Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saying Goodbye to TV Theme Songs

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, theme songs were as much a part of our television landscape as the characters in the shows themselves. For most people in the Gen X & Y generations, the mere mention of The Brady Bunch immediately triggers memories of the theme song, “Here’s the story of a lovely lady…”
Piano sheet music Theme from Let It Be, A song...Image via Wikipedia

The Brady Bunch opening grid, season oneImage via WikipediaThe same probably applies to Growing Pains with “Show me that smile again…” and Diff’rent Strokes, “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum…” (co-sung by Mr. Alan “Jason Seaver” Thicke himself). I bet I can name a few others – Cheers, Facts of Life, Saved by the Bell, Golden Girls, Full House – and you are immediately transported back to when those shows served as a fundamental backdrop of the times. While Mrs. Garrett, Blair, Tootie, Joe, Natalie, The Seavers and The Drummonds are all iconic characters on their own, the lyrics to these theme songs have become so embedded in our brains that catching a few bars of any of them induces waves of nostalgia.


Looking at the television lineups from the last ten years though, the art of the television sitcom theme song has certainly changed. Sure, some shows have easily recognizable 15-30 second instrumental samples like The Office, Modern Family, 30 Rock or How I Met Your Mother. But full-scale lyrical introductions are few, far and in between. Of course, there are some exceptions, particularly on the CBS lineup with Two and a Half Men’s “Men, Men, Men” repetition and The Big Bang Theory’s Barenaked Ladies intro. But overall, television themes been reduced to simply one cord (Lost) or familiar chart toppers (The Who tracks are used for every CSI franchise), a few bars of music that don’t seem to have the timeless portability factor. Montages that give a visual overview of the show, its setting and characters with a catchy tune are rarely found. The Cosby Show didn’t have actual words in their theme song but coupling the orchestration with the choreography of the entire cast was such a production, that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t hum the theme song or recall waiting to see what the next season’s production would bring.


There are a few reasons that jump to mind for why theme songs are becoming a thing of the past. Shorter intros provide more available time for advertiser dollars. The immediacy of information these days and need for instant gratification makes audiences less likely to sit through the opening – we want the program to start and we want it now. DVR capabilities empower audiences to forward through any unwanted time so perhaps the effort required to create an intro doesn’t seem worth it. I wonder what it will mean for the next 10 years - whether current television theme songs will evoke certain times in our lives or fond memories of our youth. Chances are slim that music used as a vehicle for rolling credits will have the same power.