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The Evolution Will Be Televised

Friday, July 15, 2011

Television theme songs have changed a lot since the days of the Brady Bunch’s “story of a lovely lady” and Gilligan’s Island’s “fateful trip.” We’ll explore the sonic evolution of primetime’s opening credits and take a listen to this year’s just-announced Emmy nominees for main title music with Max Robins of the Paley Center for Media. And Lisa Coleman -- composer, and former member of Prince and the Revolution -- shares her Emmy Award winning theme for Nurse Jackie. 

Plus: we want to hear from you: what are your favorite modern-day TV tunes?

Guests:

Lisa Coleman and Max Robins

Comments [105]

Themes for "Nash Bridges" - several worked well.

Jul. 25 2011 11:16 PM

More have come to mind . . .Who could forget the theme for the original "Wild Wild West" ? There are two versions available on YouTube (seasons 1-2 and 3-4). The earlier has the better brass arrangement. And Hawaii Five-O anyone? "Streets of San Francisco" with that great clav sound and the French Horn triplets? Mark Snow's theme for "La Femme Nikita" ? "Cherchez La Femme, Dans La Nuit " which translates to " Look For The Woman, In The Night" Theme for "Millenium" was evocative (wait for the arpeggios). Stewart Copeland's "Equalizer" theme takes the hard-driven prize.

Jul. 25 2011 11:04 PM

First, a brief note bout Jay Ferguson. I prefer to remember his work in Spirit ("Mechanical World" and "Gotta Line on You") than his work scoring in later years. That first album was standout with nuance and arrangement panache.

But as to sound tracks, I also like Mad Men, and that reminded me of the "Six Feet Under" theme (not surprisingly, Thomas Newman), Randy Newman's "It's a Jungle out There" (for "Monk"). The theme for "Cold Case" isn't bad ... listen to the long version on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/user/TvThemesSongs#p/u/16/addVfIY2pB4.

Jul. 25 2011 10:29 PM
Khristos from Astoria, NY

I like a lot of HBO opening songs like Treme, Game of Thrones and Bored to Death. They match the shows perfectly. Louie also has a nice opening. I've also loved the various renditions of Way Down in the Hole in The Wire.

Jul. 17 2011 10:58 AM
RollingStone from Holmdel, NJ

My personal favorite is the Arrested Development song...lots of ukelele and the Ron Howard voice-over makes it perfect in my book.

Jul. 15 2011 09:08 PM
RetroGirl

Friday Night Lights' theme is perfect for the show. Its composer, W. G. Snuffy Walden (great name, right?) has a spot on record of great TV theme songs, including My So-Called Life and thirtysomething.

In the old school genre, high five for Head of the Class and the long-canceled soap opera Loving. Loving may have been a sappy show but it boasted a very catchy and thematically appropriate theme song: Look into my eyes/I could use a little loving *guitar plucking, synth, early 90s plinging*
Take me in your arms/Take me on to ecstasy
*repeat*

Jul. 15 2011 08:53 PM
David

Jerry Goldsmith's theme song to "Dr. Kildare" is still my favorite.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhU4TBHCwjM&feature=player_detailpage#t=8s

Jul. 15 2011 05:29 PM
David Daniels from Spring Lake, NJ

Paula Cole broke through via TV and Jonatha Brooke tried a similar approach with mixed results. Let us know forget Mr. David Byrne - Big Love, and that "Hymnal" disc of his that followed. I would have not known Sia if it wasn't for the last episode of "six feet under" ... so many others to mention - HBO does this well - how about all the versions of the title of Weeds in seasons 1 and 2 based on a classic song. Genius approach to mix the eyes with the ears.

Jul. 15 2011 02:52 PM
Ken from Little Neck

This is an obscure one, but the opening theme to the Japanese anime Cowboy Beboy is legendary among fans. Incredible music throughout that show.

Jul. 15 2011 02:50 PM
Rabbi Mike from Nyack

MAUDE.

Donny Hathaway + Bea Arthur + Norman Lear = 70s Gold

Jul. 15 2011 02:48 PM
Trace from NYC

Its a crime that you did not mention the Friday Night Lights theme song by Explosions in the Sky. Also, West Wing theme song was dominant

Jul. 15 2011 02:46 PM
Bernadette from NYC, NY

Game of Thrones
The Borgias
The Big Bang Theory!

