Whither TV Themes?

It seems the television show theme song may be dying, or so says this cribbed AP article I ran across in a last.fm user’s journal.

It’s not really surprising, given that show running times are increasingly crunched as the networks try to crap ever-more ads into the broadcasts. And stylistically, many show producers may be trying to “set trends” by breaking away from the decades-long practice of including a show theme.

Then there’s the current practice of using an existing pop song as the show’s main title, as Ed did with Foo Fighters’ Next Year and CSI does with The Who’s Who Are You. That, I say, is an artistically cheap cop-out. If a show wants to omit a theme so it can fit 30 seconds more drama or a couple more ads into its run time, fine. I can respect that. But to borrow someone else’s caché and hope that it rubs off on you stinks of artistic desperation and gives off a whiff of the pathetic. Of course, that doesn’t include established acts that compose original music for TV, as Nerf Herder did with the Buffy theme.

The thing I’ve not seen discussed anywhere though, is how a good, memorable, unique TV theme can add to the appeal of, and build the brand/character of show. The article mentions how hearing the theme to Cheers and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air stirs up nostalgia and memories. But what it doesn’t talk about is how those themes (and related underscore) helped to complete those shows’ universe, filling in the missing atmosphere that dialogue and staging could not. A good TV theme song helps a show build a relationship with its audience and adds to its longevity.

Cheers, Fresh Prince, Night Court, The X-Files, Hill Street Blues, Star Trek, Bonanza, The Simpsons, MacGyver, The A-Team… heck, even Growing Pains, Full House and The Facts of Life. Those are all examples of shows with great theme songs that have endured. In fact, most of those shows still have an active fan base today, partially due to their engaging music.

So, this brings the question: have there been any good, memorable, original theme songs in the past five or so. I must admit that I don’t watch much of the television these day, so I can’t speak for most of the newer shows. Futurama had a nice one and I liked the one for Angel, but both those are late-90s compositions. What’s good today?

p.s., in case you’re wondering, the best tv theme song of all-time is Hawaii 5-0.

Tortoise, Star Trek, and Orbital (with more Star Trek): Song of the Day Triple Feature

I spent a good seven+plus hours burning through some iTunes today to make up for yesterday’s somewhat disappointing performance a shortened day at the office will do that. With about 100 songs to choose from, I had a very hard time narrowing down the song of the day, so lucky you, here’s three songs to choose from. Choose wisely.

Orbital: Time Becomes


Constructed from a single line spoken by Worf from the 2nd season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Time Squared which I happened to see just the other day—it’s almost unwatchably bad, this song is more of an experiment in recording technique than actual music. But it’s fun to have your own personal Moebius.

Time Squared of course, is not to be confused with the 5th season episode Cause and Effect, where the Enterprise is destroyed every 11 minutes or so.

Tortoise: Swung From The Gutters


From TNT, this song is just great; not quite as good as The Equator, but still one of my faves from the band.
tortoise at iTunes.

Boston Pops conducted by John Williams performing the theme to Star Trek


A very unusual and extended take on the classic and well-known theme to the original Star Trek television program, performed live in concert by the Boston Pops.

More Star Trek remastered screen shots

I’ve posted another set of contrast and compare shots for the new "Enhanced" Star Trek episodes, bringing the total to three:

Balance of Terror Star Trek: The Original Series - Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 - Balance of Terror

The Devil in the Dark Star Trek: The Original Series - Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 - Devil in the Dark

The Naked Time Star Trek: The Original Series - Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 - The Naked Time

I don’t plan on doing any more, as these sets should give a good indication of what the producers are doing to remaster the show’s visual effects.

Until The Doomsday Machine airs, then all bets are off.

See the full list of episodes available on iTunes.

Star Trek Refit: Balance of Terror Side-by-Side comparisons

I know I know. It’s a bit off topic for the tunequest, but I couldn’t help myself. Here’s a bunch of the new "enhanced" Star Trek footage of the new revised special effects from Balance of Terror Star Trek: The Original Series - Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 - Balance of Terror for folks who are having trouble locating a station that’s showing the new episodes. Enjoy.

Myself, i’m refusing to pass judgement on them.

James Horner – Enemy at the Gates: Hacktackular

enemy at the gates

James Horner is a hack.

That’s my opinion. Some people think he’s a good or even great composer. I don’t. I happen think he has precisely 1.5 Good scores to his credit, namely Star Trek 2 and 3. Those two score, I also happen to think, are among the finest score of the late 20th century, with an asterisk. (the asterisk being that the highlights of each are highly derivative of Prokofiev).

I mention it because I listened to Horner’s score for the 2001 film Enemy at the Gates today and was once again frustrated by the music. Despite my accusation above, Horner can be a talented composer, I just think he’s fond of shortcuts that lower the quality of the final product. For example, this Enemy at the Gates score opens with the type of epic 15+ minute suite The River Crossing to Stalingrad that I am quite fond of. It effectively incorporates an all-male chorus and evokes the same Slavic character that I enjoy in Dvorak’s and Tchaikovsky’s work. Additionally, there are some really nice melodic passages throughout the score.


And this is a deal-breaker, horner re-guritates the same "Menace" Motif that he originally wrote for StarTrek 2 (1982) and already recycled at least once for Aliens (1986). And this motif is everywhere in the score, ruining what might have been compelling music.

It’s not the motif’s fault really. It’s actually a simple and effective couple of bars of music. But in my mind, it is far too overused and too closely related to Khan for it to work anywhere else. So I may hang on the opening suite, but the rest of this score will be departing my library.

tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

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