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:
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?