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David T. Cole

TV Themes: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Bringing this over from our Firefly theme thread. Let's talk about TV show Themes.

Personally I am a huge fan of the lost art of the expositional theme song: your Gilligan's Islands, your Brady Bunches. Nothing pleases me more than a theme where the premise of the show is explained with a catchy tune.

Other ideas for this thread from the Firefly thread:

  • Post those lyrics you make up in the head when themes play (you know you do this)
  • Good uses of pre-existing songs as theme songs. Eric says: Chuck's use of "Short Skirt and a Long Jacket."
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I programmed the midi version of Cheers into my Commodore 64 when I was in middle school, but it didn't make me cry.

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I can't not mention Arrested Development in terms of expositional themes.

Also, the theme to The Jeffersons might be the greatest theme of all time. Who doesn't sing when they hear that song? And I can't think of any other themes that have been sampled for a somewhat well-known rap song. ha (See "Batter Up" by Nelly.)

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*Star Trek: Enterprise - horrid horrid horrid song. Diane Warren and Star Trek together is not just a bad idea, but enough to make me run from the room screaming, with hands over my ears, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T HEAR YOU! LAALALALALLALALALALALALALALALAL"

Gilmore Girls was always a perfect fit with "Where You Lead" by Carol King. Buffy and Nerf Herder - another great combo. In terms of current shows, I liked Sleepy Hollow's theme/opener, and Community. Parenthood is a nice match with it's theme. Not a lot fewer expositiony themes these days. Oh, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that one is a classic! (no, it's not modern, just came to me...)

 

*Just edited to add my mini-rant above came BEFORE I clicked over to see the original thread, and let me tell you, I got loved how the Enterprise theme was kicked around over there! Nice to see we have some similar wavelengths going on around here...

Edited by stacey
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I doff my hat to the Game of Thrones theme.  I can't help but sing along to the bass line every time.

I would also label the Bob's Burgers theme as: disappointing.  I mean, it's fine.  But considering all of the great and hilarious things the show does with music in general, the theme is no great shakes.

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I enjoy the American Horror Story Theme. It's perfectly creepy.

I still love The O.C.'s theme, as well ("California" by Phantom Planet). I did an O.C. rewatch recently, and I didn't skip the theme song once.

I haven't watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air since it aired, but I can still sing the entire theme song. Same with the theme to The Nanny (I'm not saying it's good, but it's catchy).

I hate Homeland's... whatever that is. I skip the whole thing. Lost Girl's, too. I think those are more "openers" than themes, though. Oh! Coronation Street's is pretty bad. That airs right after the local news here, so there's usually a mad scramble for the remote when it starts up.

Edited by Cranberry
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I second The OC's theme song. I still have the piano intro as my ringtone for my friend that I watched it with. 

Random factoid: the singer for Phantom Planet was the guy at 0:15 in this old Gap ad that made me question my sexuality when it was on air.

I also second the Homeland intro hate. It's pretty much indistinguishable from the "Is this worse than jazz?" clip that plays on EHG to me.

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I really hate the True Blood theme. It's too long and back when I still watched the show I was always annoyed by it. It matches the show and all that but it's annoyingly long when you're watching it live and can't skip it. 

Ditto for Dexter. I appreciate that Dexter's was visually thematic but it was too long (it's almost 2 whole minutes long people) I watched Dexter mostly on Amazon and for some reason I can't fast forward very well when streaming Amazon so I'd have to sit through it every time. It didn't help that I was watching it while recovering from nasal surgery so I was often hopped up on goofballs, and slightly bloody BUT that didn't stop me from making fun of every taught movement Dexter did like GRRRR! Gonna TIE my SHOES REALLY TIGHT!! GRRRR! FLOSSING! and GRRRR MY SHIRT IS TIGHT ON MY FACE!. Also, not to nitpick but 1) Dexter wouldn't cut himself shaving, he just wouldn't and 2) who the hell fries a piece of ham, eats it and THEN fries an egg breaks the yolk in the pan but somehow it's not broken on the plate, eats that with hot sauce and THEN starts coffee? Clearly everyone should have known Dexter was a serial killer because that breakfast routine is batshit insane.

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I had the Six Feet Under theme as my ringtone in the early '00s, as well as Alias for a little while. Those are probably my all-time favorites.

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Best. Expositional. Theme. Ever? For my money, it's gotta be Clone High.

I'll add my love to the already-mentioned themes for  The O.C., Dexter, Arrested Development and Six Feet Under. Also love Parks & Rec, New Girl, Magnum P.I., Dallas, and the late, great Greatest American Hero.

Editing to add that, even though there's nothing at all terrible about it (to me), I ALWAYS skip the Deadwood theme. It's just WAY too long. I wish The Mindy Project theme were skippable, but at least it's mercifully short.

Edited by tita
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OH YES! Magnum P.I. is GREAT, we were watching them on Netflix a while ago and my husband FREAKED out because the first few (season 1?) don't have the theme and he made me just skip to season 2 because he couldn't get his head around it.

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OH YES! Magnum P.I. is GREAT, we were watching them on Netflix a while ago and my husband FREAKED out because the first few (season 1?) don't have the theme and he made me just skip to season 2 because he couldn't get his head around it.

