel that served as source material for the series.
Much like the splashing chianti wine creating the protagonists for Hannibal, Elastic’s minimalist main title sequence has blood oozing over unseen shapes to reveal the main characters of Marvel’s Daredevil – images of New York City, and finally the horned vigilante. Again, very classic typography, what looks like a distressed version of the Adobe Garamond™ typeface. Or Garamond Premier™. Or some other Garalde.
As Art of the Title points out, Imaginary Forces’ winning main title sequence for Manhattan seems to reference other well-known sequences, from The Conversation to Six Feet Under to Rubicon and even Dexter. Typographically speaking there is nothing new under the sun, just like the other sequences in fact. Through overuse the now ubiquitous Gotham has gained the position the Trajan™ typeface once held, just like Trajan became the Arial font of movies and television somewhere along the line. While outstanding work is being done in the field of title sequence design, the typography seems to be trailing behind, with safe choices greatly outnumbering the rare innovative solution.
Header image Televisions by Sacha Leclair
Trademark attribution notice Arial and Bembo are trademarks of The Monotype Corporation registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Akzidenz-Grotesk is a trademark of Berthold Types Limited. Adobe Caslon, Adobe Garamond, Garamond Premier and Trajan are trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated which may be registered in certain jurisdictions. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.