I was sitting on the sofa, suffering through shingles. I finished the NY Times crossword puzzle, read some of Patricia O'Connor's The Origin of the Specious, watched an episode of Judge Pirro. Looking for further distraction, I fired up the first season of The West Wing. As the pilot started, with that impossibly beautiful song playing over the opening credits, it struck me: where have all the theme songs gone?
There was a time when the TV theme song was king. We hummed them. We sang along. We even bought them: the themes for Cheers and NYPD Blues became top 40 hits. Not anymore. Even the TV Academy has blown the theme song dead, eliminating the category from the Emmys, as noted in Variety:
This makes me sad beyond words. Each week, I would tune in to The West Wing, and watch that incredible graphic of our flag waving, while the main actors got credit and W.G. Snuffy Walden's majestic tune played.
That was more than a song--it set the table for what was to come in a grand, and dignified way. Smith, by the way, is also responsible for one of the few extraordinary opening sequences left on TV: Friday Night Lights.
This isn't so much of a problem on the PBS side of things. You can still get that wonderfully iconic Masterpiece Theater theme (yes...it's Mouret, I know), even if the show is now simply called Masterpiece, and Mark Adler's superb slice of Americana for The American Experience is always one I look forward to.
Some shows are carrying on with the tradition--note the wonderfully witty Barenaked Ladies tune for The Big Bang Theory, and Craig Ferguson's irreverent offering for his CBS late show--but most shows have crunched the opening down to a brisk riff for the title, then run credits under the first scenes. And I hate this. As a credit junkie, I find it impossible to completely follow the action while trying to see who the special guests will be. It's a disservice to all parties involved.
Don't expect to see a change. TV shows are looking to maximize air time, and theme songs can be expensive and time consuming. So enjoy the few that we have left, while remembering those wonderful themes of shows long gone. And today, in memory of Rue McClanahan, won't you please join me: "Thank you for being a friend..."