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Scoring for television or: "they don't write 'em like they used to"


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#1 of 25 OFFLINE   docdoowop

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Posted January 24 2007 - 03:56 AM

I got to thinking of all the memorable theme music and cues created for television in the 1950s and '60s and wondered: what's happened to all the grandeur? Fred Steiner's music for "Perry Mason", the "Bonanza" theme (even a hit record for Al Caiola), "Have Gun Will Travel" and "Twilight Zone" with Bernard Herrmann and the jazzy "M-Squad" theme by the magnificent Count Basie Orchestra. What's happened?! Posted Image

#2 of 25 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted January 24 2007 - 04:23 AM

"Time" is what happened. Different time, different era. "They don't make 'em like they used to".... I seem to remember another thread here about favorite TV show themes but here's a few of mine:

Barney Miller
Bewitched (all seasons)
Bionic Woman
Cheyenne
Dallas
Dick Van Dyke Show
Flintstones (3rd Season)
Get Smart
Gilligan's Island
Gunsmoke
Hill St. Blues
Honey West
I Dream of Jeannie (1st Season)
Jetsons
Jonny Quest (60's show)
Leave it to Beaver ('62 season)
Love Boat
Mannix
Mike Hammer (80's version)
Mission:Impossible
Rawhide
Rifleman
Rockford Files
Secret Agent Man
Star Trek (TOS)
Taxi
Time Tunnel
Voyage to the Bottom Of the Sea

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#3 of 25 OFFLINE   Steven_J_H

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Posted January 24 2007 - 05:27 AM

Also commercials eating up air time.

#4 of 25 OFFLINE   Bob Gu

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Posted January 24 2007 - 05:35 AM

Didn't some modern shows actually do away with theme songs entirely? There is a good book on TV scoring by Jon Burlingham, but I don't recall the title.

#5 of 25 OFFLINE   michael_ks

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Posted January 24 2007 - 06:03 AM

That would be "TV's Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from 'Dragnet' to 'Friends'". An indisepensible guide to not only TV themes and their composers but also to the underscoring of many episodes in dramatic television. Firm favorites such as Herrmann, Goldsmith, Stevens, Frontiere, Steiner, Courage, Schifrin and many others are covered in depth, composers that greatly enhanced the TV shows of the 50s - 70s.

#6 of 25 OFFLINE   docdoowop

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Posted January 24 2007 - 06:50 AM

Thanks for the tip, Michael, this looks very good.

#7 of 25 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted January 24 2007 - 07:08 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven_J_H
Also commercials eating up air time.
Exactly, shows like Lost and 24 have very short themes (although both are more like noises as opposed to themes) because they want to use their time for the show. Even The Simpsons, which used to have about 1 minute to about 1:15 opening theme, now has less show time so they cut the opening to about 15 to 20 seconds.

#8 of 25 OFFLINE   Mary_P

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Posted January 24 2007 - 07:28 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Gu
Didn't some modern shows actually do away with theme songs entirely? There is a good book on TV scoring by Jon Burlingham, but I don't recall the title.
Yes, some current shows seem to be doing away with a main title sequence altogether, and consequently doing away with the need for theme music, or use a main title sequence only sporadically. What's substituted is usually a brief snippet just showing the name of the show -- reminds me of the title card networks used to show regularly at the half-hour mark of an hour-long show.

Although I do sometimes skip title sequences when I'm watching on disc -- particularly if I'm watching several episodes in a row -- I miss 'em when they're not there on the network broadcast.

I second the endorsement on the book. A very entertaining and informative read.

#9 of 25 OFFLINE   Michael Alden

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Posted January 24 2007 - 01:18 PM

I can accept the shortening of opening themes, although quality shows like the Law and Orders, which are among the few new things I watch, still have full opens. What's worse to me is the absence of underscore. It's been almost completely replace by awful, treacly alt-rock garbage. Besides shaky camera shots, nothing causes me to discard a series quicker than the shows that use the lazy method. But hey, thanks to tape and now disc, I have options.

#10 of 25 OFFLINE   Elena S

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Posted January 24 2007 - 03:12 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Alden
What's worse to me is the absence of underscore. It's been almost completely replace by awful, treacly alt-rock garbage. Besides shaky camera shots, nothing causes me to discard a series quicker than the shows that use the lazy method. But hey, thanks to tape and now disc, I have options.
I couldn't agree more with this, although I don't believe it's laziness that has caused the change, I think it's economics. It's probably too expensive to hire a composer to score shows these days. The few that do (Desperate Housewives comes to mind) really stand out as excellent, IMO. There's nothing I abhor -- or fast forward -- more than the garbage montages that shows want to stick in nowadays. Those are absolutely horrid and suck the life-blood out of the show.

