Join us here each week my friend

Hardly any TV shows now have a theme song, but where’s the nostalgia in electronic beeps?

JAIME J. WEINMAN July 24 2006

Join us here each week my friend

Hardly any TV shows now have a theme song, but where’s the nostalgia in electronic beeps?

JAIME J. WEINMAN July 24 2006

Join us here each week my friend

Hardly any TV shows now have a theme song, but where’s the nostalgia in electronic beeps?

JAIME J. WEINMAN

tv

Name your favourite current television show. Now try to remember that show’s theme music. These days, there’s a very good chance that even a show that’s top-notch in every other department will have no memorable theme music— or no theme music at all.

Many viewers grew up expecting TV shows to have long title sequences with instantly catchy, memorable music that would define the whole show. Sometimes the music even sported lyrics explaining what the show was about, as with the title songs of Gilliga?ù Island or The Dukes ofHazzard. But many of today’s hit shows get on with the action without stopping for a musical moment. Lost throws its title card on the screen without any real theme music, while 24 makes do with just a few seconds of beeping, z Jon Burlingame, author of the book TVs 3 Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from “Dragnet” to “Friends”, laments the deg dine of the TV theme song. He places a lot of ¡I the blame on the fact that the opening credet its, where theme songs are usually heard, are w too short for a complete theme. “Network ¡Ü executives are scared to death that someone I will change the channel during the opening H credits, which means that most TV themes ¡2 are only 10 seconds long or less,” he says.

Even if today’s producers wanted to have “ a longer title sequence, though, they probat bly wouldn’t have time for it. Commercial V TV shows today are several minutes shorter g than they used to be, and getting shorter; “ there simply isn’t time to tell a story and still 3 devote one or two minutes to a theme song. “ And since networks now run promotional g spots over the end credits of their shows— a which means that the end-credits music is

never heard until a show gets released on DVD—there is no place left for a composer to put an extended piece of music.

But a minute or so spent on a catchy theme tune can make a difference: it can increase the show’s appeal not just at the time, but for all time. The recent movie Mission: Impossible 3 still used the rhythmically tricky tune written for the original show by Lalo Schifrin, a theme that has helped turn a simple adventure show into a long-lasting franchise.

But many producers today don’t necessarily want a new theme tune; the in thing is to license an already-existing song. Instead of commissioning a theme song for the show CSI, producer Jerry Bruckheimer licensed Who Are You by the Who. “I’m angry at shows like the CSI shows,” Burlingame says. “I just don’t think those songs add anything to the experience.” It used to be that an original song would be written for a show and then become a hit; that’s what happened a decade ago with the theme song of Friends. Now producers don’t want to go to all the time and trouble of creating one.

The producers who do want original music frequently don’t want to spend much money recording it. The way a TV theme is orchestrated is often as important as the tune itself; think of The Rockford Files (scored by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter) and its wailing har-

monica. But most shows today don’t have a music budget that allows for real musical instruments; instead, nearly all current TV shows use electronically generated music, which sounds like a bad imitation of a real orchestra. Burlingame thinks that while computerized music can sometimes be effective, it usually defeats the purpose of television music: “Most electronic music is simply cold—and the reason for having music in shows is to create an emotional feeling.”

Some shows here and there have managed to come up with really distinctive-sounding theme songs. CTV’s Corner Gas has a theme that sums up the laid-back rural setting of the show; co-composer Craig Northey says it was supposed to sound “like you could listen to it while you’re driving across the prairie, and clap your hands on the steering wheel.”

But more typical these days is something like the main title theme for House, which isn’t recognizable as a theme at all—just 30 seconds’ worth of a pulsating electronic beat.

It seems likely that TV running times will go on getting shorter, and music budgets will go on getting smaller. So what Burlingame calls “tunes that entered our consciousness” may become even rarer than they are now.

But without a strong theme tune, it can be hard for a show to establish a strong identity that lasts beyond its original network run.

As Peter Scolari said in an episode ofNewhart,

“I can’t enjoy a show unless it has a catchy theme song that explains the premise.” M