Jul. 15 2011 02:44 PM
Sandra Jordan

Jace Everett Bad Things theme for True Blood...

Jul. 15 2011 02:43 PM
weedge from kearny

Buffy the vampire slayer, by the breeders.

Jul. 15 2011 02:43 PM
rob m. from east village

Friday Night Lights! Wistful, almost mournful, kind of reminiscent of M*A*S*H*'s theme. Genius.

Jul. 15 2011 02:42 PM
Ash Katchum from Westchester

The original pokemon theme song was really awesome.

POKEMON! Gotta catch em alll!!!

Jul. 15 2011 02:42 PM
Cori from nj

True Blood! I wanna do real bad things to you!

Jul. 15 2011 02:41 PM
Biz

Curb Your Enthusiasm!

Jul. 15 2011 02:40 PM
Victoria from Nyc

Loved 6 feet Under

Jul. 15 2011 02:40 PM
Steve from NYC

Miami Vice is the best ever!

Jul. 15 2011 02:40 PM
Susana from nyc

Gotta love the True Blood theme song!

Jul. 15 2011 02:39 PM
Alexis in Manhattan from Manhattan, NYC

The song from Weeds I sing at least once a week. "Little boxes on a hillside..."

And I just told my friend last night that the Game of Thrones is great.

Jul. 15 2011 02:39 PM
tom from UWS


The late Danny Gatton recorded a killer guitar riff of the Simpsons theme.

Jul. 15 2011 02:38 PM
Maria from Manhattan

True Blood's "Bad Things" by Jace Everett, AND it has the freakiest visuals to go with it!

Jul. 15 2011 02:38 PM
nancy botwin from NYC

has anyone said the use of "little boxes" and how it changes w/each episode of the show Weeds??? Very brilliant

Jul. 15 2011 02:38 PM
Steve M from Morristown, NJ

Modern TV theme songs:

Love "Community" & "How I Met Your Mother"

Jul. 15 2011 02:36 PM
rich rollison from Brooklyn

btw- the Office"theme song's composer-Jay Ferguson- is actually a monor sixties rock hero.He was a member of SPRirit,and later JOJO GUNN.

Jul. 15 2011 02:36 PM
Lara from NYC

It's been off the air for a while, but the Sopranos theme song still makes my heart beat faster!

Jul. 15 2011 02:36 PM
Nancy

Tween show Pretty Little Liars has a theme song that opens with "Got a Secret, Can you keep it..." and ends with "Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead". Great intro to a story line that focuses on just that...

Jul. 15 2011 02:36 PM
Milod from Queens

I love the theme song for Monk, written by Randy Newman, "It's A Jungle Out There."

It's neither an explainer song nor an instrumental. It takes one aspect of the title character's personality and expands it into a treatise on obsessive compulsive disorder that anyone can relate to. It stands on its own as a funny, astute song, and it has a typically Randy Newman-ish honky tonk melody and arrangement that are very catchy.

Jul. 15 2011 02:36 PM
Erika from Brooklyn

Family Guy is not a rip off. It is a parody!

Jul. 15 2011 02:35 PM
scott

explainer title: "Car 54"
This and "Beverly Hillbillies" sung to my babies helped them fall asleep

Jul. 15 2011 02:35 PM
Ken from Little Neck

Not that anybody here has ever seen it, but the UK panel show QI has the catchiest theme I've ever heard!

Jul. 15 2011 02:35 PM
Nick from UWS

The distinction between the word "song" and "music" is completely lost in modern times.

Jul. 15 2011 02:34 PM
barent

all time greatest-the avengers and secret agent man. i know, a bit off topic, you want new,but who cares...

Jul. 15 2011 02:34 PM
Liz from New Jersey

Loved the cello in Angel as well as Bones. Covert Affairs is good, too.

And after 20 years, I'll never get the Law & Order theme out of my head.

Jul. 15 2011 02:34 PM
Dexter from Norwalk, CT

Showtime's Dexter theme song! I can get it out of my head! Everytime I listen to it, puts an little evil smile on my face!

