Whats this, another special edition of Film Score Friday? That’s right, with the massive summer season beginning in just a few short weeks I wanted to spend a little time now on a topic I have long wanted to write about, famous film composers who have written classic TV Themes.
Many famous film composers have taken their talents to the small screen, writing music for pilots or crafting original main themes. Unfortunately a lot of that really great work goes under valued in the overall catalog of these talented musicians. In this week’s Film Score Friday I aim to make up for some of that oversight, and spend some quality time focusing on some of the great TV work these renowned film composers have done.
The best place to start is with the most famous of all film composers, John Williams. Back in his earliest days Williams, then known as Johnny, wrote music for TV shows. He did music for the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants, but his most famous early TV work was writing for Lost in Space.
While writing for Lost in Space he ended up writing not one, but two classic main themes for the show, the latter of which is still very popular today and found it’s way into the dubious Lost in Space film in the late 90’s. Given the immense body of work Williams has done since those early days, his TV scoring days are an often forgotten chapter in his illustrious career.
Another very popular modern day composer who has dabbled in TV theme song writing is Hans Zimmer. This seems like a natural extension of what he would do as Zimmer’s scores are often heavy on big themes. His most famous TV Main theme is likely from the boxing reality show The Contender. Listening to this very epic, very Zimmery theme leaves little doubt in your mind who wrote this music.
Epic percussion aside, there is a layer of Hans Zimmer that rarely gets a lot of love. He is also a very adept at writing comedy music too, not that zany loony toons style comedy music, but more like James L. Brooks style comedy. Which is a big reason why Zimmer ended up writing one of my favorite TV themes for the James L. Brooks produced animated series, The Critic. This New York inspired theme does everything you want from title sequence, it is memorable, it sets a tone and most importantly establishes everything you need to know about the character and show with almost no words.
One of the more famous TV themes that came from an established film composer wasn’t even written specifically for the little screen. The iconic theme from Star Trek: The Next Generation is actually a mildly reworked version of Jerry Goldsmith’s Enterprise theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It is rather funny that a very good theme Goldsmith wrote for a popular sci-fi franchise movie wouldn’t get a fraction of it’s ultimate fame until it found it’s way to TV almost a decade later.
Goldsmith would later take a crack at writing an actual made for TV theme when he returned to the Star Trek fold in the mid 90’s. His theme for the third Star Trek spin-off, Voyager, is often considered the very best part of the series, and among Trek fans still ranks as one of their favorite Goldsmith contributions to their beloved franchise.
Most known these days for his work on films such as Iron Man 2 and Passion of the Christ, John Debny got his start writing TV tunes long before he was working on the silver screen. One of my all time favorite TV themes was for the under-appreciated undersea adventure show, Seaquest DSV. Debney was actually nominated for an Emmy for his work on that show, along with Don Davis ,who himself was the composer of The Matrix franchise. It is a shame more people do not appreciate the music from that show.
More recently Debney got back into the TV game by writing the theme for the failed super-hero show, The Cape. Debney again brought his A-Game by being on of the few bright spots of the show and earned Debney another Emmy nomination.
One of the brightest new comers in the world of film music is Micheal Giacchino, his works are varied and almost always awesome. One of his most frequent cinematic partners is J.J. Abrams who has had Giacchino at his side for nearly all of his endeavors. Their relationship has deep ties to their TV roots, where both J.J. and Giacchino made a name for themselves with the hit show Lost.
Giacchino’s music for Lost is one of the major contributors to that shows success. What sold that show to so many viewers was the mood, the vibe, and the ambiance. All factors greatly enhanced by Giacchino’s fantastic scoring. The one sad part of the Abrams/Giacchino TV relationship is that Abrams shows rarely have time for a truly great opening titles, and Giacchino is one of the best theme writers working today, hopefully we can see that come though on TV sooner rather than later.
Few people know his name, but many of you know his work. Poledouris is responsible for some of the most iconic action music of the last thirty years, writing the music to Robocop, Conan the Barbarian and Starship Troopers. His hard pounding style works great in concert with over the top violence and epic battles, but who knew he had a wicked good western side to him too?
Basil wrote the music for a failed TV pilot about the early days of famous old west outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The pilot was later converted to a TV movie, and thank the maker for that. This allowed Poledouris’ amazing western score to get a proper release. While the show never actually came to fruition, the score for The Legend of Butch and Sundance stands as some of my favorite TV music ever. This is a little known gem so should you find yourself staring it down, do yourself a solid and pick it up.
This is only the tip of the ice berg, many of the most famous composers got their start on the small screen and you can track their paths to greatness through their time writing for TV. So when you are enjoying the TV works of composers like Bear McCreary or James Dooley today, imagine what cinematic greatness is in store from these composers tomorrow.