Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Do you miss TV theme songs?

It’s been happening for years: theme songs have been disappearing from TV shows. Now, Variety is reporting that the Emmys will no longer honor theme music, because there’s just not enough of it anymore:

The Academy announced Monday that the main title theme category would be eliminated effective next year, and replaced by the new “music composition for a non-fiction program” award.

“This change was made due to the decreasing number of traditional television main title theme music,” the org said.

Indeed, TV themes virtually disappeared in the late 1990s, as networks experimented with ways to keep viewers from flipping channels. Just as they squeezed out closing credits, played with start and stop times (like last week’s 9:28 p.m. scheduling of “Glee”) and worked to seamlessly blend from one show to the next, webheads also dramatically reduced opening credit segments — or got rid of them all together.

The outrage over the new arrangement of the Doctor Who theme suggests that viewers still do care about theme music. But no one asked our opinion on the matter of deleting theme music from TV shows in the first place.

Do you miss TV theme songs? What are some of your favorites, past and present? (Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy runs down some of her current faves… but she includes the new Doctor Who theme, so I don’t know how much we can trust her judgment.) If you have to pick an existing piece of music to become the theme for a show that doesn’t have one, what would you pick?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
  • Isobel

    I like my theme music, in general, if it’s relevant (like the old NuWho theme – so perfect!). Music is so good at creating atmosphere and an almost subconcious feel for what the show is about when it’s done well, it seems a shame to waste the power of a good theme tune.

    Past favourites include Buffy; the old NuWho theme; the DUFF-DUFF-da-da-da-da-duff-duff bit at the end of Eastenders episodes (I haven’t watched Easties in years, but I think they still do that); BSG (both the title music and the closing credits drum bit) and True Blood.

  • amanohyo

    I still listen to the Perfect Strangers theme song every couple years (usually when I’m getting ready to move). Sometimes the radio station at work plays the Golden Girls or Cheers theme, but I was never a big fan. Sanford and Son, now that’s a theme song.

    And of course, like any child of the 80’s, I enjoy the nostalgia factor of various cartoon/kids show theme songs: Duck Tales, Rescue Rangers, Transformers, He Man, Mask, Gummi Bears, Winnie the Pooh, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, *cough* JemandSheRa *ahem*, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Voltron, GI Joe, Smurfs, Reading Rainbow, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, The A Team, MacGuyver, Quantum Leap, The Wonder Years, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma, Kimagure Orange Road, Jana of the Jungle, Johnny Quest, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters…oops I left the 80’s.

    Anyway, I never listen to those stupid theme songs anymore… I’m waaay too mature for that stuff now… pssh, I almost don’t even remember every single word of every single song. Theme songs are totally lame.

  • RyanT

    I *love* TV theme songs. I hate this new trend (please let it be just a trend) of just displaying a title card or whatever. It works sometimes, like Lost, but I really miss them.

  • Lisa

    I miss the Dr Who theme! you always used to listen to the old one cos it would gee you up for the episode – mostly I hit the next chapter button so I don’t have to listen to them.

  • i often would sit through opening credits just for the theme (Buffy was one, Angel another — just loved that deep, mournful cello on that). i’m *less* likely to change the channel if i like the theme. StarGate: SG1 had a great theme, i bought the a 3-CD set of Inspector Morse to have the theme anytime i wanted (another cello). i can’t not listen to the Doctor Who theme (don’t care for the brand new theme arrangement though it doesn’t make me violent either). then, of course, there are the theme songs — Addams Family being the prime example of a song that gets in your head and *never gets out!*

    yes, i think i miss theme songs.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Amanohoyo: For me it’s “The Littlest Hobo” every time I’m moving.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PINxfouNQFw&feature=related

    I grew up on the power-rock chords of 80’s cartoons. I think the combination of a strong theme-song nd well-animated opening segments (Especially compared to the rest of the show), give the 80’s cartoons more nostalgic value than they deserve.

    But yeah, I’m sure we’ll see a resurgence someday. Everything old is new again.

  • Magess

    I don’t know if I overall love or hate theme music. I think it depends entirely on how a show is first presented to me and then the quality of the music itself.

    Psych, for instance, had a theme song from the start, written for the show. And it wouldn’t be the same show when they change. Lately they have changed it up a little, and I actually find it quite jarring.

    I like the old NuWho theme, but not the new one.

    Supernatural doesn’t have a theme, but I’m cool with that. They use music internally. And the show never had a theme, so I don’t feel like it’s missing.

    I can’t even recall what BSG had. I know they paid a lot of attention to music internally, as does Caprica. If the new award model would give awards to the Caprica guy who wrote a frickin opera for one scene, then that seems like a good use of an award to me.