Jul. 15 2011 02:34 PM
tom from UWS

BIG LOVE, now just ended, has a beautiful and evocative theme.

Jul. 15 2011 02:34 PM
Alix from Chevy Chase, MD

I think the theme song to the NBC show "30 Rock" is perfect. Totally hints at the zaniness that is to come in the show but also makes you see this is a work place show. The past paced nature of the song shows that, I think. Anyway, it's great!

Jul. 15 2011 02:33 PM

Totally with folks on the HBO shows-- the opening themes for Treme, True Blood, Curb, (didn't love the final Big Love theme), Sopranos, etc., etc. all set the tone for what is to come.

Jul. 15 2011 02:33 PM
Lily from New York

This is a british show, but the great teen sci-fi series "misfits'" themesong is "Echoes" by The Rapture

SO GOOD

Jul. 15 2011 02:33 PM
Marilyn from Westchester County

Treme on HBO - real NOLA music. Why haven't they put out a CD of that show's soundtrack?

Jul. 15 2011 02:33 PM
tom from UWS

Family Guy is no ripoff - it's a crazy and far reaching homage. And that theme song, along with Seth Macfarlane's other theme songs and musical parodies, carries its own weight while inviting us to imagine that show WITHOUT All in The Family, The Simpsons etc. MacFArlane knows he's part of a continuum.

Jul. 15 2011 02:33 PM
Gary from Manhattan NYC

The theme song (and opening images) for TrueBlood is outstanding. Although I believe it's just an existing song from a country-western-type singer whose name I can't recall, and not a song specifically composed for the TV show.

Also, Mike Post has been cranking out excellent theme songs for TV shows since the Rockford Files days. You could have a whole show just about Mike Post.

Jul. 15 2011 02:33 PM
Jane from Brooklyn

Twin Peaks!!!!! The music was just as eerie and weird as the show was, I loved both!

Jul. 15 2011 02:32 PM
Karen from Hartsdale

An instrumental version of "Teardrop" serves as the theme song for the American version of House, a medical television series

Jul. 15 2011 02:32 PM
David from West Hempstead

Never really appreciated House using Massive Attack, it's completely inappropriate.

Jul. 15 2011 02:32 PM
David from DUMBO

How 'bout Curb Your Enthusiasm's theme.
It's not the sort of music I like, but it sure gets stuck in my head and really fits the tenor of the show

Jul. 15 2011 02:32 PM
Ken from Herlem, NYC

The Late Late Show theme is great and I like the fact that Craig Ferguson sings it himself.

Jul. 15 2011 02:32 PM
Agent Olivia Dunham from Manhatan (yes, one t, it's the alternate universe)

Why, everyone, in both universes, knows FRINGE is the best theme song there is.

Jul. 15 2011 02:31 PM
Nicole Root from Washington Heights

The theme song for the old "Bob Newhart Show" is absolutely infectious. It also makes me do this circular, bobbing thing with my head every time I hear it or have it stuck in my head.

If it makes you dance without thinking about it, it must be a good theme song.

Jul. 15 2011 02:31 PM
Hadassah

30 Rock theme song is brilliant.

Jul. 15 2011 02:30 PM
NJEve from NJ

Curb Your Enthusiasm's theme song is great.

Jul. 15 2011 02:30 PM
Liz from NJ

30 Rock is wonderful

Jul. 15 2011 02:29 PM
Karen from Westchester

PBS Mystery!
and that I could humm but can't call in

Jul. 15 2011 02:28 PM
Jeffrey from Upper West Side

I refuse to try to sing it, but the theme from Twin Peaks by Angelo Badelamente was classic.

Jul. 15 2011 02:28 PM
Jess from White Plains

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Leonard Cohen theme from "Sopranos." Totally captures the show and is now completely inseparable from it. I'd also throw in Cheers (because it's my fave comedy).

Jul. 15 2011 02:28 PM
Meredith from Hoboken

For 30-min comedy, 30 Rock for sure, especially the way that Jeff Richmond continues to weave the same theme into the scoring for the show and "songs" like "Muffintop" and "Wereworlf Bar Mitzvah".