I agree with your husband, Lisin. If it doesn't have the correct theme song, it doesn't count. ;-)

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If it doesn't have the correct theme song, it doesn't count. ;-)

You mean like season 3 Veronica Mars and streaming Dawson's Creek? The Dawson's Creek theme was annoying but I am used to it, I don't know why they went back to the stupid "original" theme for streaming (I mean intellectually I do understand music rights and all that, I just GAH! The theme is the theme! Don't change it!)

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I haven't watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air since it aired, but I can still sing the entire theme song. Same with the theme to The Nanny (I'm not saying it's good, but it's catchy).

Same here. I just sang the whole theme from The Nanny to my boyfriend last week because he didn't know it. haha

Also, I can't believe I didn't think of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for my first post. Of course that's one of the all-time greats, and definitely better than The Jeffersons, for me.

 I skip the whole thing. Lost Girl's, too. 

Me too. I don't know what it is, but for some reason Lost Girl's opening makes me uncomfortable, so I always have to skip through it.

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Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy the deliciously awful theme to Hello Larry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqHYFIlMFDE  Talk about your expositional lyrics! Radio therapist--check. Transplanted from LA to Portland--check. Single dad of teen girls--check. All that plus some sort of sassy housekeeper and HOLY SHIT!!!! Meadowlark Lemon! You're welcome.

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Screw Meadowlark Lemon! (Kidding!) It's KIM RICHARDS people! Back when she was a real girl (sort of) and still was able to pull off a convincing smile! Y'all? I feel awful for Kim Richards most of the time. 

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Ha! I love this thread! 

Have to agree on The Jeffersons love; I randomly sing it to my kids or when I'm cooking dinner ("Fish don't fry in the kitcheeen...") and they just look at me like I'm nuts. Also Fresh Prince and Gilligan's Island. Big Bang Theory is up there, and for lyric-free themes I just can't beat Criminal Minds - it's so cooool! With the SWOOSH and the 'dun dun DUN dun' and all my pretty agents running around. Buffy is a biggie, and my whole family wakes up to the Firefly theme.

For the classics, there's Star Treks TOS and TNG, even DS9 and Voyager had awesome themes. Friends, Cheers, All in the Family, Good Times, Chico and the Man, that damn Mayberry whistle... and who sees a beater truck tooling down the road and DOESN'T sing the Sanford & Son theme? Not me. Every time. 

The X-Files is my text tone!! :D

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I know it wasn't an original song but I adored "Short Skirt Long Jacket" as the Chuck theme song. Still makes me smile!

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"Who can turn the world on with a smile?" (can't remember the rest of the lyrics but that show, especially the early years' episodes, is one of my favorite re-runs).

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I love the Fringe theme. It's been my ringtone pretty much since I caught the first episode. Also like arrested development, breaking bad, and walking dead as ringtones.

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I love The Hill Street Blues theme. One of my favorite instrumental pieces.

The X-Files is my text tone!! :D

The Muppet Show is my ring tone and I have the Law & Order *doink doink* as my text alert, although that's not a theme song.

Edited by HighC
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I've always loved the original theme song for Hawaii Five-O.  

That's one of my favorites, too. I've even grown to love the title tracks of L.A. Law and Trapper John, M.D., among others.

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For annzee:

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile,

Well it's you girl and you should know it

With each glance and every little movement you show it,

Love is all around, no need to waste it!

You can have a town, why don't you take it

You're gonna make it after all!

You're gonna make it after all!

 - There's another verse, too, but it isn't on the opening. :)


Since cartoons are in the mix, I have to give it to Animaniacs, Fairly Oddparents (wands and wings, little crowny things!), and of course, Phineas & Ferb!

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Cheers and M*A*S*H are two classics, and always remind me of watching those shows as a kid.

More modern favourites? The Angel theme tune was just great. Angsty, dark, dramatic, and I love a good bit of cello. It fit the show perfectly. Yes, the Firefly theme is a classic as well, and encapsulates the melancholy I always feel when I watch that show. It's lovely, but it's doomed to failure.

The Game of Thrones theme is really powerful as well. I wasn't convinced the first time I heard it, but it quickly grew on me. HBO are good with their theme music, though. Band of Brothers and The Pacific both have themes that can get me choked up, if I'm in the right mood.

And then there's The West Wing. Now that was some great music. So great that Veep riffed on it for its own theme.

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For truly expositional themes (BTW, for me, Arrested Development, one of my alltime favorite series, doesn't count in this context because it isn't sung), I have two special favorites: The Nanny (who says it's not good? it's Ann Hampton Callaway!!). And at the top of my list, Open All Night from 1981. Now, that's exposition.

"The Patty Duke Show" theme is pretty awesome.

Indeed. After all, a hot dog makes her lose control.

Edited by Rinaldo
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The obvious uber-categories are "Instrumental" and "non-Instrumental".  

I have some thinking to do about my favorite non-Instrumental theme, but the Instrumental one has always been Barney Miller:

 

 

Runner up is probably Quincy, M.E.:

 

 

What can I say?  I love the jazzy ones.