    I guess it just depends on how the theme is being used by a show whether or not it means something to me. Can you imagine Airwolf without its theme? Or the A-Team? Somehow the music became part of the icon.

    When they put Blood Ties on DVD, they ADDED a theme song. Who does that? And it was terrible and made me laugh every time. So… I dunno. I think it just depends on how a show presents itself and always has presented itself and then the quality of the song itself whether I’m pro or con. :)

  • Monk was an example where they started the first season with theme music, then added a randy newman song the second season. unfortunately, i liked the RN song much better than the show after season two. i still sometimes sing it in my head. but Monk got really bad after season two, so i never watched it anymore. a wasted theme song then.

  • drewryce

    The Wire. Is there a better recent example of what a theme song adds to the impact of the series?
    FYI, take a gander at the credits for some of the old timers. Bill Lava, just to pick one, has maybe 700 credits including some of the most memorable TV themes of his era (Zorro, F-Troop, Cheyenne, etc.)

    The industry is lessened by this loss.

  • JoshDM

    I’ll take the yet-to-be-mentioned GILL-I-FUCKIN’-GAN’S ISLAND FOR THE WIN, ALEX!

    What is wrong with you people not even mentioning that thing. I can recite the whole song from memory, including the credits continuation, the additional verses from the pilot/movie, and the alterations that excise Professor, Maryann, and “next week”.

  • JoshDM

    Also, drew is correct with The Wire. Been watching Breaking Bad, which is unremarkable, using some low music across on some interesting chemistry theme cards, and contrasting it with Weeds, which used to use Little Houses (a later season, the music was done by various artists) till the recent seasons when the show moved to the coast and started just incorporating the show name into specific-episode-relevant imagery.

    I miss Little Houses. Loved the last few uses of it though with the flaming Sheltie.

  • Amy

    I love theme music and think it is a shame it is fading out of use.

    There are so many good ones. I have to give more love for Buffy. Even watching it on DVD, I will always watch the opening credits.

    I adore BSG’s theme music as well. And the NuWho theme (haven’t heard the new-new theme yet) I like the CSI Who-inspired rock themes a whole lot. And of course the iconic Law and Order theme.

    Old school themes that stick with me – Night Court, The Jeffersons, Gilligan’s Island leap immediately to mind.

    amanohyo hit all the good cartoon themes.

    When theme music is done well it sets the tone for the show, becomes part of it and adds a layer of emotion and connection. Music touches us in a different way than story, but the 2 are linked, and can make for a deeper, layered experience.

  • Kathy A

    I do love theme songs–they get me in the mood to watch the show, and I love seeing what shots they choose to depict their lead characters. Currently, the only shows I watch with actual theme songs are Doctor Who (love the S4 version, with the driving bass line) and NCIS (which is catchy enough, but not memorable).

    BSG was probably my favorite one of recent vintage, with the haunting melody and pulsing drum line.

    But my favorites are the old-school Mission: Impossible and Hawaii 5-O

  • Lisa

    BSG was great but the uk one (I think) not the American one. The one that started with the ethereal music and Caprica then ended up going into the drums and clips of the episode to come – that was kickass.

    The Sopranos had a great opening music – that’s a great song. NYPD Blue – with the chinese dragon and the drums again!

    The Wire was always next chapter for me – that’s a depressing song.

    Star Trek ng had a thrilling theme tung I liked it better than DS9 and Voyager which were a bit ponderous. It was used in one of the movies too probably why it’s so great.

  • Kathy A

    BSG: US switched over to the UK theme in season 2.

  • *Love* theme songs–amanohyo mentioned a lot of my own personal favorites, Perfect Strangers being among the top. I’ll add several theme songs from the Japanese giant-robot cartoons of the ’70s–Voltes V and Mazinger Z in particular–as well as the theme from Star Blazers (in English as well as the unbeatable original Japanese version sung by Isao Sasaki). Also have to mention the power-jazz opening of Cowboy Bebop. Currently, Chuck‘s opening, with the theme song by Cake, is one of my faves.

    And don’t forget the instant earworms from Cheers, Family Ties, Who’s the Boss, Punky Brewster, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and The Greatest American Hero (“Believe it or not, IIII’m walking on air…”)

    I like the way some shows tailor their opening credits to the particular episode, like BSG and Mythbusters, or just change little bits at the end, like The Simpsons and The Muppet Show, so viewers have a reason to watch the opening.

