The Hartford Courant wonders whether the super-short musical intros to Lost, Seinfeld, and Ugly Betty are a sign of TV theme songs dying out:

So, obviously, people like TV themes. Why don’t network executives? They’ve been trying to kill them off since the 1990s, when “Seinfeld” opened with a funky – but very quick – bass line.

Bob Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, blames it on network consultants fretting over viewers’ itchy remote fingers.

“The idea was that you had to immediately close in your audience like quicksand, and a theme song that would provide nothing new was an invitation to check out other channels,” Thompson says.

Sure, sales execs are going to fight for another 30 seconds of commercial time to sell each week. But I can’t agree with the article. Theme songs are thriving. American Idol, CSI, Battlestar Galactica, House, and The Office – plus anything on in late night – all have prominent themes.

The article laments that Ugly Betty devotes a scant 11 seconds to Jeff Beal’s theme. But Lost’s theme song – basically a few seconds of interesting sound design – is essential to the show’s atmosphere. (Really, can you imagine anything else? Try this alternative Lost theme song

on for size. Not quite the same, is it?)

Whatever the length, TV themes are still essential to establishing both the storytelling atmosphere and the “brand” of their shows. Seinfeld’s bass-and-beatboxing and the 60 Minutes stopwatch may not be as musically complete as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance or Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, but they are just as indelible.

Posted 10 years ago by John Piscitello

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