For 60-min format, all Joss Whedon shows have great theme songs: the Nerf Herder track for "Buffy", Darling Violetta violin instrumental for "Angel", the Sonny Rhodes song (almost an explainer) for "Firefly", and even the nursery-themed track by Eric Bazilian for "Dollhouse" captures the mood of the show well.

Jul. 15 2011 02:28 PM

Big Bang Theory has a great 'explainer' open, the show is about nerds and the theme is all of history starting with the, appropriately enough, Big Bang!

Jul. 15 2011 02:28 PM
Karen from Westchester County

Where You Lead from Gilmore Girls, from Carol King song.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Sue from brooklyn

I agree with Jill/Manhattan. Treme theme should have been a nominee.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Bob from Avon-by-the-Sea

When Sherwood Schwartz dies the other day, Terry Gross played a clip from an interview where he explained that it was the network who asked for the explanatory theme because they suits thought audiences would be confused.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Antonio from Mexico

The Office's theme is one of the most recognizable and actually can be sung! The British Version used a fragment of "Handbags & Gladrags" (an original Rod Stewart song), which also made it a very recognizable theme song.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Boston from NYC

Hanna Barbarra Flintstones theme. . . . classic

Twilight Zone

Perry Mason

I know it's all classic tv but its the best

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Jim from Toronto

How about the 'found' songs that seem to fit the series to a t like the theme for Terriers and True Blood.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Deborah

The theme music from Treme is so amazing that my husband and I never forward through the intro music--we just listen and smile...

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Tris from Atlanta

American Dad, Doctor Who

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Jessica from Washington DC

I don't watch much television these days, so I can't comment on many of the cable shows. However, I absolutely love the 30 Rock theme song, because it's not only catchy, but quick and to the point. It captures the fast-paced New York City life very well.

On the flip side, the Office theme song has a simpler sound. Obviously, Scranton is not as exciting as NYC.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Dennis from Rutherford, NJ

Sticky themes? "Big Bang Theory" "The Simpsons", "Damages" "60 Minutes"

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Edward from NJ

The "Justified" theme really sticks with me, which is saying something, since I generally fast-forward through the credits.

Jul. 15 2011 02:27 PM
Patrick from Forty GReene

Friday Night Lights - EVERYONE I know talks about that wonderful, wistful, open guitar theme.

Jul. 15 2011 02:26 PM
Annette Provencher from NJ

My favorites are the theme to The Office and the theme to "How I met your mother"

Jul. 15 2011 02:25 PM
rapple from high falls ny usa

the theme from SHAMELESS on Showtime
terrific hook, great lyrics--totally in sync with the show's edge.

Jul. 15 2011 02:25 PM
Steve from Brooklyn, NY

Great moment in entertainment history--Frederica von Stade sings the Star Trek theme for William Shatner at the 2005 Emmy awards.

Jul. 15 2011 02:25 PM
Ken B. from Park Slope

"Justified"--great theme. Recent past:
"Deadwood" one of the best all time opening credit sequences and music.
"Rome"--ditto
"True Blood" ditto

Jul. 15 2011 02:25 PM
Christine Giglio from Jersey Shore

"Bad Things" from True Blood, is a great one. Gets stuck in my head!!! Love it!!

Jul. 15 2011 02:24 PM
Orton Redux from 06039

Dexter.

Jul. 15 2011 02:23 PM
JT from NJ

2 and a half men. Not because it's good but because you saw the show ten times in a day in different channels

Jul. 15 2011 02:23 PM
Jill from Manhattan

The Treme theme song, combined with the opening visual sequence, does any excellent job of sacheting the viewer in the N'awlins state of mind.

Jul. 15 2011 02:23 PM
Sally from Brooklyn

The Mad Men theme is brilliant and the music in Treme, theme and otherwise is outstanding.

Jul. 15 2011 02:23 PM
Megan

Game of Thrones, by far. I love the low cello or bass solo and it's so sweeping and epic sounding. I'll admit- I've rewatched episodes just for the opening.

Jul. 15 2011 02:23 PM
alex from NYC

True blood theme! Not usually my cup of tea but i love the dark and southern bluesy theme - it fits the location and mood of the show perfectly.

Jul. 15 2011 02:22 PM
johns

The Venture Brothers theme is amazing. It's a very modern/ retro theme.

