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The Fall Of The Great American TV Theme Song

Donna Terrell Donna Terrell
March 13th, 2008 2:30pm EDT
Green AcresWhat happened to it? A catchy, sing-a-long theme song used to be part of the fun of watching a show. A great theme song could get you excited and in the mood to watch a show. Sometimes the theme song was the best part of a bad show. A theme song that caught your attention could get you to check out a show you weren't normally watching.

Theme songs used to tell what the show was about, like The Brady Bunch. The opening was the only way viewers knew the show was about a stepfamily. We would never have known WHY Gilligan and the gang were on the island or HOW those Hillbillies made it to Beverly Hills were it not for the theme songs. Those two shows also had a cool closing theme songs ("Sit a spell. Take your shoes off! Y'all come back, now, ya hear?").

The 60s, 70s, and 80s were bastions of great theme songs for TV shows, but by the 90s a trend developed where the 30- to 60-second theme song was whittled down to a few seconds of music - a la the Seinfeld bass line. There are shows like Grey's Anatomy, which had an opening theme when it first aired in 2005, but now its slate is all of 4 seconds.

Another trend is shows using well-known songs from recording artists as their theme music. These days, a week's prime time TV theme song line-up is more like a play list of popular music, such as the CSIs, Smallville, The Sopranos, Dawson's Creek, Joan of Arcadia, et al.

"It's a rarity today," TV historian Tim Brooks told the Associated Press in 2006 of the catchy, tuneful opening. "It's kind of like the Broadway musical producing hit songs - it just doesn't do that anymore."

"Almost all shows have music, but it's generic, it's scene-setting, it's short," said Brooks, who estimated that fewer than 10 percent have "traditional" themes that set up the show...Producers feel, rightly or wrongly, that that interruption, if you will, is going to lose viewers."

Clearly, brevity is key. No drawn-out intro or hokey theme. Networks don't have time for that, and neither, prevailing TV thinking goes, do the country's couch potatoes.

Because of this sad little chapter in television land, we want to salute some of the gems of the past. They're singable and instantly recognizable. We quote them in our everyday language, and somehow we just can't get these tunes out of our heads. Many of these shows are currently still on the air in syndication, so if you're not totally familiar with them, you can catch up. We're sure you have your own favorites, so don't hesitate to weigh in! With all of us fondly reaching back into our TV pasts, the noble TV theme song will live on.

Friends (NBC 1994-2004)
Cheers (NBC 1982-1993)
Why they're cool: We can all relate.



The Addams Family (ABC 1964-1966)
Check out theme song HERE.
Why it's cool: The finger snaps, and the closing theme's sound effects

The Addams Family

Gilligan's Island (CBS 1964-1967)
Why it's cool: People still question why they had so much stuff for a 3-hour tour.



Laverne and Shirley (ABC 1976- 1983)
Why it's cool: It's fun to do their opening "schlemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated" bit while walking down the street with your best friend.



The Love Boat (ABC 1977-1986)
Why it's cool: Makes you want to go on a cruise and hopefully meet somebody



Green Acres (CBS 1965-1971)
Why it's cool: You can sing it as a duet.



The Flintstones (ABC 1960-1966)
Check out theme song HERE.
Why it's cool: EEEEE yabbadabbadoo!

The Flintstones

Monday Night Football (ABC 1970- 2005, ESPN 2005-)
Check out theme song HERE.
Why it's cool: You and all your rowdy friends can sing "Are you ready for some football?" along with Hank Williams.

Honorable Mentions:
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Gilmore Girls
Family Ties
Family Matters
Star Trek (original)
The Jeffersons

Dishonorable Mention:
Good Times
This is a terrible theme song! Temporary layoffs? Easy credit rip-offs? Scratching and surviving? Hanging in a chow line? How are any of these, and the rest of the stuff mentioned in this song, good times? The Broken Punch Bowl Award goes to the writers who penned this little aria. (For the punch bowl reference, get the DVD. It was featured in part two of the episode where James, the father, died.)

Great Instrumentals:
The Twilight Zone
Bonanza
Mission Impossible

Story by Donna Terrell
Starpulse contributing writer