Monday, March 21, 2011

Musical Miniatures"

I mentioned recently that current theme songs for half-hour comedies are now eleven seconds long. That could be inaccurate, since I never actually timed them. They could be even shorter.

TV theme songs used to be a big deal, an inviting “Calling Card” to the show they melodically introduced. There were dozens of good ones. Not so much in comedies. They were generally forgettable fluff, with the exception of the deliciously infectious Sanford and Son and The Andy Griffith Show themes. But in dramas…Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files, the creepy Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme…

Dee dee-dee-dee-dee dee de-dee…


And of course, there were the cowboy show theme songs, my favorites being…

All of them.

Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Yancey Derringer, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide…

I knew them all at one time, probably still know most of them, after half a century of forgetting almost everything else.

Gunslinger, gunslinger

Where do you ride?

What do you fight for today?

When folks need a hand

You’re on their side

Gunslinger ride away.

That’s from a show called – you won’t be surprised to hear – The Gunslinger. The show lasted thirteen episodes, but I learned the theme song. That’s how significant the songs were. And how memorable.

In many cases, the theme songs were the most memorable parts of the show. Then “Mr. Greedy Pants” knocked on the door:

“Hello. We’re the network, and we’d like to have more money. So we’re making all the shows shorter, so we can sell more commercial time. Thank you. And keep up the good work.”

The writers were dumbfounded. “Shorter shows? How are we going to tell our stories?” The answer: “Not as well.” But to mitigate the time-squeezing damage, the writers, in turn, squeezed the only thing that was available for them to squeeze. They shortened the theme songs. To eleven seconds, or less.

I started thinking about that. Who exactly writes these musical hiccups? And how long does it take?

“You know when you drive into the studio, and they check your I.D. for Security?”


“I wrote it then. And I still had time to slip my Driver’s License back into my wallet, without holding up the line.”

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe these are legitimate composers. Maybe they studied music scoring in college, majoring in “Thumbnail Compositions.”

I imagine them arriving at job interviews, armed with substantial resumes of their previous successes.

“I did the Rodney King beating, I did the Clinton impeachment hearings, I did the tsunami, and, of course, the ‘O.J. Simpson’ theme music.”

“Which one? The one for CNN, MSNBC or Court TV?”


"My favorite! You could almost feel the travesty of justice. And in long was it?

“Six seconds. Would you like to see the original score?”

“You have a score?”

“It was written on Post-It notes.”

“Look, your work is obviously impressive. But we’re dealing with something a little more elaborate here. Eleven seconds. Do you think you can make the leap?”

“I believe I’m ready.”

“You’re very confident. But we’re talking almost double the length of anything in your entire oeuvre. Are you sure you have the staying power?”

“There is no problem.”

“I’m taking a giant risk here. You could be going great guns, and then, half way through, you start noodling around, padding, and repeating yourself.”

“Trust me. I can handle this.”

“All right. The job is yours. But if you flame out after nine seconds, you’re not getting paid.”

Again, possibly unfair. In truth, there are current theme songs that I really enjoy. My three favorites are:

30 Rock

Parks and Recreation

and tied for third,

Outsourced, and Two And A Half Men (the sole entry that includes lyrics, though they’re only one word: “Men.”)

I’m not nuts about the shows they’re attached to. Sometimes, I just tune in for the song. Which isn’t easy. I often miss, and end up catching the last two seconds. My timing has to be perfect.

I will close with my favorite sitcom theme song of all time.


I didn't says it was the best. In said it was my favorite.


Jon88 said...

Talk about obscure -- your "Gunslinger" doesn't even manage to be noticed by Ouch!

YEKIMI said...

A question: Who was the singer of the theme song on "Best Of The West"?

Another theme song that has stuck in my head for years was the theme for "When Things Were Rotten" another show that only lasted for 13 episodes.

YEKIMI said...

actually, IMDB does have "Gunslinger" listed:

YEKIMI said...

and here's the theme for "Gunslinger":

Great site to find obscure TV themes

Mac said...

My brother and I used to sing "Best Of The West" to amuse each other and annoy our parents.
The best intro of all time wasn't even a tune. It was;
"OK you see that sign? It says 'apple sauce.' I'm kidding, it says 'applause'. . . "
Like Pavlov's dog hearing the bell, when you heard that, you knew you were in for treat.

Greg Morrow said...

There's a Doonesbury sequence in which aging rocker Jimmy Thudpucker reinvents himself as a composer of ringtones. It riffs on the length issue, but from the other direction.