Jul. 15 2011 02:22 PM
Homer

Family Guy's theme song is as irritating and grating as the show itself. But true to form, it's a rip off of All In The Family just as Family Guys is a rip off of every piece of pop culture that came before it.

Jul. 15 2011 02:22 PM
Jess from White Plains

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Leonard Cohen theme from "Sopranos." Totally captures the show and is now completely inseparable from it. I'd also throw in Cheers (because it's my fave comedy).

Jul. 15 2011 02:22 PM
krissy

i am watching back episodes of COMMUNITY. that song will not leave my head. still can't get the words.....

LOST. lush movie music.

Jul. 15 2011 02:21 PM
Bender

Monday Night Football! Long live Bocephus.

Jul. 15 2011 02:21 PM
Zachary from Manhattan

I have always loved the tone setting themes of supernatural shows like The Twilight Zone, X-Files, and Tales from the Crypt.

And who can forget the opening of the first two Star Trek series?

Jul. 15 2011 02:21 PM
barent

a agree with mission impossible theme. wonderful prominent bongo work[that's bongos,not congas folks]. where have we heard that sort of percussion work, on any tv theme of late? please don't say, sex in the city. it does not have the punch, that the MI theme had,no way,not even close.

Jul. 15 2011 02:20 PM
Fry

The theme song from Psych gets stuck in my head all the time and it totally fits with the show's premise.

Jul. 15 2011 02:20 PM
Nick from UWS

The problem with so much music today is the terror composers have of being simple and innocent. Everything has to be "hip" and "tough" and "cutting edge" and "dark" and all the rest of the BS. Nobody wants that crap. They want a great song that they can delight in hearing.

Jul. 15 2011 02:20 PM
Abby

Big Bang Theory!

Jul. 15 2011 02:19 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

I also love the title theme for HBO's "Game Of Thrones", great theme

Jul. 15 2011 02:19 PM
Nick from UWS

Family Guy has a very decent theme song!

Jul. 15 2011 02:19 PM
Steve from Brooklyn, NY

The thing that was so cool about Mission Impossible is that it was in 5/4 time. Would love to hear the guest talk about that.

Jul. 15 2011 02:18 PM
Bill G, NYC

Down in the TREME!
Catchy as anything!

Jul. 15 2011 02:17 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Mission Impossible had a great classic theme song

Jul. 15 2011 02:15 PM
barent

most of todays theme songs are melodically challenged. they don't linger,but then again, mercifully, that can also make them, much more "ear-worm" proof.

Jul. 15 2011 02:15 PM
ted in atlanta from my new e-mail address

These are all so great. They're basically giant jingles, aren't they? I miss both.

Jul. 15 2011 02:14 PM
Steve M from Morristown, NJ

My vote: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Loved the Show, loved the theme music.

X-Files is also up there

Jul. 15 2011 02:14 PM
Steve from Brooklyn, NY

The thing that was so cool about Mission Impossible is that it was in 5/4 time. Would love to hear the guest talk about that.

Jul. 15 2011 02:12 PM
Ken from Little Neck

I was going to comment on Mad Men, because it's perfect, but you already beat me to it. Love the Muppet Show that you played on the preview too! Those who saw Firefly, the ill fated Joss Whedon show, will agree that not just the theme, but the whole soundtrack is fantastic.

Jul. 15 2011 02:12 PM
Bender

The Futurama main theme! Which, of course, you can't mention without mentioning the Simpsons theme.

Classics: Sanford & Son and All In The Family.

And I hate to say it, I have to give an honorary mention to Spongebob Squarepants.

Jul. 15 2011 02:12 PM
Nick from UWS

I don't have any favorite modern-day TV themes. I'd rather listen to The Flintstones theme any day than to the non-song over-electronic soundscapes that substitutes for a pathetic inability to write a melody that we are subjected to today. Digital laziness has killed the composition of classic TV themes.

Jul. 15 2011 02:09 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

I still love the title theme to the "X-Files"

oh and the Bear McCreary theme for the modern updated revamped "Battlestar Galactica" series was also great (and I also have to admit liking the theme to the older cornier original series too)

Jul. 15 2011 02:06 PM

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