Five Best (And Worst) Times TV Shows Changed Their Theme Tunes

Here are five classic TV shows that changed their theme tunes for the better, and five that did the exact opposite.




BEST - HAPPY DAYS


For the first two seasons, Happy Days used a version of 'Rock Around the Clock' by Bill Haley & His Comets as its opening theme song. When this eventually proved to be too costly it was replaced in season three by an expanded version of the closing theme music by composer Charles Fox and lyricist Norman Gimbel, which quickly became one of the most memorable TV themes of all time.

WORST - THE DEAD ZONE


For the first three seasons The Dead Zone used Jeff Buckley's haunting 'New Year Prayer' as its opening theme tune. For some reason (likely costly licencing fees), this was replaced for seasons 4-6 with a dull new track by Blues Saraceno ironically called 'Dead Zone Epic'.

BEST - MAGNUM, P.I.


Ian Freebairn-Smith's original theme for Magnum, P.I. felt like some reject from a 70s series like Hart to Hart. Thankfully, it didn't last very long and was replaced halfway through the first season by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter's classic theme.

WORST - ER


James Newton Howard composed the music for ER's pilot including the show's theme tune, which is one of the most instantly recognisable TV theme of the 1990s. But that didn't stop the producers from ditching it for the last three seasons in favour of a brief title card with a forgettable new theme by Martin Davich, the series regular composer. Thankfully, the original title sequence along Howard's theme were restored for the show's final episode.

BEST - BAYWATCH


Baywatch, a show about Playboy models running along the beach in slow motion with the odd bit of life guarding, originally used 'Save Me' by Peter Cetera as its theme music. After the show was cancelled by NBC and moved to syndication, Cetera's song was replaced with Jimi Jamison's cheesetastic epic 'I'm Always Here'.

WORST - SPACE: 1999


Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999 was never that great to begin with, but it really went off the rails in its second (and last) season. A new producer (the same one responsible for the finale season of Star Trek) took over the show and began making numerous sweeping changes, including replacing Barry Gray's very funky original theme tune with something very dull and generic by Derek Wadsworth.

BEST - THE AVENGERS


The classic spy-fi series underwent some major changes in its fourth season. Along with the arrival of Diana Rigg as Emma Peel and the influx of American cash, Laurie Johnson took over as the series' main composer and replaced John Dankworth's original jazz-influenced theme with the classic Avengers theme we all known and love.

WORST - QUANTUM LEAP


Quantum Leap's theme tune is one of the all-time best, which is why it made no goddamn sense for the producers to replace it with this reworked travesty for the show's final season.

BEST - THE TWILIGHT ZONE


The first season of Rod Serling's classic anthology series used a dreamy, lowkey theme composed by the great Bernard Herrmann himself. This was replaced the following season by a less mysterious, but more recognisable theme by Marius Constant.

WORST - DOCTOR WHO


There have been many different versions of Doctor Who's iconic theme tune over the decades and not all of them have been good. The worst offender is this horror that played during the Sylvester McCoy years.


Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

16 comments:

Dr Johnny Fever said...

Not exactly the same as the article but the same idea...

Apparently House had different theme songs for different countries, and when it was released on Netflix in North America they changed the US/Canada theme to one of the other themes*. You'd assume it was for licensing, but sporadically the North American version would pop-in for the odd episode.

It's very jarring. As a person that loves TV theme songs, I don't like people messing with my TV theme songs!

* Full disclosure... I live in Canada, so it's possible only Netflix Canada changed the theme. I'm just assuming that since the original airing between countries had the same theme that Netflix has the same theme between countries.

Billie Doux said...

I think I'd blocked out some of these horrors. Quantum Leap and The Dead Zone might have been the worst.

Outlander, my current obsession, just changed theirs for the fifth season, but I actually rather liked what they did.

Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

Worst - Veronica Mars. I hated when they changed it for season 3, trying to be all dramatic and noir and just ended up feeling overdone. The new season's theme was a bit better, accurately reflecting the leap forward in time and tone.

When White Collar changed their intro, fans (for the most part) hated the new one and voted to get the old one back. Similarly, when Grimm tried adding a voiceover to their intro, the fans hated it and they got rid of it. Sometimes you shouldn't mess with what's working.

I'm still getting used to the new themes for the Arrowverse shows, but the saga sells were getting a little annoying.

I do wish more shows would have themes - at least with streaming services they have all the time they need and don't need to go the title card only route.

Billie Doux said...

Katie, I agree. A good theme can be so effective. Firefly. Dexter. True Blood. Alias. The Wire.

Katerina said...

I used to love theme songs! And still do. I absolutely hated the trend to ditch them. Back in the day, I actually used to record them off the tv onto a cassette. I could swear I came across it somewhere a few years back. We're talking around the time of Love Boat and Fantasy Island (don't judge). I can't remember all of them, but I want to say themes for Quark and Starsky and Hutch were on it, among others. Speaking of the '70s, can I just say how much tonight's Agents of Shield had me grinning? :)

Btw, didn't BSG change its theme? I think I preferred the first one.

sunbunny said...

Monk changed too! I like both, though.

Didn't I Dream of Jeannie change?

TJ said...

Not that it changed or anything...but I just had to put it out there.

The best main title song ever from 'The Persuaders', short-lived cult series with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvuuAUJ2x6I

Anonymous said...

Billie Doux said (June 24, 2020)... A good theme can be so effective.