    I do wish theme songs would come back. Like Amy said, a good theme song sets the tone for the show; and it can be the most easily identifiable part of the show, burning itself into your brain for life and calling up all your fond memories. (How many people cheered, at least internally, when the opening notes of the A-Team theme played during the first trailer?) Not using theme songs is like not having the themes for Star Wars or the James Bond films; they’d be worse off without them. And fans wouldn’t be able to bond over theme song singalongs for years afterward…

  • zepto

    I’d like to second all of amanohyo’s cartoon theme songs, especially Gummi Bears, which was an entirely forgettable show with one of the best theme songs ever.

    The Friends theme song is a bit earwormy but I love it anyways. Also it’s not entirely a song, but I feel the Farscape opening monologue deserves an honorable mention:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CtM6Mhkb08&NR=1

    I love the way the wording changes subtly as the story progresses, reflecting Crichton’s changing identity and goals.

  • Oh, and Firefly. That folksy western opening, and those lyrics, were essential.

  • Lisa

    I liked the first series of The Guardian with the trumpets but then they replaced it with this horrible ballard

  • Heather
    the DUFF-DUFF-da-da-da-da-duff-duff bit at the end of Eastenders episodes (I haven’t watched Easties in years, but I think they still do that)

    They most certainly do. So much so that the recent anniversary/specials were trailed with people talking about their favourite ‘duff-duff’ moments.

    I liked Buffy’s theme tune, but adored Angels, because I love Cello music. Lovely.

    Just reading the list of the old 80s tunes brought back so many fond memories. And most of the programmes I can’t remember episodes, but can still visualise the titles and music quite clearly (any one else still remember Ulyssess 3000? Same people as Jayce and the wheeled warriors I think).

    I think its a shame if theme tunes are on the way out, I find even now, they’ll give some indication of the tone of the show if you knew nothing else about it.

    The new Who one – I don’t actively hate it, but it keeps throwing me off, I liked it going almost straight into the tune in the RTD Era.

    Curses to whoever reminded me of Gummibears, I shall be humming that. Its an improvement on the random tune that my colleague got stuck in my heads, (we’ve yet to figure what its from). We think it’s possibly some kind of brass instrument, and quite jolly and upbeat, beyond that we’re stumped. If it sounds familiar, please tell me what you think it is!

  • joliman

    New show with a great theme song: The Cleveland Show. Luckily it’s aired at the beginning of the episodes.

  • Patti H.

    Oh, phew! For a minute there I was shocked that no one mentioned Firefly! That, for me, was the last great theme song.

    It’s funny–I didn’t like Next Gen’s theme music when it was originally used for ST: The Motionless Picture, but loved it for the series. And I liked Voyager’s music better than DS9’s.

    Barney Miller had a very iconic theme (dum-dahdahdum!) and one of the best pieces of theme music is from the UK series Shoestring:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9l8kwEg_p0

  • I have to admit, I tend to skip the opening sequences given a choice. Not always, of course, because a well done opening is fun. The opening sequence to Buffy S3 I think was the best of that show’s run, and the opening to “Superstar” in S4 certianly rewarded people who didn’t skip it.

    There’s a video on Youtube, put out during the Democratic primary when no one knew if Obama or Clinton was going to win, that remastered the “Superfriends” cartoon opening so that Obama was Superman and Apache Chief, Clinton was Women Wonder, etc. Gore and Edwards were also part of the team, kinda looking like Green Lantern and Flash. Something about the political commentary mixed with the blast from my past made it perhaps my favorite youtube video of all time. (type Obama + superfriends and it might still be there)

    I was irked when I heard that they changed the theme song for Battlestar Galacta, because I thought the theme was one of the best parts of the old show, but once I actually watched the new show, I realized it wasn’t a good emotional fit and forgave them.

    And I perk up when I hear the theme songs for the first four “Star Trek” series, and the soundtrack for “Best of Both Worlds”. Fond memories.

    I think a lot of TV shows ended up with cool theme music because, lets face it, there are more talented musicians and composers than there are jobs/contracts for, especially now that Pretty Boy Bands and Sexy Babes seem to have shoved so many actual musicans off the air.

  • Chris

    Big Bang Theory has a pretty good opening theme.

  • mortadella

    I do, actually. Loved “The Equalizer” theme. I was a grade school kid when the show was on, but I thought it rocked. Edward Woodward was my first badass too.

  • I haven’t heard the new DW theme often enough to get annoyed by it.

