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PURE GOLDER The Lost Art Of The Theme Tune

SFX’s editor bemoans the slow death of the TV theme tune compilation

The best ones were the tunes that you could sing the show’s titles along to: “Doctor Whoooooo, Doctor Whoooo… Whooooo-oooo-ooo-oooo Oooooo-wa-whoooo”. (This is also a theory to which John Williams adheres for his a lot most iconic film themes – think of Star Wars and Superman ). Theme tunes used to be part of the package. They were the clarion call to get settled on the sofa. They were the mood setters. They were the lure that drew you into the world of the show. They were part of the show’s identity, its musical branding.

Now, increasingly with American show, all we get a brief jingle, or even worse, some amorphous sound effect. You can blame it on Lost . A trendsetting show in so may way – some good some bad – it also started the fad for five seconds of logo and brief snatch of aural wallpaper instead of proper credits and a proper tune. To be fair, in the case of Lost , I can accept the stripped down intro as an artistic decision. I find it hard to imagine what kind of theme tune would have suited Lost better than the “hungover computer trying to boot up” weird burbling noises that did introduce each show (though I did always hate the way the edges of the logo juddered like a graphic in a ZX81 game as it flew towards you).

But so many of the shows that followed suit – Supernatural , The Vampire Diaries , V , The Gates , Heroes – seemed to be screaming out for a decent theme tune. Especially Supernatural . The show has certainly has come up with some great opening logo gimmicks, but come on guys, raaaaaawk music is such an important part of the show’s DNA it’s criminal there isn’t an instantly recognisable slab of riffing guitarageddon. Even more annoying is the title caption for The Event , because the brief snatch of music and Saul Bass-inspired graphics we do get are so cool, they almost demand to part of a longer sequence.

Of course, you could argue that shorter credits mean more time for the on-screen story to develop, but we all know that's not the case. Part of the reason for the current trend of blink and you’ll miss ’em intro logos is that adverts are eating up more and more of every hour’s viewing. Yep, it’s all down to money, quelle surprise.

Some shows attempt a bit of a halfway house – Fringe has a wonderfully catchy and hummable tune, but it still ends just as it gets going. Others are admirably still flying the flag for the proper opening title sequence with a goddamned full-on tune. Chuck ’s theme is spot on for the show, part geeky synth pop, part ’6os spy show, part musical equivalent of slipping on a banana skin. Medium boasts a downright freaky mash-up of a Bernard Hermann Hitchcock theme and The X-Files , played by a band in a dustbin. But the greatest theme at the moment has to be True Blood ’s bluesy Southern stomp which leaves you feeling kind of dirty even before you’ve watched the show, and somehow feels like it goes on for hours, and yet still leaves you wanting more.

Then there’s the SyFy channel, gawd bless it. Yeah, it has shows with proper opening title sequences and proper theme tunes, but most of them sound like they been created by some internet random theme tune generator. You could probably swap the theme tunes for Haven , Warehouse 13 and Sanctuary around one week and nobody’d notice. However, you couldn’t include Euerka in that list – that boasts a wonderfully quirky ditty quite unlike any other theme tune you’ve ever heard, and perfect fit for the show.

So the art of the theme tune isn’t entirely extinct, but it is an endangered species. And just think of the theme tune CD we’re being denied!

Dave Golder

So, what do you think should be the theme tune for Supernatural ? Or The Vampire Diaries ? And would you like Lost to be featured on a theme tunes compilation CD?

Dave Golder
Dave Golder

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.