TV MYSTERY SERIES: THEMES AND OPENINGS
by MICHAEL SHONK.


The perfect theme and opening sets the mood, places the viewer in a time and place, and acts as a prologue to the series by establishing premise, characters and plot.

The primary purpose of any theme music is to establish mood. Arguably no one has done that better than PETER GUNN (Henry Mancini) and TWIN PEAKS (“Falling” by Angelo Badalamenti). The music from each are strongly identified with and continue to influence the soundtracks of a subgenre of mystery, PETER GUNN – the private eye

and TWIN PEAKS – the odd mystery with strange characters.

This is television not radio and visual images shown with the music matter. For example, THE WILD WILD WEST opening animation by Ken Mindie works perfectly with the music by Richard Markowitz.

RUBICON opening with the distinctive music by Peter Neshel and clue filled opening titles (Karin Fong, Jeremy Cox, Theodore Daley, and Cara McKenney) prepared viewers for the intelligent spy drama to follow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-tvBjh8z7k

Themes can feature lyrics of an established song such as “Who Are You? (Composer: Pete Townsend, performed by The Who) for CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION

or an original song created for the series such as ZORRO (George Bruns)

Some series have a closing theme such as BAT MASTERSON (Bart Corwin and Havens Wray).

This clip

from KING OF DIAMONDS is a trailer for the ZIV syndicated 1961-62 series starring Broderick Crawford. I believe, but can’t confirm, the song with the unforgettable lyrics was for the end credits. The on screen credit for the “Johnny King Theme” is hard to read but I believe it was William Donati. Here is a clip from the beginning of one episode:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rVqj0EK3pc

As for the role of the theme and opening to establish premise, characters, and plot, few did it better than REMINGTON STEELE with Henry Mancini’s music and Stephanie Zimbalist’s narration. (Surprisingly, there is no clip of this on YouTube, but you can watch a full episode for free at Hulu.com. I recommend any episode from Season One). Two other examples of this are PERSON OF INTEREST (JJ Abrams).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOnQ8CD3v4g

and PHILIP MARLOWE – PRIVATE EYE (“Marlowe’s Theme” by John Cameron and Samuel Matlovsky, performed by Moe Koffman, with Main Title Design by Maurice Binder).

Comedy mysteries openings often reflect the series comedy style such as THE ASSOCIATES (“Wall Street Blues” by A. Brooks, sung by BB King. A. Brooks is reportedly Albert Brooks)

and SIROTA’S COURT (composer: ?).

The theme and opening is an effective way to reflect a change in style or cast such as the following CHARLIE’S ANGELS from Season One:

Season Two:

and the recent remake:

Perhaps the most innovative example of this is the theme for multi-universe SF Cop show, FRINGE. The series combined JJ Abrams’ theme music with a Main Title Design that uses changes in color and picture to indicate the Universe and time each episode takes place.

It is impossible to write about television series themes without mentioning the man who shaped the sound of TV mystery action series during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, Mike Post. Sometimes with Pete Carpenter, the prolific Post wrote the theme for countless TV mystery series including THE ROCKFORD FILES, MAGNUM P.I., A-TEAM, NYPD BLUE, MURDER ONE, LAW & ORDER, STINGRAY, and my favorite of his work, HILL STREET BLUES.

Some of my personal favorites include T.H.E. CAT (Lalo Schifrin) (Part 1 of 3 for full episode, theme appears around 5:38)

ELLERY QUEEN (Elmer Bernstein)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8MLfQRJQ40

COWBOY BEBOP (“Tank” by Yoko Kanno)

and F/X THE SERIES (Christophe Beck, Season Two)

What are your favorite theme and opening from past and present TV series?

SOURCES:

YouTube

Wikipedia

Hulu.com

IMdb.com

Interview with RUBICON Peter Nashel

Review of ZORRO DVD

BAT MASTERSON THEME SONG