TV Theme Songs Are Etched In Our Memories

5/25/23 – – Chances are good that whenever you hear the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell,” your thoughts are not about the composer’s 1829 opera. More likely, you picture (in black and white) a masked man on horseback and hear these dramatic words in your head: “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty hi-ho Silver!”

Especially for Baby Boomers, the opening to “The Lone Ranger” television series, which aired on ABC from 1949 – 1957, is seared into our brains, as are the theme songs to dozens of adventure and comedy shows audiences have religiously tuned in to over the last seven decades. The lasting impact of these amazingly sticky melodies and lyrics is the focus of  Music for Prime Time – A History of American Television Themes and Scoring by John Burlingame.

A professor of film-music history at the University of Southern California and a regular contributor to Variety, Burlingame observes:

“We grew up in front of the set. The music that accompanied those images became – for better or worse – indelibly stamped on our minds . . . Virtually all of the most successful film composers of modern times – John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin – enjoyed their first taste of success in television.

Burlingame treats this overlooked musical genre with the respect it deserves. He notes, for example, that the opening music for “The Fugitive” was recorded by the 55-piece London Symphony Orchestra.  

The scholarly book (it’s 428 pages long) is a welcome respite from the stresses (and crises) of everyday life. It brings back wonderful memories, providing the backstory of just about every TV-show opening from the first days of television to the present. Burlingame points out that in the early years of the new medium producers thought it was necessary to establish the premise of a program every week, even after a show had been watched by millions of viewers over many years. That was accomplished in the opening minutes by the lyrics of the theme song or spoken narrative over the music.

Is there anyone who doesn’t know that Superman, “strange visitor from another planet,” is “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive,” and is “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”?

Some series even had “wrap-up” messages at the end of the show to make sure we would be back next week; “same time, same station.” Program producers wanted to make sure we knew what we were about to see, and then reminded us of what we just saw. Each episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” ended with these lyrics:

You’re all invited back next week to this locality

To have a heapin’ helpin’ of their hospitality.

And Carol Burnett ended her one-hour variety show with this musical message:

I’m so glad we had this time together,

Just to have a laugh or sing a song.

As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, I thought it would be fun to test Professor Burlingame’s premise and see if he’s right that TV theme songs and opening narratives are essentially unforgettable.

Can you match the following 26 lyric/narrative phrases with the TV programs they’re associated with? I’ve listed the phrases first (1 – 26), followed by the programs (a – z) in scrambled order. The correct matches can be found at the end of this blog.

Have fun. Humming is allowed. But I must issue a trigger warning: By today’s standards, some of the lyrics are (delightfully) politically incorrect.

         

LYRICS/NARRATIVE

  1. “They’re creepy and there kooky, mysterious and spooky”  ____

2. “Love is all around, no need to waste it, you can have the town, why don’t you take it”  ____

3. “Here’s the story of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls”  ____

4. “A horse is a horse, of course, of course”  ____

5. “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.” ____

6. “Where Indian fights are colorful sights and nobody takes a lickin’”  ____

7. “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology”  ____

8. “Let’s ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet”  ____

9. “Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy”  ____

10. “Feared by the bad, loved by the good”  ____

11. “Well we’re movin’ on up, to the east side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky”  ____

12. “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’”  ____

13. “Long live his fame and long live his glory and long may his story be told”  ____

14. “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful ship”  ____

15. “To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations”  ____

16. “Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down”  ____

17. “Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed,” ____

18. “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got”  ____

19. “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses ae considered especially heinous”  ____

20. “Is she blond, is she tall, is she dark, is she small, is she any kind of dreamboat at all”  ____

21. “So no one told you life was gonna be this way”  ____

22. “Give us any chance – we’ll take it, read us any rule – we’ll break it”  ____

23. “Baby if you ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me”  ____

24. “Farm livin’ is the life for me” ____

25. “And you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men”  ____

26.“Happy trails to you, until we meet again”  ____

TV PROGRAMS

a. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

b. Laverne and Shirley

c. Twilight Zone

d. Six Million Dollar Man

e. Star Trek

f. Charlie’s Angels

g. The Gene Autry Show

h. Rawhide

i. The Mary Tyler Moore Show

j. Gilligan’s Island

k. The Brady Bunch

l. Mister Ed

m. F Troop

n. WKRP in Cincinnati

o. Green Acres

p. The Addams Family

q. All in the Family

r. The Jeffersons

s. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

t. The Beverly Hillbillies

u. The Adventures of Robin Hood

v. Law and Order SVU

w. Cheers

x. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

y. Friends

z. The Flintstones

CORRECT MATCHES

  1. p

2. i

3. k

4. l

5. c

6. m

7. d

8. z

9. f

10. u

11. r

12. h

13. a

14. j

15. e

16. s

17. t

18. w

19. v

20. x

21. y

22. b

23. n

24. o

25. q

26. g

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