EPISODE IV: TV Show Theme Songs

Max & Nicky talk about the evolution of TV show theme songs and attempt to understand why classic show songs are no longer produced.

Note: While recording the episode, we couldn’t think of the correct title for the Taxi theme song; it’s called “Angela” and written and performed by Bob James.

Intro and Outro Music
Written, mixed, and produced by Nicky Weinbach

3 thoughts on “SPLITTING HAIRS

  1. Max and Nicky,

    Great episode. Definitely your best so far. I’ve got a couple of thoughts on this topic.

    1. I was listening to a different podcast the other day and they were speculating as to whether the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery would have a theme song or not and one of the hosts was worrying that it would follow the trend of recent shows that begin with a cold open with credits rolling over the first act. They posited that there are two reasons that shows in the last decade or so have dropped theme songs is because the ratio of commercials to content in broadcast tv has grown (to account for declining revenue from fewer viewers) and so opening credit sequences have been eliminated or that audiences are now so used to binge watching shows online or on disc and fast forwarding past the credits that they’ve become too impatient to sit through an opening sequence on broadcast tv. To me, that’s a shame because a good opening credit sequence can really set the mood for an episode of a show. Sometimes I like watching opening credit sequences as much as the show itself.

    2. I’m mostly in agreement that all of the tv theme songs that you chose were classics. I’d probably only dispute that Cheers should be considered the greatest tv show theme of all time and I’d rank Growing Pains’ song over Family Ties. But those are quibbles.

    3. Where I do disagree is on two related points: you don’t seem to include many (any?) drama theme songs on your list and you mostly discount theme songs without lyrics. In addition to being musically interesting and catchy, a good TV show theme should capture the essence of the show. One of you (I think Nicky) said that it needs to be able to be instantly recognizable as a part of the show and not just some song stuck before the show.

    4. Going hand in hand with theme songs for me are opening credit sequences. This is another area where the Cheers opening is pure genius. Its song is amazing and its set over faux-vintage turn-of-the-century illustrations of bar life, with the drawn characters evoking but not exactly being copies of, the main Cheers characters. In terms of the opening credit sequences, the 80s are probably also the best decade, but there’s good stuff from before and after.

    Here’s my list of best theme songs/opening credit sequence. I’m going to go a bit broader than you guys and include drama and orchestral pieces:

    1. Cheers
    2. MASH (doesn’t matter to me that it was made for the movie. Its haunting and beautiful.)
    3. Twin Peaks
    4. The Wonder Years (seasons 1-5, yes, the Joe Cocker cover wasn’t recorded for the show, but at this point, it might as well have been. Setting it over the home movies of the cast is so beautiful.)
    5. Happy Days (the one written for the show, not “Rock Around the Clock”)
    6. Growing Pains
    7. Family Ties
    8. Star Trek: the Next Generation (the best Trek music ever recorded. A slightly different arrangement got Jerry Goldsmith an Oscar nomination a few years before that).
    9. Taxi (makes you want to time travel back to gritty 1970s/80s NYC).
    10. The West Wing (it makes you so optimistic about American politics!)
    11. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
    12. Night Court (great funky jazz jam. For the credits, I love that whole genre of 80s sequences where they take a clip of the actors doing a character beat and then freeze frame it.)
    13. Quantum Leap (opening narration + credits).
    14. Perfect Strangers
    15. The O.C. (hear me out on this one…perfect match-up of song, show and images).
    16. Babylon 5 (unique in that it changed its theme song and credit sequence every season to capture the season’s story arc. Season 4 is probably the best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w560Q8ELOg. Though Season 3 is the most epic and Season 1 is the most video game-esque. 1990s space opera at its most bombastic. Straddles the line between epic and ridiculous.)

    Let’s chat more about this next time we talk.

    • Yeah, perhaps, we should have explored instrumental tracks more in depth because Twin Peaks and Star Trek (TSO and TNG) all have great themes. And, obviously, MASH and Taxi are two of the best (both not written for the shows). But, the reason we didn’t really delve into those instrumental ones is it seems that instrumental themes are still produced (e.g. Game of Thrones and Mad Men). There’s something uniquely different about a TV show theme song that has lyrics, and those from the 80s exemplify that uniquosity.

      • True, though I think that the instrumental theme song is also quickly becoming an endangered species. Even Game of Thrones and Mad Men, which have opening credit sequences, are, in my opinion, more notable for how visually interesting the graphics are, while the music is kind of forgettable.

        In my above list, I left out The Wire, which has an amazing theme song, “Way Down in the Hole,” by Tom Waits, that is covered by a different performer each season, while the credit sequence shows images and clues relating to the plot of the season. I’m not a Wire fanatic, but I think that theme song/credit sequence is amazing and should be top 10.

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