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Themes to Me, And to Others, That TV Is Missing a Musical Best Bet
September 1, 2009  | By David Bianculli
I love TV theme songs. Always have, and always will, even if more and more networks and TV production companies seem to hate them.jukebox.jpg

This week, I've been quoted, along with TV music master of all knowledge Jon Burlingame, in an article by Mark Dawidziak of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. What Mark has to report about the state of the TV theme song of tomorrow, and remember about the state of them yesterday, is well worth reading...

You can read his main article in yesterday's Plain Dealer by clicking the link HERE. Then you can read his enjoyable sidebar, where he collects the best TV theme songs of all time in various categories, by clicking HERE. That one ought to jog a few memories, and start a few arguments.

And finally, you can click to our TV JUKEBOX page right here on TV WORTH WATCHING, and listen to some of my favorite theme songs, by clicking HERE.

I hope it's all music to your ears. Or eyes...




Davey said:

Personally I can't stand the L&O theme anymore -- I thought it started out too in-your-face and got more grating as time went on.

Otherwise no serious argument about your list. Here are a few I think you left out:

Family Guy -- I think they do way more with music than the Simpsons, including their opening broadway extravaganza. They do the most with music of any show I can think of.

Monk -- Randy Newman's It's a Jungle Out There stands out as a real song that also fits the show's theme perfectly.

Futurama -- I think Danny Elfman's theme here is much more imaginative and interesting than his Simpsons effort. And speaking of Elfman brought to mind his theme for that old horror anthology introduced by the Crypt Keeper -- the name escapes me, but the theme was striking enough to get me to find out who wrote it. I imagine it one of Elfman's earliest efforts.

Battlestar Galactica -- I think the ethereal vocals mutating into a militaristic drum/metal rhythm is the most memorable of all the major scifi shows, including Star Trek. It really let you know that this show is no clone of anything.

Comment posted on September 1, 2009 12:45 PM

Eileen said:

Great article, and the list of all those shows & their themes was a real trip down memory lane.

Missing, however, was one of the greatest themes of all times -- The Honeymooners. Words were written for the theme music, but it was decided just to go with the instrumental. And, not only did the multi-talented Mr. Gleason star in the show, but he wrote the theme as well.

What are the chances of that happening today?

[Slim indeed -- except that Craig Ferguson, a former punk rocker, co-wrote HIS theme song... and newly recorded it for this week's hi-def launch. It's not exactly Gleasonesque, but it rocks. -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 1, 2009 4:30 PM

Joe H said:

And how about "Frolic" - the theme to "Curb Your Enthusiasm"?!

Comment posted on September 1, 2009 4:52 PM

Rich said:

[Bianculli here: This email came in from one of my former TV history students, and reflects his strong interest in, and knowledge of, Japanese pop culture. I think he's earned a guest blog with this well-annotated entry. If I can get him to write about Japanese TV again, that is...]

I totally agree with you about "Dexter", "True Blood", & "Mad Men"

Added Below for anyone Not familiar with them.
"True Blood" - 'Bad Things' - I Love this song!
"Mad Men" - didn't this intro win awards?

AND...I'll also add:
"House", "Chuck", "Fringe" and shows like "Big Bang Theory" & "The Office"- all have recognizable and uniquely original 'modern' themes.

You know who else takes the opening & closing of shows seriously? The Japanese. Artists are born and launched almost overnight by making the theme song for a popular Anime (Anime plays like our Dramas over here!- believe it!).

Case in point, The girl group "Sphere" had the opening and closing themes to last Spring's most popular show "K-On!," and the week their album debuted (4 weeks into this new show) they had the top 4 singles on Japan's J-Pop Top 40. The singers are also the voices on the show, so it had a "Monkees" vibe to it. Imagine this in 3-D.

Most times the song is already so popular that they 'tweak' the Anime's opening characters to fit the song! (TV opens & closes are big musical cash cows for them). The most recent success of this was the use of Alternative Girl group Scandal lending their hit "Shojo S" to the 10th season opening of "Bleach."

Neither of these have anything to do with each other- yet, packaged together, boosted the buzz and rep of both. Japan knows how to 'cross-market' in ways Hollywood has yet to even try.
"Bleach" - season 10 op 'Shojo S' by Scandal:

Sometimes they even use American songs in English for their show's opening. Like the super natural crime thriller "Speed Grapher"- (Imagine "Fringe" meets "NYPD Blue" meets "The Professional")

They have to set the mood, characters, settings, and wow the viewer in about 30-60 seconds, and have to use animation! You think Live Action is limiting??

However, "Glee" on Fox looks like it has found a way to merge audiences for "High School Musical" and "American Idol" to create popular 'New Market' music products. Time will tell this fall.

*Sorry for all the links but I LOVE TV openings - they really can sell the flavor of a show and establish the right mood! While the short version works for "Lost" & "Heroes" it can be done right if taken the proper time and effort. I'd like to see Bianculli's list of TV themes he (or others) loath and despise!!

Comment posted on September 1, 2009 11:52 PM

Curtis said:

Sure it's a good list and sure it doesn't try to be all inclusive...but I can still whistle the Andy Griffith Show theme and I'd bet a lot of other people could, too.

I completely disagree with him that Seinfeld's theme is less than noteworthy. It's a lot more than just sound effects.

Plus he missed two of my favorite themes both by Earle Hagen - "Harlem Nocturne" for East Side, West Side and The Dick Van Dyke Show theme.

And what's wrong with the Barenaked Ladies theme for the Big Bang Theory (maybe that wasn't written for the show - duh)?

Lastly, talking about shortening up the openings of shows, Scrubs used to have a full fledged theme "I'm No Superman" after the first season shortened it to just two and a half bars. About ten seconds of music. Wow!

Comment posted on September 2, 2009 9:51 AM

Marlark said:

Oh, how I love TV Themes songs. I'm the only one I know with an iTouch full of them. Mike Post is the man! But reading that list was enlightening.


Some iTouch ditties in current rotation:

Stingray (Mike Post)
Courtship of Eddie's Father
Miami Vice
Murder One
Odd Couple
Quantum Leap
Wild Wild West
Rockford Files
Pink Panther
Magnum PI
Room 222
All Star Trek shows (except TOS)

A TV Theme song is as much about brand building as a commercial's jingle. When you hear the song, you recall the show -- and what you loved best about it. By shortsightedly removing this component, TV producers are losing out on a valuable equity-builder.

Too bad.

[Good ear. Great list! -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 2, 2009 5:14 PM
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