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.

2 thoughts on “Whither TV Themes?

  1. Hi Dave, you are absolutely right about Firefly. I had forgotten about it. Though I thought the lyrics were a bit obvious, I did enjoy the music as it was well-composed and well-representative of the show. I only wish it were a little longer.

    As for Enterprise, we’ll have to disagree on that. Star Trek has a proud musical tradition, having had some legendary and talented composers write for the franchise. That generic power ballad was an insult all the “music equity” that the franchise had built up over the 35 years before. “Faith of the heart?” what does that even mean?

    Oh, and bonus points for using “eschew.” It’s one of my favorite words.


  2. I was rather moved by the brusque eloquence of the Firefly theme song. The song structure is simple, almost broken, but it captures the flavor of the show and the characters. It eschews the “Metal Ballad” approach of the Enterprise theme song (which admittedly, I also liked at the time for being so different from the other Star Trek themes).


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