Bidding Farewell to the TV Show Theme Song

    Last week we lost Peter Scolari. His passing was a loss felt by generations of people who admired him and his work. We also saw Michael J. Fox celebrating his 20th anniversary for his foundation dedicated to Parkinson’s research which has reached $1billion towards finding a cure to the disease. Both, the stories of Scolari’s passing and Fox’s continuing battle, turned me to reminiscing on their careers and returning to the classics that found us falling in love with the young actors in the 80s. Mixed with the stories of loss and triumph, I pushed play on an episode of Bosom Buddies. The montage of the show mixed with the introduction of the characters set to the music of Billy Joel’s ‘My Life’ had my eyes prickling with tears.

    My sister and I adored that show; we even named our goldfish Kip and Henry. Although it might not fare well in today’s climate (the story was centered around men pulling one over on a woman, posing as women to capitalize on the low rent of the women’s only apartment complex), the stories that surrounded the young men were women making their own way on their own terms, fed to us in a comedic format. It also showed Kip and Henry coming to the realization that being a woman didn’t come easy. And we return to the theme song, ‘My Life.’ It set the table for what we were about to be served, people forging their own path, “Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.”

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    Of course, living our lives watching Michael J. Fox persevere has been an inspiration to the world. We can only hope that if we are struck by tragedy, we’ll have half the strength and grace Fox has shown the world. If you don’t want to spend some time gathering yourself after watching an episode of Family Ties, I suggest you skip it. As soon as the first notes hit, the the tingles begin, and by the ending “sha-la-la-la…” Forget it, pass the tissues. The montage, the introduction of the family, the sentimental song; you might be running late for work, but you might be even later, because you simply must see what the Keaton’s are dealing with that week in 1980 something.

    I’ve had this conversation/debate on the art of the tv show theme song many times. I’ve blamed the networks for phasing it out in place of yet another commercial. We went from cherished theme songs that we sang along to with our family and friends, to the 15 seconds long jingle down to the blips of sounds announcing the show’s beginning, making us hustle out from the kitchen. I have a brother 20 years my junior who is baffled even by the concept, let alone a roomful of people busting out with a passionate rendition of the Cheers theme song. It’s delivered with the same exuberance of a rally cry at a high school football game. Smiles are on everyone’s faces as they finish with, “You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

    When Netflix ushered in the innovative and forward-thinking catalog of tv and film entertainment and other streamers followed, I naively said, we’re going to get our theme songs back! Those theme-song-thieving networks weren’t needing to squeeze another ad in, and we’d have our rallying cry for our favorite programs again! But, of course we wouldn’t. Streamers would have the absolute opposite effect. The theme song was made obsolete. Its entire intended purpose was to introduce you to a program and acquaint you with the characters, where you could jump in cold, into the sixth episode of the show’s third season and know generally what you were getting into. We don’t require any such thing anymore. NONE. And we definitely don’t jump into the middle of a show’s run; what kind of psycho does that?! We simply start from the beginning.

    I used to shake my fists at the networks for phasing out the song that would set the table, get you jazzed, pump you up for our next installment of the story. It might have been them in the beginning, but now? It’s us! We choose it every time we watch. We stream and binge. That’s how most of us consume our tv entertainment. ‘Skip Intro’ is the only choice. Get us back to our story, already! You think I need to be introduced to this show?? I’ve been watching for 4 hours, get to it! We do still get treated from some programs with a theme song, but few seem to be written for the show itself. The idea seems quaint now. I love the theme song for the first season of True Detective, but no one is singing it with me when I bring it up. I wouldn’t know the words even if they did.

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    So, I’ve accepted it. Reluctantly. I was going to make my case for the return of the tv show theme song, but what made them special was not just the art form itself, it was that they were coupled with the way we consumed our entertainment en masse. It was the shared experience of a nation all on the same page, at least during primetime. We all returned to school or work with the same sentiments or stories in our heads. It was the water cooler, recess talk of a nation. And we had our song, that if you were in the club, you could share the secret handshake, just by singing along.

    I wanted to post some top ten or twenty, but the list just kept getting longer. Instead, I found this little game that we all giggled with over the weekend. The video plays 15 seconds of a tv theme song and then reveals the answer. I won, but just barely. Who the heck remembers the theme to Falcon Crest?! Here’s part one and two of the 80’s themes. They have them for all the eras of tv. You think I’m exaggerating when I say grab the tissues, but this weekend we didn’t stand a chance against the rapid-fire of nostalgia. To the tv theme songs of my youth, thank you for being a friend.

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