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Whatever Happened to the TV Theme Song?

September 13, 2013

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When I bring up the I Love Lucy theme song, it starts playing in your head doesn’t it?  How about The Dick Van Dyke ShowThe Mary Tyler Moore Show? Brady Bunch? Gilligan’s Island? Love Boat? Law & Order? Friends?

Now how about Grey’s Anatomy? Desperate Housewives? Scandal? Revenge? Once Upon a Time?

Can’t think of them, can you?  I thought not.  That’s because these shows don’t have theme songs.  Some of them used to.  But now they don’t.  They just have a title card and a chord to go along with it.

What happened?  Sure, we still have shows with recognizable theme songs (Big Bang Theory, True Blood, Game of Thrones), but they are usually sitcoms or premium channel shows.  Major network shows just don’t do the theme song anymore.

I noticed this trend starting around 2007-2008, when new shows didn’t have a theme song and shows that did, like Grey’s and Housewives, did away with theirs and started putting the titles over the action of the show.

My assumption is that it costs money for graphic designers and composers to come up with opening titles and theme songs, so the studios are pushing to cut that budget (we were in a recession after all), so bye bye went all the awesome theme songs that might have been.

Which makes me sad.  There’s something so wonderful about a theme song.  It sets the tone of the show, in my opinion.  For comedies they are light and often have words setting up the premise of the show. 

For dramas, so much can be told from the theme song.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s told us it was going to be far from the normal WB type shows.  The West Wing‘s theme is presidential and sweeping.  Sex and the City‘s theme is flirty, fun and sexy.  Dawson’s Creek used Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Wanna Wait” to tell us the show was about angst and the teenage desire to grow up.  The X-Files‘ creepy theme got us in the mood for the unexpected and unusual.  And you can’t think about Law & Order without thinking of that jazzy tune that let us know they meant business (not to mention the famous “dun dun” before every scene).

I wonder how many of the new fall shows will have full theme songs.  It’s not just a good time to go to the bathroom.  It tells us exactly what kind of show we’re watching.  I miss it.

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