Wednesday, March 17

The CDP's Top 20 Television Themes.

As Television continues to evolve, we see certain trends and ideas come and go. For example, the 21st Century currently sees Television competing with the Internet and TiVo for ratings, advertising revenue and entertaining content (it caused a strike, for Christ's sake). We also see an even split between 'Traditional' and 'Modern' Sitcoms in the case of the Laugh Track and three-camera cinematography.

Something we're also seeing the phasing out of is the Theme Song. Sure, it's still out there, but we've seen it evolve several times over the last 60 years. The initial point of the theme song was to inform viewers that a particular show was about to begin, set a specific mood, and in some cases, actually explain the premise of the program within (see The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). The Television Theme Song, like so many other facets of the medium, has its roots in Radio, where Theme Songs were far more important when it came to letting listeners know what they were listening to.

Today, the Theme Song exists, but it's all over the board, and arguably irrelevant. As networks have squished the number of content minutes per-half hour, many shows have done away with it altogether, as they need the precious time to drive a story along. Other shows seemingly do it as an homage, while others still carry the flag proudly. For those of us you live in an On-Demand household, the Theme Song is generally something you just skip over anyway.

While I personally don't want to frequent a Television landscape that's void of Theme Songs, it seems reasonable to assume that they're only going to get rarer and rarer. Which is what inspired me to sit down and compile a list of my 20 Favorite Television Themes. I chose these for a number of reasons, the most of which was the overall goodness of the tune, juxtaposed with the intro sequence and the show being broadcast. It's a delicate dance, and I feel these 20 shows did it near-perfectly.

Also note that I left out most 'So Bad It's Good' themes, such as Full House, Family Matters, Saved By The Bell and Charles In Charge.

If I could recommend a way to read this list, it would be in a calm, quiet space for about 45 minutes, where you can see all of the clips in their entirety, and take a reasonably-nostalgic trip at the same time. There are plenty I missed, and they're all proportionate to my own tastes, but some of these are absolutely universal.

Let's go!


20. Metalocalypse

19. Get A Life

18. The Avengers

17. Mission: Impossible

16. The Greatest American Hero

15. Dallas

14. Friday Night Lights

13. Twin Peaks

12. Magnum, P.I.

11. Hawaii 5.0

10. Malcolm In The Middle

9. Aqua Teen Hunger Force

8. The Flintstones

7. Unsolved Mysteries

6. Knight Rider

5. Tales From The Crypt

4. The Kids In The Hall

3. The Adventures Of Pete & Pete

2. The Wonder Years

1. Mystery Science Theater 3000

I'm outta here. Lost Friday arrives in less than 48 hours.

I concur with most of these. However I think it goes even beyond the mere theme, the most effective being those with equally effective title sequences. For example Twilight Zone, Magnum PI, and Five-O being the most evocative to me. I just watched "Catch Me If You Can" this last weekend and though not a TV show has an amazing opening sequence John Williams jazz theme and memorable title sequence. It is truly unfortunate that the friction between story time and ad time has sacrificed the series television opening sequences. However I think there is still plenty of opportunity for series to be creative and iconic. Take Lost for instance, it is without question one of the densest and most complex television series of my lifetime and yet it has the most minimalist of title sequences. A sequence that is very effective and yet frames the show perfectly. I tend to believe that problems can always be overcome with creativity. I hope that the evolution of TV brings about an creative evolution to the title sequence, and themes, as well.
Yes, I agree with you on Lost. They really have a one-of-a-kind thing going, so their mysterious and Lynch-ian title sequence works perfectly with their mood. As the creative process continues to evolve to meet the changing standards, perhaps we'll get something totally different, yet just as effective and memorable.
Barney Miller's theme needs to be on there, just for the bass line and the guitar solo. The 1970's Cosby Show also needs to be there (the one where the Cos is a coach and PE teacher). ("Hicky Burr" with Quincy Jones at the controls). Go look 'em up and get back to me. Mission Impossible is way way too low, and you couldn't even get a cast shot with Barbara Bain? You're slippin' man. Too much fun this weekend.
Oh, and the Soprano's theme needs to be there! So does Six Feet Under. And the original Big Love theme was "God Only Knows", so that's a plus. And how about The Rockford Files, or Quincy (Google Quincy with words), Bonanza, SWAT, or Baretta (keep your eye on the Sparrow, dude...)

I could go on....
You have to remember that I'm a child of the 80's. My knowledge of 70's TV is relegated to Nick At Nite status. The bulk of this list is merely my favorite shows, an abundance of them from the Mid-80's on.

You are right about Barney Miller and Bonanza, though; I dig those themes.
A child of the 80's missing Saved By The Bell?

Seriously though, this list is really, really good. Loving Unsolved Mysteries, Friday Night Lights, and The Wonder Years.
MOE - I said at the beginning that I left out the silly ones, Saved By The Bell falling squarely under that category. Believe me, it's one of my favorites.

Unsolved Mysteries was the scariest television program on Earth to me as a kid. Robert Stack was amazing. Furthermore, The Wonder Years may have had the most perfect opening sequence ever.
I feel, what's the word?


I scanned through the intro to get to the goods. My apologies.
As I hijack the comments section...

What are you thoughts on the Seinfeld theme as well as Sightings?
The theme from Seinfeld is absolutely iconic, as was the theme for Friends, if we're really being kind. I can't say I was a huge fan of the theme itself (it's not aging well, in my opinion), but it was definitely important and another step towards Seinfeld being such a unique part of the sitcom landscape.

Remember when Jerry and George got their pilot episode shot? Remember the satirical opening credits that it had? I LOVED that!

Oh man, I cannot off the top of my head remember how the theme for Sightings went, but I was a huge fan of that show (I still do a DirecTV search for repeats from time to time). The X-Files was another iconic theme that I didn't include, but that was only because I couldn't find a decent YouTube clip of it.
I thought of more on my drive back from Gustavus:

Dukes Of Hazzard
Love Boat (good for Karaoke)
Mary Tyler Moore
All In The Family
Maude (Donny Hathaway FTW!)
Sanford & Son
Good Times
Trapper John MD
What's Happening!!!
Oh, and Alice and One Day At A Time (though that may be more for Valerie Bertenelli!)

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