BLOG Give Us Some Credit

The news that Syfy’s Alphas hasn’t made it to a third season is sad, not only in terms of jobs lost, but because the cancellation of any sci-fi show is a wee little tragedy. However, while I’m sorry to see it go, there’s one thing about it I won’t miss.

Its opening credits.

Pretty, aren’t they? Now, watch those credits again, and time how long each actor’s name appears on the screen. For many of them, you’re lucky if you can count to one second. Hell, you’re lucky if you even see some of those names on first viewing.

No word-mincing here: the way the actors were treated in the opening credits of Alphas was disgusting. Their names appear so fleetingly they may as well not be there at all. They’re mixed up with other words; placed on busy backgrounds so you can’t read them; even located under the company’s on-screen branding so they’re almost obscured (a fault that should have been corrected after the first episode aired, if anybody could have been bothered).

The message being sent out by these opening credits is that the actors on Alphas don’t matter. They’re not important. Nobody gives a damn who they are and they don’t deserve recognition. And the message has worked, too: with the exception of David Strathairn, who was obviously pretty recognisable beforehand, I couldn’t name a single member of the cast. But I’ve seen all of season one, so I’ve watched those opening credits at least 11 times. Shouldn’t I know who stars in this show by now?

I certainly have no idea what their names are now that they’re out there hunting for more work. Good thing I’m not a producer or a casting agent, eh?

Syfy isn’t the only bad guy here. The BBC, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, get a kind of sick joy from making credits as hard to read as possible – squeezing them into tiny cubes; making them run so quickly you need a pause button; having a preview of next week’s show play over them so that you’re distracted. It has recently got into a bit of trouble over it; it seems that viewers everywhere like to be able to read the list of names at the end of a show, so it’s not just restricted to us geekier souls.

The corporation has agreed that from now onwards, at least one episode from every series will feature end credits in full, and un-fiddled-with. Well, whup de do! That’s big of them, isn’t it? I’m sure it’s a relief to every person who worked so hard on the show that their name will show up at least once a series (gasp!) without being squished to nothingness. They’ll get their credit a single time – how nice! But what about the people that don’t work on every episode? The guest stars, the people who’ve popped in for one week? That doesn’t help them much, does it?

There’s a fascinating PDF you can download from here which is the result of research from British actors’ union Equity on this subject. Two quotes of interest:

The views of performers have frequently been dismissed as nothing more than self-interest, most famously by former BBC 1 controller Lorraine Hegessey who is reported to have said that only actors and their mothers were interested in credits.

And:

In a few weeks 10,020 viewers completed the survey and their message to the broadcasters is that they detest the way TV credits are screened. They have detailed how much they are disgusted by it over the 500 pages of this report.

So we’re not alone. In fact, read the comments from viewers at the end of that PDF: there are many, many more people out there who love credits and hate to see them ruined.

Credits are really important. Don’t treat people who work on shows like strangers, guys: they’re important. Give them the credit that’s due to them and stop pretending audiences don’t give a monkey’s when we really, really do.

Jayne Nelson

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