#11 of 25 OFFLINE   Ethan Riley

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Posted January 25 2007 - 05:06 AM

I think a great theme song can actually make a show. It just shows a great degree of professionalism and sophistication--like the producers take the show seriously and want it to succeed. Great themes are just another way to get people talking. I think the Drew Carey Show greatly benefitted from its lively and memorable opening. Then again, lack of a theme sure never hurt Frasier, so who knows--
 

 


#12 of 25 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted January 25 2007 - 05:36 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Riley
Then again, lack of a theme sure never hurt Frasier, so who knows--


I don't know...

Wouldn't be the same without those 'tossed salads and scrambled eggs'.

Speaking of themes and Frasier, remember the episode where he wrote and conducted his own massive pompous theme for his radio show? (the trombone scared Niles)

That was great.

#13 of 25 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 25 2007 - 11:02 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nicholas Martin
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Riley
Then again, lack of a theme sure never hurt Frasier, so who knows--
I don't know...

Wouldn't be the same without those 'tossed salads and scrambled eggs'.
And I think that's actually an interesting point. So much focus is placed on the music at the start of the show that little attention is given to the end of the show. And I think some of the shows cited in this thread as having no theme tune (24, Lost) have really great pieces of theme music, they just come at the end (and admittedly are often lost by screen compression and adverts). Personally, when watching the DVDs I always sit through the closing music of 24 in particular, just because it's a cool piece.
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#14 of 25 OFFLINE   Ravi K

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Posted January 26 2007 - 10:41 AM

Was Seinfeld one of the earliest shows to not have a theme song? Or were there others before?
 

#15 of 25 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted January 26 2007 - 10:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ravi K
Was Seinfeld one of the earliest shows to not have a theme song? Or were there others before?

These are two different issues - Seinfeld has a very distinct theme, but no formal title sequence. Lots of shows are like that - theme music played at the beginning of an act after a commercial break. A show doesn't have to have a sequence to have a title theme.

#16 of 25 OFFLINE   Susan Nunes

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Posted January 27 2007 - 03:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Willis
"Time" is what happened. Different time, different era. "They don't make 'em like they used to".... I seem to remember another thread here about favorite TV show themes but here's a few of mine:

Barney Miller
Bewitched (all seasons)
Bionic Woman
Cheyenne
Dallas
Dick Van Dyke Show
Flintstones (3rd Season)
Get Smart
Gilligan's Island
Gunsmoke
Hill St. Blues
Honey West
I Dream of Jeannie (1st Season)
Jetsons
Jonny Quest (60's show)
Leave it to Beaver ('62 season)
Love Boat
Mannix
Mike Hammer (80's version)
Mission:Impossible
Rawhide
Rifleman
Rockford Files
Secret Agent Man
Star Trek (TOS)
Taxi
Time Tunnel
Voyage to the Bottom Of the Sea


I'd add Maurice Jarre's theme for Cimarron Strip to the list. That one might be the best of all. Forty years after the show aired, I still remember the theme.

#17 of 25 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted January 27 2007 - 03:14 PM

I agree that extending the allotment of commercials has changed the face of television. If I were producing a TV show, with barely 20 minutes to do something substantial, I'd be wiling to ax the theme.

And speaking of great themes, you don't have to go all the way back to the 60's...the 80's had some of the greatest themes of all time. Even the early 90's had some wonderful themes.

#18 of 25 OFFLINE   tjguitar85

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Posted January 27 2007 - 03:28 PM

good themes....north and south...

#19 of 25 OFFLINE   Joseph DeMartino

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Posted January 27 2007 - 04:43 PM

Surprised nobody as mentioned The Avengers. I've been going through the complete Emma Peel megaset and was reminded again what a cool theme it was. Same for The Prsioner (also watching the 40th annivesary relasse for this show.)

While the 60s produced a lot of great theme songs, the score, on American TV shows at least, often consisted of a few themes endless repeate. (Star Trek wasn't the only show to have a standard piece of "fight music")

One of my favorites has always been Babylon 5, not only for the main title musci which changed every season and for the musical score for each episode, most of which was original music. (B5 sometimes used as much as 30 minutes of new score for a 42 minute episode.)

ST:TNG had the good taste to recycle Jerry Goldsmith's great main-title sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but precisely because it wasn't written for the show, I don't think it counts as an example of what Curt was looking for. (Although I would count it among my favorites.)

Regards,

Joe

#20 of 25 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted January 28 2007 - 04:22 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joseph DeMartino

ST:TNG had the good taste to recycle Jerry Goldsmith's great main-title sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Dennis McCarthy (who wrote the DS9 themes) wrote a theme for TNG but was partially rejected - the opening of his theme is the same as the TNG theme as it exists, with that soft, synthesized Alexander Courage fanfare that eventually builds up to Goldsmith's theme. I heard McCarthy's theme once, and I find it sounded a little better - especially since TNG was just a shortened arrangement of Goldsmith, but would have been too epic-scale for the show. If he had the chance to score one of the earlier Trek films or another 80's sci-fi epic movie, McCarthy's theme would have been perfect.


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