Whatever Happened to TV Show Themes?

Saturday, January 28, 2012
"Sunday Monday, happy days! Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days! Thursday Friday, happy days! The weekend comes, my cycle hums, ready to roll to you!"

"Well, we've movin' on up (movin' on up) to the East side (movin' on up.) We finally got a piece of the pie!"

"Thank you for being a friend...travel down the road and back again. Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidante."

If you were a child of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, I'm sure that like me you can still sing dozens of TV show themes by heart, and no doubt you can name which shows the ones above came from. These and other great songs added to my enjoyment of equally great TV programs, many of them comedy sitcoms. Even instrumental openers--like on Taxi--are still quite memorable.

That's why I'm wondering why we rarely hear an opening original theme for today's shows. Not so much dramas like Mad Men which feature an original score, but the half hour comedy sitcom. Many don't seem to have any opening at all other than flashing the credits. One exception is The Big Bang Theory which features a theme written and performed by the Barenaked Ladies for the show, so kudos to them. However, will people still remember and sing it decades from now?

Is it Hollywood's laziness and growing lack of imagination that has contributed to the theme song's demise? It seems that opening TV themes started to disappear around the same time as the advertising jingle went AWOL--about a good 10-15 years ago. This was right around the time reality TV shows started to get popular. Whatever the reason, I miss the creativity. 

Here's some of my favorite opening TV show themes. What are yours--and why do you think they're so rare today?


  1. There's still some good ones out there, lessee....

    Weeds - Little boxes, as performed by about 50 people over several seasons.

    True Blood - Bad Things

    Big Love - home

    Parenthood - Forever Young

    The simpsons (Ok, I was reaching there, but that one is more in line with ''Happy Days'' and L&S).

    Never watched it but I believe ''The Sopranos'' used ''Woke Up This Morning'' by Alabama 3.

    Just a few as a conversation stimulator.

    And there's been some pretty good instrumental openings, ranging form the unforgettable tones that opened ''Twin Peaks'' to the themes used on ''Mad Men'' and ''Dexter.''

    If you look closer, you may notice less theme songs as reality TV edged out comedies and dramas in the evening time slots. Shows like ''Frasier,'' ''Mad About You" and ''Friends''had readily identifiable theme songs but the day of shows like that has been eclipsed by cheaper programming like reality shows.

    Another item you may notice is that pay TV is leading the way over the networks in this department.

  2. Good post, Pam--I've often thought the very same thing!

    My all-time favorite--hands down--is the theme song to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".

    A great song & I love how they changed the lyrics from "How will you make it on your own" to "Who can turn the world on with her smile" after the first season, when we saw she was gonna make it after all.

    PS. God I love "Big Bang Theory", that show makes me cry I laugh so hard! But for me, nothing will ever beat Mary :)

  3. Regularjoe--Many of the examples you've named are songs that were previously recorded years ago (Forever Young was Bob Dylan's) that the TV producers chose for a show. In regards to this post, I was thinking about tunes that were written specifically with a show in mind, which was often the case with sitcoms from the 70s and 80s. John Sebastian wrote "Welcome Back" for "Welcome Back Kotter" and it became a hit after the fact.

    I did mention that reality TV has changed the network programming landscape today. As a result, the networks aren't going to spend extra money getting a song written for a half hour comedy.

    Doug--great choice! I'd also add "The Fishin' Hole" from The Andy Griffith Show--such an unmistakable tune.

  4. Pam, I'd add these to your list:

    "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" - DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

    "Chico and the Man" by Jose Feliciano

    "Without Us (Theme From Family Ties)" by Johnny Mathis

    "The Love Boat Theme" by Jack Jones

    "Green Acres theme" by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor

    "Come On Get Happy" from the Partridge Family

  5. "Come and knock on my door, we've been waiting for you, where the kisses are hers and hers and his..."

    I'll bet most people reading that can finish the line. A sign of a good theme song.

    I miss the old theme songs as well. I'm not sure if the networks are trying to squeeze out a little more commercial time or if they're afraid they'll lose the typical short attention span viewer if they don't launch right into the story.

    Here's a list of the top 10 tv theme show songs to chart on Billboard 100:

  6. I remember a newspaper article from circa 1993 mentioning that TV execs wanted to move away from opening themes (an example was that "Seinfeld," a wildly popular show, did not have / need one) to keep viewers' attention at any cost. The article made it seem, with much authority, that themes would be all but extinct within in season or so.

    Then "Friends" came along about a year later and rocked THAT prediction to hell with "I'll Be There For You." Themes returned with a minor vengeance but, as Pam opined, started dying out once again with the advent of reality shows at the turn of the century.

  7. Martin, JZ and Tom--great choices! Who could forget "Three's Company" or "The Love Boat" openings?

    Anonymous--thanks for that tidbit of info on the decline of the TV theme song. I'll have to try to locate it online.

  8. Pam, I totally enjoyed this post because it brought back such good memories of my childhood. I loved the TV themes from back then. I even found 3 cassettes on the free table at the library with them on it. Sanford and Son, Magnum, Simon and Simon, Brady Bunch and Happy Days were some of my favs. My mom has the Mission Impossible record which I also like. So many good ones in the past but not so much in the present. Even if I wasn't a big fan of a show sometimes I'd think that the themes were cool.

  9. Oh I miss theme songs. I believe it was King of Queens that started out with one,stopped it at one point,then brought it back. And it is definitely one me and my hubs love to use to occasionally crack each other up. And while I know they are not "adult shows"(but as parents,we are forced to watch)most of the Nickelodeon shows have great theme songs that I sing along with. Hey,big networks,take a cue from from your offsprings!


  10. what ever happened to good tv?

    it`s gone the way of the dinosaurs
    it`s not worth watching any channel


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