    As for themes, well, my list is always changing and I’m always discovering old favorites to give a shout out on my blog but since you all might not care to go there, here’s a list:

    1. Buffy.
    2. Old-school Doctor Who.
    3. The Avengers. Especially when Emma Peel–the talented amateur–was on the show.
    4. The Green Hornet.The show wasn’t that memorable but that theme combined with Bill Dozier’s narration really wants you go see the show NOW–and does a better job of it than I can imagine Sean Rogen doing.
    5. The Twilight Zone. Not the slower, more dreamlike version but the more traditional one that we usually think of when we remember that show.
    6. Blackadder. The series two is my fave but they all have their good points.
    7. Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
    8. Dexter. Best use of a credit sequence to convey creepiness without showing anything usually considered creepy.
    9. Big Love. Ice skating! And best visual use of a Beach Boys song since Love, Actually.
    10. Wonderfalls. Yes, I know that show’s viewers were numbered in double digits but that theme always makes me smile.

  • [Paul wrote] I was irked when I heard that they changed the theme song for Battlestar Galacta, because I thought the theme was one of the best parts of the old show, but once I actually watched the new show, I realized it wasn’t a good emotional fit and forgave them.

    But I loved it when they brought back snippets of the old theme at certain moments–most strikingly in the last episode, when the Galactica flew majestically into the sun.

    [mortadella wrote] Loved “The Equalizer” theme. I was a grade school kid when the show was on, but I thought it rocked. Edward Woodward was my first badass too.

    Seconded. And, an aside: that theme was composed by Stewart Copeland, the badass drummer for the Police. When I saw them in concert I expected Sting to dominate, but found myself blown away by Copeland’s musicality and power most of all.

    [Tonio wrote] 5. The Twilight Zone. Not the slower, more dreamlike version but the more traditional one that we usually think of when we remember that show.

    My first exposure to this theme was the Manhattan Transfer disco version…

  • Ann

    I’m very fond of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson’s theme. I listen to it every time, I think that article is spot on with that one.

    I also second the Big Bang Theory

  • Lisa

    I love the opening credits to Dexter they’re very cheeky!

    Babylon 5 – I used to like too they changed their credit sequence every year but I always like the short last best hope for peace speeches they did at the start

    Chuck’s quite tongue in cheek and hummable

    Mad Men for the graphics not the music particularly – it’s apt but unmemorable

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Bluejay: Copeland also wrote and sung the theme song to the “Star Wars: Droids” cartoon series, and apparently did soundtrack work on the Babylon 5 pilot and Dead Like Me.

    Much more interesting than Sting. ;)

  • Lucy Gillam

    I actually like how Psych plays with its theme song, adapting it to the episode. And there are any number of songs I download because they’re theme songs. OTOH, with the exception of Chuck, I mostly fast forward through opening credits. I’m impatient like that.

  • 4. The Green Hornet.The show wasn’t that memorable but that theme combined with Bill Dozier’s narration really wants you go see the show NOW–and does a better job of it than I can imagine Sean Rogen doing.

    You all were nice enough not to call me on this but the above actually would make more sense if I wrote it like this:

    4. The Green Hornet.The show wasn’t that memorable but that theme combined with Bill Dozier’s narration really made you want to go see the show NOW–and does a better job of it than I can imagine Sean Rogen doing.

    So that’s why proofreaders make the big bucks…

  • t6

    Old themes songs are too numerous to mention, so I’ll stick with the Post-90s era.

    HBO has had some great title themes. The Wire being just amazing. Top of my list. Rome also had great music.

    I’m also in love with the opening theme for Damages. I love that theme and the title sequence. Cree. Pee.

    I enjoyed the opening theme for Dollhouse.

    Bear McCreary has done just amazing work with BSG and Caprica…he deserves lots and lots of awards.

    Weeds is classic.

  • Miguel

    the new Melrose Place felt incomplete without the original theme song (or at least a remixed version).

  • LaSargenta

    Any opportunity to get more music into people’s lives (without it just being backdrop…like I really hate this trend in the last 10 years to put music in every.single.restaurant.everywhere. and turn it up a little too loud)

    Barney Miller’s theme everyone. Great bass line!

  • Lenina

    The theme for ER has to be my favourite; reminds me of Thursdays and high school and watching it with mum & sis; it used to always give a little thrill of excitement – all the doctors and stretchers rushing about. I was gutted when they got rid of it!

  • drewryce

    Great memories in every reference on this thread. One recent one, for a failed show no less, used the Bitter/Sweet theme music (I think it was called “Read my Lips”. At least that was the first line.)
    Seemed a perfect opening song for the show.

    Anyone mentioned “Two and a Half Men” or “F-Troop”?

  • CB

    I’ll take the yet-to-be-mentioned GILL-I-FUCKIN’-GAN’S ISLAND FOR THE WIN, ALEX!

