How many times do we tune into our favorite show each week, only to hum or sing along to the opening credits? Think back, and I bet you can remember the theme to your favorite cartoon as a child. Smurfs, Thundercats, Speed Racer, or even Batman can be found in the back corner jukebox of any adults’ memory. Just push play and the words will come flowing out of their mouth, as the quizzical look in their eyes says ‘How the hell do I know this?’. Better yet, the nostalgia in their face when the memory of that television program and what it represented for childhood comes rushing back.
The soundtrack to our early morning and late night programming is as important as the content itself. Shows such as The Patty Duke Show, The Addams Family, and The Beverly Hillbillies in the 1960’s gave you the premise of the show before you even watched a single episode. Identical cousins who are opposites; a family that’s creepy, kooky, and mysteriously ooky; a man named Jed who found oil/Texas Tea/black gold and moved his family to Beverly Hills. Simple, easy, and most importantly, catchy enough to keep you tuned in.
Moving into the 1970’s and 80’s, the introduction of sitcoms such as Happy Days, The Facts of Life, and Golden Girls saw theme songs shift into a still catchy, but unrelated-to-the-story 30 second chorus. Each one memorable in it’s own right, but doesn’t really tell you about the characters involved or even what the whole idea of the show is. A modern classic such as the Cheers theme, has morphed itself into pop culture by no longer only representing Sam, Diane, Norm, and Cliff, but any neighborhood pub or even your basement bar.
As we approached the new millennium, our favorite programs began with actual radio songs. Songs that hit the Top 40 charts. Songs that last two and a half to four minutes long (cut down for the opening credits, obviously). Dawson’s Creek used the already chart topping Paula Cole hit I Don’t Want To Wait, while Married…With Children channeled Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage. Can anyone forget FRIENDS? Even if you lived under a rock and didn’t watch the six twenty-somethings living in NYC, you still somehow knew all the words to I’ll Be There For You by The Rembrants. It was so popular, that an entire 13 song CD was created, and featured mega stars from the decade like Hootie and the Blowfish, R.E.M., Barenaked Ladies, and The Pretenders.
Finally, entering the 2000’s and latching onto it’s heels, is the dramedy. In shows like Grey’s Anatomy, House, and The O.C., the laugh track is replaced with snippits by already established, as well as up and coming acts. Songs are played during key moments in the show, spawning the viewers to question, ‘Who sings this song?’. The genius of this is evident in the incredibly successful commercial sales of TV soundtracks. Artists the like of Snow Patrol, Mat Kearney, and Rilo Kiley are now household names thanks to the brilliance of network music editors.
While the television soundtrack is by no means nearing extinction, theme songs and supporting music are becoming obsolete with extremely involved shows like Lost, Heroes, and 24. Don’t expect to be able to keep up with the increasingly confusing story lines while enjoying the newest hit from The Fray. But if you’re looking for some general entertainment with a climactic scene enveloped by an emotionally matching song, keep tuning in. It’s still there.
But that's just THIS girl talking...