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Has been working for years on a theory to explain the "Kelly/Tori Paradox." Check out BadlyDrawnBible.com and follow him on Twitter @JaredHollier

TV Theme Songs Explained

Here’s the thing, guys- I don’t love TV as much as some of the other contributors on this site. I mean, I love TV, but I’m not in love with TV. If TV was a girl, she’d be one of my best friends, but I don’t like her  like her. I really like her, but not in that way.

Music’s a different story, though. I’m in love with music. I’d marry music and buy her a nice house. Sure, there’d be tough times, but we’d make it work out, because I’m ready for a lifelong commitment to music.

Because of these varying affections, I’ve got a special place in my heart for great TV theme songs. And I’ll often judge a TV show strictly on the score instead of the story. I’ll cut some slack to a lame show with great music more than I’ll excuse crappy music on a good show. And first impressions go a long way. Your show might be a future Emmy winner, but if your opening them is a dud, I’ll switch over to a rerun of Iron Chef faster than you can say “Wasabi.”

After hours of extensive research (that is, watching TV), I’ve noticed four categories that TV show theme songs can fall into:

1.     Descriptive

It’s like the producers were in a meeting somewhere and the question was raised, “How will people know what this show is about?” Then a guy named Paul, or something, said, “Why don’t we just tell them?” And everybody laughed and scoffed at Paul. “We’re gonna tell them every week? That’s ridiculous!” And then Paul got a smug look on his face and said, “No, dummies. We won’t just tell them- we’ll sing it- in a theme song!” And the room fell silent, and Paul got a raise and a promotion.

Examples: Gilligan’s Island, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, New Girl

2.     Original instrumental

These are songs that only exist because of the show they’re on. They were written specifically for the opening of the series, and are intended to set the tone for what you’re about to see. Is it a comedy? Expect some quirky instruments and lots of snare drum. A drama? Minor chords and either strings or an organ. If you have one of these on your iPod, it’s called “Theme from (name of show).”

Examples: 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, The Office

3.     Unknown indie song

This one makes the most financial sense. TV producers need a song, indie bands need exposure- it’s a win/win, and way cheaper than composing an original song. If the show’s a hit, the song gets downloaded a million times, and overnight notoriety comes along! But the band has been paid off, so all that iTunes money goes to the TV people, and the singer/songwriter/musicians stay unknown. Silver lining? They can add, “As heard on the hit show _____,” to the flyers they hand out in front of Costco.

Examples: Friends, Community, Scrubs

4.     Just use a hit

What better way to get an audience’s attention than by using a song they already know and love. If it’s a classic, they’ll feel emotionally attached before the first scene plays out. If it’s a current pop darling, it shows that the producers are in touch with culture and things that are “cool.” That song used to remind you of a high school sweetheart, or the summer you got your first car. Hollywood wants it to remind you of that episode where Greg and Lucille had to choose between adopting a baby or buying a new dishwasher.

Examples: CSI franchise, Parenthood, Dawson’s Creek

 Are there other categories that I missed?

  • http://twitter.com/amympayne Amy Payne

    This is great! Even though I now have “I don’t wanna wait…. for our liiiives to be oooover…” in my head. 

    • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

       ”Will it be yes or will it be …. sorry / Doo doo doo da da da.”

  • http://twitter.com/awestintx sonja

    We sing along with the Psych song every time.

  • http://www.all4God.co.uk Peter McM

    Best theme song ever has to be Firefly (it falls into a fifth category of original indie song, as the producer wrote it himself)

  • http://thomasmarkzuniga.com TMZ

    I absolutely love Community’s theme song even though I don’t know any of the words until the very last line.

    I guess the unfolding paper graphic just distracts me too much.

    • http://www.badlydrawnbible.com/ Jared Hollier

      YES! “At Least It Was Here” by a band called The 88s

  • Adele

    My burning question is, although we get a perfectly sweet theme song for Parenthood here in Australia, what happened to ‘Forever Young’? Are we not worthy of Dylan?

    • Jared Hollier

      Isn’t there a similar issue with the Gilmore Girls DVDs? If thats the case, I think we can blame Lauren Graham.