    The best part of the Gilligan’s Island theme song is that 9 of 10 greeting cards can be sung to the Gilligan’s tune perfectly. It’s very fun repeating whatever lines up with “three hour tour” for emphasis.

    Oh, and Firefly. That folksy western opening, and those lyrics, were essential.

    Yeah, essential to memorize the imagery in the intro so I can tell when it’s about to end at 8x fast forward.

    I have an ongoing debate with a friend as to which is a worse sci-fi show intro, Firefly or Enterprise. Personally I think Firefly is ever so slightly better because it’s actually worth listening to once because it conveys the show’s character so well. The Enterprise intro actually does something similar, mostly in the way the inevitable thought “I’d rather be listening to the TNG theme” will mirror the similar thought that will cross your mind when watching the actual show.

    Themes like TNG and BSG work because they’re orchestral, reasonably short, and convey a relevant emotional feeling. Oh and they weren’t cheesy schlock.

    The vast majority of TV theme songs remind me of the “minitunes” from Demolition Man — commercial ditties replacing real music. The fact that so many are calculatingly catchy — much like commercial ditties “HO HO HO Green Giant!” — just makes it worse. The Gummi Bears theme song mentioned being a PERFECT example. The show and ergo theme song were ads for candy! Every note was put there solely for the purpose of latching onto your brain like a lamprey.

    The best theme song that wasn’t an orchestral intro to a sci-fi series was The Gary Shandling Show.

    Other than that theme songs can go the way of the dodo for all I care.

  • WKRP had a pretty good theme song, now that I’m thinking about it. Too bad it’s having trouble coming out on DVD. All that music they played on the air lead to too many fights over rights.

    I think of that decade’s sitcoms, it’s the one I miss the most. Since the humor was mostly character driven, the jokes didn’t go stale.

  • That new Mark Valley show, Human Target, has a great orchestral theme song that iss really different than the other “super spy”-“crime-fighter” type shows out there, none of that pulsing electronic music.

    Also, it has Jackie Earl Haley, dude!

  • The best part of the Gilligan’s Island theme song is that 9 of 10 greeting cards can be sung to the Gilligan’s tune perfectly. It’s very fun repeating whatever lines up with “three hour tour” for emphasis.

    This works for many church hymns as well–and for Emily Dickinson:

    Because I could not stop for Death —
    He kindly stopped for me —
    The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
    And Immortality.

    (Feels wrong putting her words to that tune, though!)

    Oh, and Firefly. That folksy western opening, and those lyrics, were essential.

    Yeah, essential to memorize the imagery in the intro so I can tell when it’s about to end at 8x fast forward.

    LOL! To each his own. :-D

  • Brian

    @Newbs: Yeah, I love the Human Target music: good old-fashioned orchestral action scoring. It’s also being done by Bear “BSG” McCreary! The dude is everywhere. :-)

    I always loved those action show intros with some serious-sounding guy giving the back story. My personal favorite was Knight Rider.

  • Christina

    Grizzly Adams had one of my favorite theme songs. Some Mormon guy owns the series and the song, and I’ve been bombarding him with requests to issue the series on DVD for years now. No luck so far…

  • captain_Swing

    Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90

    Nothing can beat Barry Gray’s themes for these shows.

    Of course it helps to have been a child in the 60’s….

  • CB

    (Feels wrong putting her words to that tune, though!)

    It’s her fault for choosing such a common meter! :)

    @Newbs: Yeah, I love the Human Target music: good old-fashioned orchestral action scoring.

    This and your reference to Knight Rider made me remember one of the best theme songs from the 80s: Airwolf!

    The heavy synth might makes it’s 80s heritage obvious, but to this day it screams “bad-ass” like nobody’s business. =D

  • JoshDM

    OK, ready guys? Ready?

    ALIEN NATION

    Music starts about 38 seconds in, after all the build up. That part where there’s no music and Gary Graham gets all angry is the best!

  • CB

    That part where there’s no music and Gary Graham gets all angry is the best!

    Wow, that really was pretty awesome.

  • JoshDM

    You’ve apparently never seen the show. The bald guy staring smugly reflective towards the camera at the end has just poured himself a tall cool glass of spoiled milk.

    I loved that show; the follow-up made-for-tv movies were lousy.

  • drewryce

    Twilight Zone, anyone mention the Twilight Zone?

    Staying in that bygone era, Superman and The Cisco Kid were great but “Sky (mwrrrow-plane diving before the next word) King” was the tops.

    There was a brief show called T.H.E Cat. The theme music was a classy little smokey jazz number by Lalo Shiffren. Old hat now but it hit my early teen crowd like gangbusters (which show was before my time but also had a great theme).

Pin It on Pinterest