Successful TV show logos aren’t just a sign to the viewer an episode has started. By integrating carefully with the opening credit sequence and theme tune, the best TV show logos can evoke a Pavlov’s Dog-style response, getting you truly excited for the entertainment you’re about to enjoy.
For this post, we’ve selected 10 classic TV show logos that go beyond the norm, with clever use of design that doesn’t just introduce the programme but conveys something meaningful about its content.
Do you agree? If not, feel free to suggest alternative contenders in the comments below!
01. The Muppet Show
Slapstick, absurdist, satirical, outrageous and above all, very funny, the Muppet Show was years ahead of its time. So much so that in the 1970s, American networks wouldn’t touch it, and its producers had to come to British company ATV to get it made.
Based on an old-time variety format, the programme’s whimsical logo is delightfully infused with the spirit of vaudeville. Combining a sense of the ornate with the cartoonish, its design nicely mirrors the conflict within the show’s conceit; between high-minded aspiration and hilarious failure. You can trace the evolution of the various Muppet Show logos .
It’s rare to see M*A*S*H on our screens these days, but for decades its reruns were rarely off the air. This spin-off from the 1970s comedy movie was set during the Korean War but screened at the time of Vietnam, and its anti-authority, anti-war message echoed the mood of many Americans. Plus it was damned hilarious.
The title logo for the TV show makes use of custom stencil lettering and trademark asterisks (which were absent from the movie’s wordmark) to convey a clear sense of military officialdom; the source of much of the show’s comedic antagonism. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the letters stand for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
Anyone who watched TV in the 1980s will be familiar with the Cheers logo, promising half-an-hour of deceptively witty humour in the guise of lowbrow bar-room banter. It was designed by , a three-person LA studio which also designed title sequences for Roseanne, Moonlighting, The X-Files and Frasier.
Combining elements of Victorian and Art Nouveau typography, the painterly design combines the look of a vintage hand-lettered bar sign, completed with a swopping flourish reminiscent of baseball team logos (perhaps a nod to the main character, Sam, being a retired baseball star). The letters themselves are derived from the typefaces Candice (for the ‘C’) and Flamenco Inline (for the rest).
1990s comedy Friends wasn’t just a successful show, it broke the sitcom mould. Rather than revolving around a family home or workplace, it followed a group of wayward twentysomethings struggling to find their way in the world. Less about character or story development than the chemistry between its hip young actors, it was the perfect show for the rootless ‘Generation X’.
The feature an anarchic sequence, in which the characters goof off around a fountain with colourful umbrellas, to a track by The Rembrants. The artfully scrawled, handwrittten Friends logo mirrors their sense of fun and abandonment, while the six coloured dots separating the letters replicate the colours of the six umbrellas used in the scene.
05. The X-Files
Another mould-breaking 1990s show, The X-Files was the thinking person’s sci-fi, revolving around two FBI agents investigating paranormal and extraterrestrial phenomena. It was a huge hit, spanning nine seasons and two feature films, and returned to on our screens for a tenth season in 2016.
Its beautiful logo, designed by the show’s creator Chris Carter, makes brilliant use of a large, distressed figure ‘X’, uncovered by a spotlight in the pitch dark, to denote the shady, secretive nature of their FBI unit. This main graphic element is then bisected by the full title, set in a sleek, modern font that adds a note of sophistication to proceedings, and with the circle around the ‘X’ adding a further touch of mystery.
Long before Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer summoned the spirit of teen angst and gave it the corporeal form of vampires, demons and other monsters, with which its reluctant titular hero had to constantly battle. The seething violence at the heart of the show is mirrored in its logo, with stylishly brutal lettering that conveys the feeling of ancient script.
Incorporating a ‘stake’ motif within the opening letter, and with the ‘f’s conveying a sword and dagger respectively, there’s a real sense of menace to this design, leaving viewers in no doubt that Buffy is not your typical teen drama. It was created by graphic artist Margo Chase of , whose clients include Cher and Madonna, and who also designed the logo for the Buffy spin-off Angel.
Bringing us, in real-time, 24 hours in the life of counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, 24 was one of those early 2000s shows that inspired the idea that ‘TV is the new film’.
Throughout each episode, a countdown clock ticks menacingly on the screen, reminding us of the latest impending disaster and ramping up the tension. The logo simply casts the show’s title in those same glowing LCD numbers; a masterstroke demonstrating that the simple ideas are so often the best.
The complex and increasingly fantastical tale of the survivors of an air crash on an unknown island, Lost was a show designed for water-cooler discussion, as fans earnestly debated what in the heck was going on.
In many ways a metaphor for the post-Cold War era, Lost reflected the fear that America had lost its way in the world as all the old certainties vanished. Its echoes that sense of anxiety, as the distant, ghostly logo floats through a dark, empty space, accompanied by a discordant, ominous sound, going in and out of focus. This hauntingly effective 15-second sequence was developed by JJ Abrams, co-creator of the show, who created it on his laptop.
09. Mad Men
Mad Men was to creative agencies what Life on Mars was to cops; a fond look back to a time when big characters and big ideas ruled the roost, great work was done and political correctness was just a twinkle in the future’s eye.
One of the few blockbuster shows to ever portray branding work seriously, you’d expect it to have great branding of its own, and you weren’t disappointed. Cast in the Helvetica-style font Swiss 721 Heavy, with a punchy red-white colour palette, this sans-serif logo is swilling with Don Draper-style confidence, and hits the right sweet spot between nostalgia and modern sensibilities.
10. Breaking Bad
The hit of the decade, Breaking Bad was the unlikely story of a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who turns to the meth trade to pay for his cancer treatment. With hard science playing a pivotal role in the drama, applying the periodic table treatment to its logo and opening titles was a stroke of genius.
The chemical symbols are cast in a clean and clear font, symbolising the purity and stability of science, while the rest of the words appear in distressed and fragmented letters that convey how broken up Walter’s sense of self becomes as he descends into the rabbit hole of criminality.
(In case you were wondering: the chemical elements denoted, Bromine and Barium, are not used in the manufacture of meth. However, the title sequence does feature the chemical formula for methamphetamine, C10H15N, along with the number 149.24, its molecular weight.)
Fans loved the logo, which adorns countless T-shirts and other merchandise, and it inspired a number of brilliant . And as the ultimate accolade, the show’s main actor Bryan Cranston got it tattooed on his ring finger on the final day of shooting.