Very true, in fact I would go so far to say the power of an effective opening title sequence, including visuals, music, and design is so so important (and often overlooked). Not only can they prime you for what follows, but giving a psychological tone and feel for what follows, but they can often be the first association you make with a series. I am so glad that period when networks were insisting on simple title cards to try and cut production costs and squeeze more advertising in, has fallen out of favour.

In terms of music, I love the opening title music chosen for Battlestar Galactica (the reboot), who can go past The X Files (even though it is really quite simple), I always liked the opening theme to VR.5 (youtu.be/JfbjDW7r5lM), and I have soft spot for the retro opening title music of Patrol Boat (youtu.be/gEuPVdpi0ME). I'll also throw in the Jonathon Creek opening titles music (good use of Danse Macabre).

I also have to give credit to Star Trek Enterprise taking the very bold and controversial choice to ditch the usual choice for the Star Trek franchises for a rock ballad (honestly, I hated it to begin with, but unfairly so - it actually grew on me as time passed).

Let's also not forget the great opening titles and music of Six Feet Under, the opening tiles and music used in the later The West Wing seasons, as well as those in The Practice, Unforgotten (UK ITV), and while this one is from tele-movies and is closing credits music, the amazing Wire in The Blood.

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Billie Doux said...

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Billie Doux said...

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Marc said...

Ha, Katie, unfortunately we have polar opposite opinions on the Veronica Mars credits! I love the original Dandy Warhols song and opening credits, but arguably they emphasise the sunny California aesthetic and teen soap component with no real representation of the seedy underbelly and noir elements that the show itself always did reflect in the cinematography and score during the actual episodes. I mean the lyrics are less happy than the upbeat vibe of the song, and fit very well with the plot of Veronica now being an outsider, but I think your average viewer would get a much less representative view of the show itself just based on those credits.

The season 3 music and visuals do capture the show's often dark tone more accurately in my opinion and still sounds close enough to the original to be recognisable, but I enjoyed the difference and wish they had released a full version of this remix somewhere for those of us who did enjoy it!

I really enjoyed the James Bond esque visuals for season 4, you could really feel the Hulu budget and the noir aesthetic in full flow. Unfortunately although I really anticipated it, I really didn't like Chrissie Hyne's cover of the theme as it felt too slow and spoken word than I expected. Would have preferred either of The Dandy's versions but with the s4 visuals.

I nerdily enough find the whole science behind the opening credits really interesting. Like they obviously must have some impact on audiences and viewing figures, but to what extent? Could the s1 and 2 Mars credits have deterred older viewers who might have been a more fitting audience, or did they appeal to a younger audience who were looking for a more vacuous, soapy show who would have been quickly turned off by the actual show? Does it matter how good or bad the credits are really when the audience could still be won over or turned off by the actual show around it?

Also even just in terms of how the actors and crew are credited etc. I find interesting, but it's hard to find concrete information on this works. From snippets I've picked up here and there, the first actor shown is the most desirable position, then the last credit, then back to the second person credited and just in sequential order from then. So using Buffy as an example, Sarah Michelle Gellar was always first. Anthony Stewart Head was last cfedited until season 6 when he moved to guest star, at which point Alyson Hanigan took the last slot as second most important, jumping from the fourth place third in the running order, ahead of Nicholas Brendan who stayed in second running slot. I presume this was an acknowledgement of Willow's more central role and Alyson's workload as she became increasingly crucial compared to Xander. Of course Joss Whedon deliberately added Amber Benson to the credits in her last episode, both as a trick to the audience who would have assumed this was a sign of a more permanent presence for Tara and as a thanks to the actress who could then state she had been a regular on the show (I think Mercedes McNab's Harmony was given a slot late in Angel season 5 possibly for the same reason). They had planned to do a similar fake out when the seemingly central character of Jesse was killed off in the first two part episode in season 1 but they didn't have the budget to edit him into the credits for only a couple of episodes. I think it's also a lot of budgetary reasons as to why some characters such as Tara and Lorne took so long to become part of the main casts, as it can cost the show more to make an actor a regular to reserve them for a set number of filming days which could restrict their opportunities to film other TV shows / films.

Marc said...

I thought it was strange that Gilmore Girls always had "And Kelly Bishop" as the traditional last slot nomenclature but then "Special Appearance by Edward Herrmann" right afterwards almost like a guest star credit or he wouldn't appear in every episode, but both of those characters (actually any of the main cast except Lauren Graham and Alexis Bleidel) might only appear in 2 / 3 episodes but the credits still appeared the same every time. Again it's just interesting to think there are contractual and / or vanity / rivalry issues behind the scenes!

Bit of a digression from the original topic but I find it's a rarely discussed and hard to find comprehensive coverage of this aspect of TV production anywhere. I imagine there are more likely to be academic work and analysis of film credits because it feels like TV has only focused more on it in the last 20 years or so whereas it seems like a more established part of the art of film production. But I would be interested if anyone else has awareness of any good resources for this for a non-industry layman. I actually have a friend who works as a solicitor for a TV production company who deal mainly with UK productions so I have questioned her about this a little bit but I don't think it's as noticeable with UK TV as it is with US productions.

I think HBO will probably win hands down for the sheer quality, inventiveness and unforgettableness of their opening credits at this stage. Six Feet Under, Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, True Blood and many more which often capture the tone, pace and artistry of each show. GOT was crazily innovative in actually evolving to reflect the plot every episode like a war map, with new regions included or the state of a particular location changing (e.g. House banners showing when a castle was taken over). Sorry long rant but would be interesting to know if anyone else has thoughts on this!

Billie Doux said...

Marc, quite an interesting take. Thanks for posting it here.