Top 5: TV Themes, Wk. 1 – Instrumentals

As a fervent viewer of television, one thing  I love to discuss is the TV theme songs. A great show can be made better (or sometimes worse) because of a great theme. With that, we begin Part 1 of our four-part series of the Top 5 TV Themes, this week in the Instrumental edition.

In this case, instrumental can mean with voiceover, but it must not be sung (sorry, The Simpsons). Also, it must be from a scripted or semi-scripted show (not like reality shows have great themes anyway, except for maybe Survivor).

With that, here’s the number 5 pick…

5. Late Night with Conan O’Brien, NBC (written by Howard Shore and John Lurie, performed by Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7):

A show taking place in New York City should have a theme song that matches the setting of the Greatest City in the World. While “Alexa’s Theme” from Taxi was certainly considered for this list, as it’s a beautiful theme, it’s fairly soft-spoken and mundane – not very fitting of the City that Never Sleeps. Late Night‘s fast-paced, brassy theme from Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7, however, captures the frenetic nature of New York City quite well:

4. Mad Men, AMC (“A Beautiful Mine,” produced by RJD2 and performed by Aceyalone)

I’ve never seen the show, but since I’ve heard the theme song, it’s one of the best in my mind. It’s certainly not reminiscent in any way of music of the ’60s, but it has the debonaire/feigned-slick nature of the Emmy-award winning.

3. The Green Hornet, ABC (“Green Bee,” arranged by Billy May, performed by Al Hirt)

The show that first brought Bruce Lee into American households, The Green Hornet retained, in part, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” albeit with a new arrangement, from its original radio serials. It doesn’t match the show much – every time I’ve seen it, I’ve found it a bit corny (I guess that’s why it was cancelled after only one season) – but the theme in and of itself is pretty cool.

2. Star Trek: Voyager, UPN (written and arranged by Jerry Goldsmith)

I could have chosen the theme to the original Star Trek series, simply for its historical value. Or Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s theme, which (along with the original series’ theme) is synonymous with space travel. However, I chose this one, first for its sheer beauty (when Mozart TV, the classical-recreations-of-TV-themes album from Delos Music, they thought the theme was an act of plagiarism against Richard Strauss), but also for its expansion of the themes of cautious optimism and attempting to travel home.

But my choice is not going to make people (especially the folks at USA Network) happy, as it’s…

1. Monk, USA Network, Season 1 (written by Jeff Beal)

Sometimes a show’s theme is in tune with the themes of the show and becomes a sounding-board for the show’s theme. However, there are shows with themes that are the exact opposite of the show’s theme. Monk (one of my favorite shows ever) strikes at both the thesis and the antithesis: the theme from the second season onward, Randy Newman’s “It’s a Jungle Out There,” basically is Adrian Monk’s declaration of severe OCD said in a deeper voice. On the flipside, the theme from the first season of the show is a theme of happiness and sounds almost like roadtrip music – odd, considering it was a show where in virtually every episode someone was murdered. When you think about it, however, the show was a comedic, more cheery detective show, so the theme makes some sense. In the end, Beal’s first-season Monk theme was multilayered and multifaceted, truly making a great TV theme:

Join me next week when we continue our four-part series of the Top 5 Best TV Themes, with the Top 5 themes with vocals.

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5 thoughts on “Top 5: TV Themes, Wk. 1 – Instrumentals

    • I never really watched Barney Miller (I mean literally, I’ve only seen it once), and to be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the theme until you posted the video.

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