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The obvious uber-categories are "Instrumental" and "non-Instrumental".  

I have some thinking to do about my favorite non-Instrumental theme, but the Instrumental one has always been Barney Miller:

Runner up is probably Quincy, M.E.

What can I say?  I love the jazzy ones.

Huh. I've never seen either of those shows, or heard their themes. I like both fine, and could see that if I listened to them 150 times if I watched the whole series I might grow to love them, but neither one does much for me on first listen.

(Also, I merged your separate topic in here since it was the same thing.)

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Huh. I've never seen either of those shows, or heard their themes. I like both fine, and could see that if I listened to them 150 times if I watched the whole series I might grow to love them, but neither one does much for me on first listen.

(Also, I merged your separate topic in here since it was the same thing.)

Are you (how can I put this delicately?)... young?  Or maybe not US based?

Barney Miller ran from 1974-1982. 8 seasons, with 168 episodes.  I'm sure it got some kind of run years later on TVLand or TBS or one of those channels, but I can of course see how someone who wasn't around then might not have heard of it.  But back in the late 70s it got pretty good ratings, because it was part of a very powerful ABC comedy lineup at the time.  Barney Miller does have the distinction of usually being cited by actual working cops as one of the "most realistic pictures of being a cop", despite being a sitcom set in two rooms the show never left and ALL of the "action" parts of a cop happening off-screen. 

Quincy ran from 1976-1983, also had 8 seasons, although only 148 episodes (I think because a lot of the early ones were in a "movie of the week" formula, like Columbo--in fact it was part of the same "Mystery Movie" wheel of rotating programs as Columbo was part of back when NBC did that).  It was, as I recall, a pretty big ratings success--in no small part because Quincy was played by the SAME guy who played Oscar on The Odd Couple TV series.  Although it was a vaguely comedic/light murder mystery show, it pretty much led to the eventual inspiration years later of CSI (because it was about a Coroner and was probably the first TV show to actually explain Forensic Science rather than hand-wave it away).  Not sure if its been widely re-aired.  Probably on whatever cable channel shows a lot of old murder mystery/cop shows. Again, no reason for someone not around in those days to know it, but most people who were probably will remember it pretty well.

Edited by Kromm

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Theme from Peter Gunn wins hands down. Only TV theme I can think of that has become a classic in its own right, completely independent of its origin. 'Peter Gunn' the show is barely remembered nowadays.

Star Trek Classic's 1st season's theme, the one with the theremin, was way cool. The opening credits were so evocative --  the Enterprise flashing across the screen against a galactic background, the eerie music promising mystery, adventure, and high romance -- that the episodes themselves were a bit of a letdown. Kind of like 'the Twilight Zone' -- as cool as the episodes  were, the credit sequence was cooler still.

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Theme from Peter Gunn wins hands down. Only TV theme I can think of that has become a classic in its own right, completely independent of its origin. 'Peter Gunn' the show is barely remembered nowadays.

Then there's the inverse happening.  Themes that become more identified with a TV show than where they originally came from.  For example. a lot of people don't think "Flight of the Bumblebee", they think "Theme From Green Hornet".

 

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Patty Duke has been mentioned. I love that song. Expositional.

Ditto Peter Gunn. Instrumental.

Not sure how I would categorize my all time fave though...The Twilight Zone. I get goose bumps every time I hear it.

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You know, since this isn't just about the best themes, I'd like to mention Quantum Leap.

The theme always felt weird and kind of annoying to me (as much as I loved the show itself).  Other than the middle part where there's a little change in tempo and instrumentation into a momentary "cowboy riff", it just bugged the shit out of me.  Really ANY theme song where you can replace the actual sounds with "La la las" so easily bugs me, I guess, but this was one of the worst.

And... I just realized something (I looked it up). I'd forgotten it was a Mike Post theme.  A man responsible for BOTH some of the very best TV themes but also many many of the very worst.

Edited by Kromm
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You say Mike Post and I think of S.W.A.T.! :)

Didn't he do the Rockford Files, too? And Starsky and Hutch? 

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You say Mike Post and I think of S.W.A.T.! :)

Didn't he do the Rockford Files, too? And Starsky and Hutch? 

Sometimes I'm at a loss how the same person did a theme as humongously great as "The Rockford Files", but also one as awful as "Hunter".

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Are you (how can I put this delicately?)... young?  Or maybe not US based?

The former. I wasn't born yet when either of these shows were on the air, and I never happened across it in syndication – nobody in my house growing up really watched this kind of show, and since then I've been one of those insufferable millenials who can't even be called cord-cutters because I never had a cord to cut. (Though to clarify, I had heard of the shows, just not ever seen them.)

 

Then there's the inverse happening.  Themes that become more identified with a TV show than where they originally came from.  For example. a lot of people don't think "Flight of the Bumblebee", they think "Theme From Green Hornet".

Yep, here's another generational thing. :)  I've only ever heard this referred to as "Flight of the Bumblebee."

In that vein, though, I remember being kind of mad in high school I played one of the best songs off my probably then-favorite album ("Teardrop" from Massive Attack's Mezzanine) and someone said "oh, hey, the House theme."

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